Sunday, October 4, 2015

Franklin D. Roosevelt Golf Club

Course is sorely lacking, but has its fans

It was somewhere in the middle of the front nine during a round at Franklin D. Roosevelt Golf Club that I began thinking what a sad sack of a golf course it is. That's when my playing partner piped up with some interesting information.

At a glance
Getting there: FDR Golf Club is at 20th Street and Pattison Avenue, in FDR Park. The phone number is 215-462-8997.

Greens fees: Weekends, $25 to walk, $40 to ride; weekdays, $22 to walk, $37 to ride.

Carts: Walking is permitted anytime.

Spikes: Nonmetal only.

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Amenities: Driving range, putting green, practice bunkers, clubhouse with snack bar. Outings welcome.

Rating: Basic, affordable, no-frills golf. Good course for mid- to high-handicappers, seniors, juniors and beginners.

Information accurate as of 8/14/2002

"Oh, it's much better since that new company took over," said Will, a Peco employee and regular at FDR, one of the six city-owned courses. "The greens are better, the fairways are better, everything is just better."

Hmmm, everything in life is relative, I suppose.

If you were to ask me, I'd have to say that except for one par 3 on the front nine and a refreshing three-hole stretch on the back, FDR is a an utterly forgettable golf course. It gets a single star in Golf Digest's Places to Play, as in "basic golf," and only a golfer who doesn't get around much would quibble with that assessment.

What FDR lacks in length (5,894 yards, par 69) it frankly doesn't make up for in layout, design or challenge. Far too many holes at FDR, which is tucked away in FDR Park across Broad Street from Veterans Stadium, are short, flat and straight. Driver, short iron; driver, short wedge; on and on it goes. Yawn.

In some ways, FDR seems a sad golfing legacy for one of the most popular presidents in history, not to mention a man known for extending a helping hand to those most in need. If only he were alive today to extend a hand to this golf course.

But, hey, like Will, my partner that day last week, said, things are better - and getting better still.

While Meadowbrook Golf Group, which took over management of the city courses early this summer, is promising no miracles, the company is promising improvements.

The most immediate bit of work has been to give golfers better conditions at the course. While FDR is hardly manicured, head pro Jack O'Neil is encouraged.

"Tremendous difference," said O'Neil. "We have equipment now we only dreamed of and more people to get the job done. We used to have three people [on the maintenance crew], and now, some days, we have seven. It's great to be able to look out the window and see people working."

Sometime in the fall, Meadowbrook also plans to give FDR's clubhouse the same kind of face-lift that Cobbs Creek has already gotten - renovations that include new carpet, wall coverings and ceiling tiles, an expanded and improved food-service area, and a small pro shop.

The idea, said Joe Zaleski, Meadowbrook's vice president for operations for the city courses, is to make the clubhouse "more inviting."

That's a start, to be sure. Those loyal regulars at FDR, of whom there are many, deserve at least as much.

Next on Meadowbrook's agenda, perhaps as early as the spring, is to begin improving the course itself. Zaleski is a little more vague on those specifics for a couple of reasons. First, the architect who has been hired is still mulling over the possibilities for FDR and the five other courses. Second, given the available space and the cost of such course changes, Zaleski doesn't want to promise wholesale changes Meadowbrook can't deliver.

A good place to start, as Zaleski readily acknowledges, is FDR's drainage system. Much to its detriment, FDR sits on a floodplain, especially the front nine. Most any rain creates problems; heavy rain causes an outright nightmare.

When I played there early last week, walking on several fairways was like slogging through the Dismal Swamp. As it turned out, the course had been closed for several days the previous week.

"This time last week, the whole front nine was a lake," Will said.

Information about the course's history is not easy to come by. What everybody seems to agree on, however, is that FDR opened about 1933, evidently having been built during the Depression as a Works Progress Administration project.

Suffice it to say, the result was not golf course exotica. The first few holes are about as flat, straight and unimaginative as golf holes can get. Greens tend to be small and flat; bunkers are minimal and not very ominous.

The fourth, a 418-yard par 4 with a long second shot over a creek, offers a glimmer of hope and challenge. And the fifth, a 182-yard par 3 with a bunker crowding the green from the right side and a big tree on the left, is a breath of fresh air. But then it's back to ho-hum.

The back nine, with a three-hole stretch of doglegs (14, 15, 16) and mild elevation changes, is better but hardly inspired. There is only one par 5, the 485-yard ninth, and it barely qualifies as such. It all adds up to a 113 slope, which makes it exactly average for golf courses in the United States.

All this criticism aside, FDR, like all the city-owned courses, has its legion of devoted regulars, who get as much pleasure from a day at FDR as many members get from the spoils of Merion.

Actually, what I found unchallenging about FDR is precisely what attracts many of the regulars.

"We have a large group of seniors who favor it because it is flatter and easier to walk," said O'Neil.

I also saw a foursome of teens on the course enjoying themselves.

Originally published in 1998.

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