The last time a golf course was built inside the city limits of Philadelphia, Lyndon Johnson occupied the White House and Billy Casper was the leading money-winner on the PGA Tour with $121,944. The year was 1966, and the course was John F. Byrne.
|At a glance|
| Getting there: Island Green Country Club is located at 1 Red Lion Rd. in Northeast Philadelphia. The phone number is 215-677-3500.
Green fees: Weekends, $53 with cart; weekdays, $47 with cart. Weekends and weekdays, $36 to ride after twilight; weekends and weekdays, $28 to walk after twilight.
Carts: Walking permitted after twilight.
Amenities: Driving range, pro shop, tavern and snack bar. Clubhouse to be completed in the next year or two.
Rating: Mid-price, mid-difficulty course. Very pleasant, playable loop. Not overly severe or penal. Walkable. If Island Green realizes its potential, it could be quite popular.
Information accurate as of 9/30/2001.
The end of that sad, sorry dry spell alone should be sufficient to make more than a few golfers get down on their knees and sing hallelujah over the arrival of Island Green Country Club.
Add to that the fact that Island Green , which opened three weeks ago on the old Budd Co. site off Red Lion Road in the Northeast, is a playable, mid-difficulty, mid-price daily-fee course with loads of potential, and it becomes even more of a welcome place on the local golfing landscape.
I'm not going to tell you to make a mad dash for your car to get to Island Green right now. It's good, not great - and it's still very raw, a work in progress. However, for what it is and for where it is and for what the owners hope to eventually make it into, you have to root for Island Green .
"We're not trying to con anybody by saying the course is perfect yet," John Parsons, one of the owners, said last week. "You can't kid the public. It still needs some stuff right now, and there is a lot of work going on. But if people see you're trying, I think they will support you."
Parsons and his partners - Bob, Jack and Ed Duff, brothers involved in Carr & Duff Electric, plus Jose Ramos, another contractor - intend to turn Island Green into something of a working man's golfing oasis, slightly upscale but still affordable for most, in the heart of the Northeast.
The course, a serviceable, no-nonsense layout by Jim Blaukovitch, is already up and running, though it remains patchy in places. A huge driving range, which will eventually be heated at one end, is also open. By January, a combination pub and pro shop should be built. An 18,000-square-foot clubhouse is on the drawing board, slated for the next year or two.
The course sits on a fairly flat, treeless 200-acre site, part of which spills into Montgomery County. It once was home to a manufacturing facility for the Budd Co., which makes train and subway cars. The building sat for years after Budd closed it in the mid-'80s. Almost 10 years ago, Budd's parent company, Transit America, began a $31 million environmental cleanup.
Once the last toxin was removed, Transit America wondered what to do with the property. Executives of the firm finally settled on the notion of building a golf course and hired Blaukovitch. As the course neared completion, Parsons and his partners bought it for just over $6 million.
"We're not golf nuts, but, yeah, we all play," Parsons said of he and his partners, all of whom grew up in the Northeast. "Mostly what I know about golf is you've got to grow grass, and that's what we are working on now."
The owners opened the course a little ahead of schedule, Parsons said, because they were getting pressure from residents and politicians who could see it turning green and looking as if it was ready.
When you pull into the parking lot, the facility looks pretty stark. The land is flat, and there are not many trees, only the small brick structure that serves as the pro shop and snack bar. Most noticeable are towering nets that run along both sides of the driving range.
The course, which measures 6,520 yards from the tips, features a few mild elevation changes, several intriguing doglegs, two fun par 5s, and an island - green hole. It has no slope or course rating yet, but I suspect both will be respectable.
Blaukovitch knows his market well. Most every hole has a generous fairway, fairly benign rough, and avenues of attack for both the skilled player and the weekend hack.
Few greens, for example, have front bunkers protecting them, and that offers high handicappers the chance to run the ball up. The midsized greens are devoid of the brutal slopes and tiers that lead to 4-putts and five-hour rounds.
Even on the three or four holes where Blaukovitch went bunker-crazy, the sand is more intimidating visually than strategically.
If you hurry over to Island Green , do not be disappointed by the first three holes, which are up-and-back and straight-away. After that, things pick up, beginning with the 560-yard, tree-lined, par-5 fourth hole.
Then come a couple of sandy, dogleg par 4s - Nos. 6 and 7 - and half a dozen holes that play over or around water, although never too perilously.
The hole for which the course is named is the 11th, a 315-yard dogleg that plays to an island green . For most players, it's not a driver hole. I hit a 4-iron down to a landing area, then popped a pitching wedge onto what is probably the largest and most heavily sloped green on the course.
Parsons is already making changes. He is talking about adding bunkers to enhance the first and second holes. To give the fairways separation and definition, more trees are being planted.
Parsons is also looking at places where the tees can be moved back to give the course more length.
In five years, Island Green could be turning heads. For now, the only problem is price. By today's standards, $53 on weekends and $47 on weekdays is not outrageous. However, Island Green is a city course, and it is aiming to attract people more accustomed to paying $25 to $40. Even if people enjoy Island Green , will they return time and again?
"We understand that," said Parsons, caught between attracting regulars and making enough to continue improving Island Green . "We're getting them back right now. We don't want to turn people away, but we are pricing it a little bit upscale."
Joe Logan's e-mail address is email@example.com.
Originally published Sept. 30, 2001