Even now, three years after township officials discovered their sad-sack municipal course was a Donald Ross design and spent $2.3 million on restorations, Jeffersonville Golf Club doesn't qualify as a star on the Philadelphia golf scene.
|At a glance|
| Getting There: Jeffersonville Golf Club is at 2400 W. Main Street, Norristown. Take Ridge Pike west through Norristown and continue for four miles until it becomes Main Street. The course is on the left. Phone 610-539-0422.
Greens Fees: Weekends, $29 to walk, $42 to ride; Weekdays, $22 to walk, $35 to ride. Weekdays after 3 p.m. $15 to walk, $23 to ride; Seniors (65 and over) $17 to walk, $30 to ride.
Carts: Walking is permitted at any time.
Spikes: Nonmetal only.
Amenities: Minimally stocked pro shop, plus snack bar, putting green and banquet facilities. No driving range. Outings welcome.
Rating: Busy muni.
Information accurate as of 8/16/2002
Still, to appreciate Jeffersonville now, think back to how Philadelphia's City Hall looked a few years ago, before 100 years of dull, gray crud was sandblasted from its facade.
The improvements to Jeffersonville, a 1931 Ross design that West Norriton Township, Montgomery Country, acquired in the early 1970s, are noticeable from the very first hole.
For starters, the course, which often had a sickly brown pallor, is green these days. Granted, the abundant rain this summer gets more credit than the new irrigation system, but the sprinklers are there if needed.
From the tee at No. 1 it is easy to see the added menace from the rebuilt fairway bunkers with their raised walls in the elbow of a 448-yard dogleg, the first of many enhancements by Ron Prichard, an architect who specializes in restoring classic courses.
From there on, Prichard's changes come fast and furious, with a significant change on almost every hole. Although Prichard slightly rerouted two holes, most of what he has done is to rebuild, reshape, deepen or strategically reposition bunkers to give the course more teeth.
Prichard, who also restored Aronimink Golf Club, transformed most of Jeffersonville's greens, which years of neglect had turned into small, flavorless pancake-like putting surfaces. At the par-5 sixth and par-4 seventh, the two holes he rerouted, Prichard built new greens. At several other holes, he turned ho-hum grass saucers into more challenging green complexes, with perimeter mounding and putting surfaces full of contours and tiers.
Not even Ross, who designed more than 400 courses before he died in 1948, produced a masterpiece every time, and Jeffersonville never was his crowning achievement. And Prichard, as capable as he is, is not a miracle worker.
But his restoration work at Jeffersonville, which he did by working from old photos of the course and by calling on his own knowledge of Ross' designs, has given the 6,443-yard layout a personality and punch that simply weren't there before. It is also tougher: From the back tees, Jeffersonville's course rating and slope have increased from below average to above average, from a 67.6 rating/107 slope to 69.6/119.
"He was as faithful as he could be, with some modern touches," said Steve Spross, head pro since 2001 at Jeffersonville, the only daily-fee course in the area designed by Ross.
Golfers seem to approve. Last year, with the restoration finally complete, Jeffersonville did a record 42,000 rounds (top rate $45 with cart), well above past years when rounds were in the mid-30,000s.
"The overwhelming majority of our regulars are happy with the changes," Spross said. "The only criticisms come from some of the older players, who say the fairway bunkering is too severe for them now."
It was three years ago that Rick Troncelliti, then president of the West Norriton Township Board of Commissioners, began to investigate rumors that had been around for years that Jeffersonville was indeed a Ross design. When Troncelliti turned up documentary proof of Jeffersonville's pedigree, the board approved the restoration project, worried that if they did nothing, the course might become a financial drain.
Even before, threadbare as it was, Jeffersonville showed glimmers of hope and quality - most noticeably the several first-rate holes that now make up the meat and muscle of the back nine. (Come to think of it, the best change of all at Jeffersonville might simply be the reordering of the holes, turning four of the strongest into the closing homestretch.)
The action begins at the 15th, a 215-yard uphill par 3 that bows to few par 3s in the area; next comes a 390-yard slight dogleg with a green that has more contours than a funhouse mirror; the 452-yard 17th is a dogleg right with a risk-reward, cut-the-corner tee shot; and the home hole is a 545-yard zigzagging, double-dogleg par 5 with a new lake and a cruel green.
For my money, though, the best hole at Jeffersonville is the old No. 11, now No. 13, a 430-yard dogleg left, and a classic beauty. The tee shot, a position shot, is easy enough, even if there are fairway bunkers on the left and right. What makes the hole special is revealed on the approach shot (a mid-iron or more for most players), as the 13th plays downhill to a creek, then up to an elevated green nestled in shade trees and flanked on the front by bunkers.
If there is one moment on the course where you stand and whisper to yourself, "Wow," this is it.
For all the improvements, Jeffersonville proudly remains an affordable and unpretentious "muni," where there are plenty of pickup trucks in the parking lot and lunch-pail golfers in the lounge. They don't suffer fools or big shots gladly.
Originally published September 28, 2003