Lederach Golf Club

Quirky municipal course has its ups and downs

The first time I played Lederach Golf Club, the much-anticipated new midpriced municipal course in Harleysville, I didn't really get it. No, scratch that. I didn't really like it.

For a daily-fee course built on the taxpayers' dime, it struck me as a little bit difficult, even punishing, for its audience of recreational golfers. Several of the greens seemed overly severe, so undulating as to make a long putt look like a dingy rolling on stormy seas.

I also had issues with the penal bunkers positioned in the very heart of a few fairways - in some cases, bunkers that cannot be seen from the tee. I wondered about a couple of doglegs, with fairways that bank away from the turn.

I truly found myself scratching my head at the 11th, a 399-yard dogleg right with a split fairway, which from the tee appeared to be a classic risk-reward hole. Play up the generous left side and you should be left with a mid- or long-iron over a sprawl of sand and mounds into the green. Cut the corner over the wetlands on the right - an aggressive ploy to be contemplated only by long bombers - and you would expect to be left with a mere wedge shot into the green.

But under further inspection, it turned out, the narrow patch of fairway intended to receive any bombed tee balls was so small, and the rough and hazard around it so gnarly, that the reward hardly warranted the outsize risk.

But as I said, those were initial impressions, gleaned from a round I played a week ago with a couple of 50-something local guys I met on the first tee.

"Look at this," grumbled one of them as we stood on one tee, studying the hole. "If I hit a perfect tee shot down the middle, it's going to be in a bunker."

Before I stepped onto the first tee that day, I didn't know anything about Lederach, other than that the card said it was 7,023 yards from the tips, played to a par of 71, and that Lower Salford Township, which owns the course, had entrusted the project to Kelly Blake Moran, a well-regarded architect based in Reading.

Although Moran has more than a dozen courses to his credit, from New Jersey to Mexico, the only course of his I had played before was Morgan Hill, a very hilly, two-year-old layout that's the centerpiece of a residential community near Easton, Pa. It was a little quirky, but creative and enjoyable.

After two rounds now at Lederach, which is also the centerpiece of an upscale residential development, I'd also call it quirky and often enjoyable. But add to that confounding at times, confusing here and there, and - dare I say it - maybe a little contrived in places.

Contrived? Sorry, but yes, like the green at No. 1, where the left half of the putting surface is like an upper terrace, while much of the right half resembles an oversize foxhole. Why?

Then there is the green at the short, 372-yard par-4 eighth. Other than a dead-center fairway bunker, the most visible and, arguably, main defense of the hole is the green's false front. False fronts are, of course, a tried-and-true concept. Except in this case, the false front is almost vertical and the green behind it is too shallow to hold much more than a sand wedge approach shot, never mind a low runner with the kind of zip needed to scale that false front.

The most extreme green on the course, however, might well be at the next hole, the 328-yard ninth, where a hump, a knoll, or a buried elephant, rises out of the center of the putting surface.

During my first round at Lederach, the hole was inexplicably and inexcusably positioned near the top of the hump. As I watched one of my playing partners scale the hump to replace the flag, the image that came to mind was that famous photo from World War II of the valiant Marines planting the flag atop that hill on Iwo Jima.

My suspicions about just how severe the green at the ninth is were confirmed a few days later, during my second round at Lederach. From among a foursome that included a club pro who played to scratch and three single-digit handicappers, only one of us could hit and hold the green from 40 yards out. Chris Webber should reject so many shots.

All this criticism aside, I found much to like about Lederach. The par 3s are fine. The par 5s are stout. The fairways, tees and greens are in good condition for a young course. The new clubhouse is quite commodious.

And I did like the course better the second time around. For starters, with so many hidden bunkers and blind shots, course knowledge increases with each loop.

Also, I had a chance to get a better idea of what Moran was trying to do. Between the time he designed Morgan Hill and Lederach, Moran had made the pilgrimage to golf's holy land of Scotland, where he immersed himself in the classics: the Old Course, Cruden Bay and Royal Dornoch.

"You don't want to overemphasize the inspiration, but not a day goes by in the field that I don't think about St. Andrews," Moran told reporters. He also said he was "adamant" about not "dumbing down" the course because it is public.

For sure, the Old Course has unseen bunkers that lurk in the middle of the fairway, and Moran has given Lederach a sort of American links, or farmland links, feel to it.

But I feel it incumbent to point out two things here: Those dreaded, unseen fairway bunkers on the Old Course weren't so much designed as they evolved over hundreds of years; also, woe unto the poor chump who attempts to navigate the Old Course without the sage advice of an experienced caddie on the bag.

Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ joelogan.