Originally published November 6, 2005
The first time I played Raven's Claw Golf Club in Pottstown, the area's newest mid-priced and semi-private course, it was obvious it had potential but it wasn't ready yet.
That was hardly a tough call. This was last spring, when the need to generate cash flow had forced the owners - a trio of investors that includes course designer Ed Shearon - to invite golfers to "preview" the dozen holes that were open.
Not that anybody asked me, but it seemed to me that they were still rushing things with the July 1 grand opening. After two more stealth visits in late summer and early fall, I thought Raven's Claw still was not ready for prime time.
But it's ready now. Last week, when I played Raven's Claw with Shearon for the first time since our preview in May, the course was green, much more grown in, even lush in places. There's no comparison with the greens.
For the first time, it was easy to dwell on what is right and good about Raven's Claw, rather than where the fairways are spotty and thin, the young greens too shaggy, or the views beyond the course too cluttered with scraggly mounds of bulldozed earth and downed trees.
Now, with precious few weeks left in the golf season in the Northeast, it's finally possible to ignore the few remaining young-course annoyances and appreciate Raven's Claw: its variety of holes, its test of your game (70.6 rating/125 slope), and its potential to assume a place among a handful of the best daily fee courses in the area.
It's also priced right. Although prime rates will be $65 next year, for now Raven's Claw costs $50 on weekends (with cart) and $40 weekdays.
Carved out of farmland within view of the Limerick nuclear towers, the property provided Shearon with an appealing canvas of rolling terrain, wooded areas, streams, and environmentally protected areas perfect for challenging carries off the tee.
And Shearon, who grew a summer job in college cutting grass into a multimillion-dollar landscape and golf-course company, demonstrates he is getting better with each project.
"What I was trying to do was give the experience of the classic Philadelphia courses, like Philly Cricket or Rolling Green, to guys who don't ever get a chance to play those courses," Shearon said.
That's a noble aspiration, but I think it is a mistake to compare a young, built-on-a-budget ($6 million) course like Raven's Claw to two of the subtle masterpieces in a city full of great courses. Why risk disappointing golfers when there is no need?
As a student of the classic architects, Shearon, himself a single-digit handicapper, enjoys the challenge of forcing you to mull the risk versus the reward of hole after hole.
At No. 1, a 526-yard lazy dogleg par 5, he deliberately left untouched what remained of a brick wall from an old building. At No. 2, a 361-yard par 3, the choice is either to lay back with 3-wood to a generous fairway, or bomb a driver up the narrow throat of short grass for a wedge shot into the green.
The decisions and the holes get tougher midround, from the seventh hole to the 11th, in what Shearon likes to think of as his own little attempt at an Amen Corner.
The seventh hole, a 523-yard par 5, is a sweeping, downhill, banked-turn dogleg that works its way around a nasty bit of gnarl on the right. The decision, of course, is how much corner to cut on the second shot.
The ninth, 397 yards, is another downhill, over-the-junk, around-the-trees dogleg. But as I found out, the real teeth to the hole are provided by the elevated green with a criminally slippery false front that rejects anything even slightly short down to Bogey Bottom.
Two par 3s stand out. One is the 14th hole, 137 yards, downhill, leading to an angled green carved into a hillside and protected in front by a bunker and a creek that runs diagonally. It's all framed by trees that wrap around the back of the green.
Then there is the 17th hole, a 242-yard uphill beast of a par 3. It's not only long and uphill; it's also rudely narrow, especially from the back tees in the trees.
All in all, it's a very satisfying loop.
Although Raven's Claw is growing in nicely now, it's still very much a work in progress. It is part of a 210-home upscale residential development that won't be completed until 2007. With that come the sights and sounds of construction.
The head pro, Ryan McDonald, admits that Raven's Claw is going to have to win back players who sampled the course early on and left disappointed, even angry.
"We opened too early and left a bad taste in some people's mouths," McDonald conceded.
In a year or two, if Raven's Claw stays on course, all should be forgotten and forgiven.
Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 215-854-5604 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/joelogan.
If You Go
* Getting there: Raven's Claw Golf Club is at 120 Masters Dr., Pottstown. From King of Prussia, take U.S. 422 west about 15 miles to the Sanatoga exit; bear right. Turn right on Evergreen Road and follow it to West Ridge Pike. The entrance to Raven's Claw is at 3159 W. Ridge Pike.
* Phone: 610-495-4710.
* Web site: www.ravensclawgolfclub.com.
* Green fees: Weekends and holidays, $50, senior rate, $40; weekdays, $40, senior rate, $ 30. Memberships are available.
* Carts: Walking is permitted, although cart fees are included.
* Amenities: Comfortable new clubhouse with restaurant and pub, back deck with a view of the 18th hole, well-stocked pro shop, small locker rooms, driving range and practice green.
* Rating: Young but promising, Raven's Claw could establish itself as the class of the midpriced daily-fee facilities.