Springwood Golf Club

Make the drive for an affordable, terrific test

If you like your golf courses short, flat and easy, stop reading right now. If you like them long, hilly and demanding, call Springwood Golf Club.

If it were a little closer to Philadelphia and a little better known, Springwood would be competing for business with the area's two top daily-fee courses: Wyncote Golf Club and Hartefeld National. Best of all for cost-conscious golfers, Springwood's rather out-of-the-way location keeps the greens fees down: a deliciously low $45 on weekdays with a cart, $60 on weekends.

``In York County, that's still considered high,'' Tony Cianci, Springwood's general manager and director of golf, said during a round last week. ``That's why we're looking to pull in more players from around Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington.''

If Springwood hasn't crossed your radar screen yet, it's probably because it has kept a relatively low profile since opening last May. First, there were financial problems, with cost overruns forcing the local owners to file for bankruptcy. When a new management team, Billy Casper Golf Management, came on board several months ago, the company quickly realized what it had on its hands and began a promotional campaign.

So, what's to like about Springwood?

For starters, there is the clubhouse, a sprawling, country-club-for-a-day affair that sits on a hill and commands a majestic view of the rolling course beyond.

But for Philadelphia-area golfers starved for top-quality daily-fee tracks, the course itself is the real draw. Springwood plays longer than its 6,826 yards from the championship tees and tougher than its 131 slope - it's a thinking player's course that rarely lets up.

Consider this: If you're playing from the back tees, Springwood starts you off with a 587-yard downhill, then uphill par 5 (forget going for the green in 2) that falls off to an abyss on the left side.

Then, just when you're recovering from that rude awakening, you're staring down the barrel of No. 2, a testy 400-yard par 4 that begins from an elevated tee and proceeds over a creek, then swerves almost 90 degrees left. Try to bite off too much of the dogleg from the tee and you'll never find the ball in the woods.

I started bogey and double-bogey, then stood on the third tee scratching my head as Cianci told me how tough Springwood got on the back nine.

He was right: Springwood did get tougher - and better. Prime example: the fourth, a short (297 yards) downhill par 4 with the green tucked on the other side of that same creek from No. 2. You can hit an iron off the tee and a wedge into the green and still walk away wondering how this hole beat you up so badly.

All across Springwood, the holes pitch and roll. You better know how to hit from a sidehill lie, and because there are vast, open areas on this slab of former farmland, you better know how to play in the wind.

Springwood's designers - Ault, Clark and Associates from Washington, D.C., which also was responsible for TPC at Avenel in Potomac, Md. - played to the strength of the topography to ensure that most every hole offered some kind of elevation change.

Some are dramatic (see Nos. 1, 2, 4, 7, 8, 12 and 18), others less so. Nothing out there could remotely be considered a lousy hole.

The best holes are in the stretch from No. 10 to No. 14, two par 3s and three par 4s.

The 10th, a 429-yard downhill par 4 with out of bounds right and mounds left, will get your juices flowing. But the 11th is probably the crown jewel of Springwood.

If you are bold (foolhardy?) enough to play from the back tees, the 11th confronts you with a 235-yard carry off the tee over a lake that slashes diagonally across the fairway and presents trouble all up the left side. Even better players are looking at least at a mid-iron - usually into a prevailing wind - into a deep, narrow green.

The 12th, a long par 3, is one of the toughest and most confounding holes on the course. If you play from the back tees, it's 204 yards uphill into a blind green. Not user-friendly. If you move up to the shorter tees, No. 12 suddenly plays downhill. From there, the green is at least visible, but the hole is only slightly less forgiving.

By the way, if the par 3s are dicey, which they are, the par 5s are brutish. None is shorter than 500 yards, and each one is up hill and dale. You work for pars, let alone birdies.

If all this seems a bit foreboding for high handicappers, well, Springwood can be. With five sets of tees, you can bite off as much of the course as you wish. Still, bring your best game or you will be frustrated.

For better players, Springwood offers the kind of challenge that will get you to think, work and, I'm betting, come back.

Orginally published May 30, 1999