Hickory Valley Golf Club - Presidential Course

It blends an old layout and a new one. Somehow, it seems to work

Half old, half new. Half trees, half fescue. That's perhaps the best way to describe the newly opened Presidential Course, aimed at the upscale daily-fee player, at Hickory Valley Golf Club in Gilbertsville.

If you like your golf courses wide open, with huge, undulating greens and laden with tons of unruly fescue grass to snare errant shots, the front side of the Presidential may be for you.

If you like a more traditional design, with smaller, flatter greens and narrow, corridor-style fairways walled by tall oak trees, you'll probably favor the Presidential's back nine.

Sound like a golf course with something of a split personality? You got it.

The Presidential, which opened in June, 1996, is yet another area course going after the daily-fee golfer looking for something of a private-course feel.

As at Downingtown Country Club, a new clubhouse and pro shop are in the long-range plans. For now, the Presidential shares an adequate pro shop/snack bar with the Ambassador Course, its less difficult (and less expensive) sister layout.

As for the Presidential Course, it is a marriage of old and new - specifically, of nine holes from Hickory Valley's old 27-hole layout and a new nine from architect Ron Prichard, who also designed TPC Avenel in Nashville and, closer to home, Pinecrest in Montgomeryville.

Some might argue the Presidential's is sort of a forced marriage.

Prichard's nine - actually holes 2 through 10 - has a contemporary look and feel, being heavily bunkered and winding through an environmentally protected area. Most anything off the fairway is lost to the fescue. Seven of Prichard's holes are doglegs, including the par-5, double-dogleg No. 4. Because of the undulations and tiers on the sprawling greens, pin placements can radically change the level of difficulty of most holes.

By contrast, the old Red nine - No. 1, then 11 through 18 - was designed in 1968 and tends to be straight, with manageable rough. Rather than fescue, the threat to errant shots tends to be towering trees that squeeze some fairway landing areas to as little as 18 yards. (Yikes!) The small, flat greens may be the Red nine's biggest liability.

Does the difference in styles cause the marriage to feel, well, a bit forced?

"We were concerned about that," said Michael Storti, Hickory Valley's director of golf. "But the comment from people so far is that they like it. We haven't had one complaint."

Even with its split personality, the Presidential can be a pleasant, challenging loop. From the back tees, it plays 6,676 yards and boasts a course rating of 72.8 and a slope of 133 - respectable by every measure.

With all the fescue on the front side, as well as water on seven of the 18 holes, the Presidential can be a multiple-lost-ball experience for the high- and low-handicapper alike. Pack an extra sleeve.

Two other things about the course: First, it has something of a rural, open-space look and feel because it's in the country. (Gilbertsville is just north of Pottstown.) Second, Storti and his rangers are fighting to keep it from becoming too clogged. Tee times are staggered by 10 minutes, as recommended by the USGA, and play is limited to 120 people per day.

"It's a young course," Storti said. "We don't want to wear it out in three months and suffer the effects for years to come."

Originally published July 21, 1996