Turtle Creek Golf Course

Not a garden-variety midlevel course

Add Turtle Creek Golf Course in Limerick, Pa., to the growing list of new, midprice, medium-difficulty layouts that are probably best described as "American farm courses."

In the past, for lack of a better term, I've referred to these courses sprouting up in surrounding counties on onetime family farms as "links-style." That's because they are generally wide-open and rolling, possessed of few trees and, as a result, often windswept.

At a glance
Getting there: Turtle Creek Golf Course is located at 303 W. Ridge Pike, Limerick, Montgomery County. Phone 610-489-5133.

Take Route 422 to the Royersford exit, then go right on Township Line Road. At the second light, turn left on Ridge Pike. Turtle Creek is one miles on the left.

Green fees: Monday through Thurday, $25 to walk, $39 to ride; twilight, $20 to walk, $34 to ride. Fridays, $44 to walk or ride; twilight $25 to walk, $39 to ride. Weekends, $50 to walk or ride; twilight $25 to walk, $39 to ride.

Carts: Walking permitted anytime, although carts are included in weekend rate before 3 p.m.

Amenities: Minimally stocked pro shop; snack bar, putting green, outdoor outing facility; driving range is next door.

Rating: Good course for mid-level player who likes to walk. Mid-price, good condition.

But not long ago, while playing just such a course with a friend who is a veteran of golf in Scotland, he looked beyond the out-of-bounds fence at the crops growing on a hillside and at the silo in the distance and suggested a more apt description may be "American farm course."

I immediately agreed. American farm course. It had certain, well, truth in advertising.

That said, there's no better example of the growing phenomenon than the year-old Turtle Creek.

Like several others in the region, Turtle Creek was for generations a working family farm -- in this case a cattle farm, and then a turf farm since the 1960s. It is relatively flat and windswept, and seven of the nine ponds are man-made.

Even more telling, it is not built on a grand scale by developers with deep pockets, but rather by a family -- the Waltzes -- who went into debt up to their eyeballs because they wanted to keep the land in the family.

"It was scary -- it's still scary," said Bill Waltz, who owns and runs Turtle Creek with his wife, Bobbie; his brother Ray; and the offspring from both families (Sandy, Ray Jr., et al.).

Scary -- and risky -- yes. But the Waltzes, who also own the neighboring driving range and pitch-and-putt, have known this was what they wanted to do with the land for most of the last three decades.

One of the great ironies, Bobbie Waltz said last week, was how hard they worked to get the land flat for turf farming.

"They worked 30 years to get it flat," she said.

And then, when the golf course was suddenly a go, they wanted hills and mounds and all the other topographical features that make for interesting golf layouts.

The job of making the most of the topography fell to South Carolina-based architect Ed Beidel. He incorporated the two existing ponds on the property, and dug seven more. The dirt he amassed from digging the ponds was used to create the mounds that now frame almost every fairway at Turtle Creek.

One thing Beidle didn't come up with was the name. The Waltzes' daughter, Lisa, a television actress in Hollywood, suggested Turtle Creek after dining in a restaurant by the same name in Texas.

The bottom line is that this is a very decent, no-frills golf course that is best-suited to the midlevel player.

At 6,702 yards and par 72 from the back tees, it is plenty long and plays to a 127 slope. It can play as short as 5,131 yards (122 slope) from the forward tees. But more important, the fairways are generous, the rough is forgiving, there are few treacherous shots into greens, and you can go for holes and holes without feeling squeezed by OB stakes.

"The place suits my game perfectly," said a 22-handicapper with whom I played last week.

For my money, the back nine at Turtle Creek is more interesting than the front. But the front, which is mostly flat and straight, is home to one of the best holes on the course -- the par-5 eighth -- a double dogleg with a green that juts out into a pond.

The back nine, although shorter by about 100 yards, simply struck me as more challenging. Tougher holes, more trees, more water to negotiate. It also has the best one-two punch, the 17th and 18th.

The 17th is a 412-yard dogleg (No. 2 handicap), and the 18th is a 552-yard par-5 dogleg (No. 4 handicap) that's a true 3-shot hole, thanks to the ponds guarding the front of the green.

Is Turtle Creek going to get a low-handicapper breathing hard? No. Will the midlevel player have his or her hands full? Yes.

Originally published July 26, 1998