Lancaster Country Club
Eighth hole, 200 yards; The holes at Lancaster have an ebb and flow all their own, which is the truest sign that the architect followed nature’s lead. Think of the six holes that you have just played and you will realize that length has little to do with their challenge. Perhaps the tiger golfer had an eagle putt at the last or maybe he got one of his short irons close for a birdie or two. He wants to hope so because the golfer now enters into a demanding five hole stretch. Here at the eighth, the course’s finest one shotter may also be the hardest hole on the course to par, season in, season out.
Tenth hole, 480 yards; After playing across a ravine at the eighth, the golfer leaves the river valley and the most unique landforms. The second nine is played in a pastoral setting of rolling hills for which the Pennsylvania Dutch is famous. Nonetheless, it is important that the second nine get off to a fast start or a tinge of regret in leaving the river valley could turn into something more. Fortunately, Flynn produced one of his all-time best par fours and the golfer never looks back. Appreciating Flynn’s background as the Green Keeper at Merion Golf Club from 1913 to 1918, Forse notes more than just a passing resemblance between this mighty hole and the home hole on the East Course at Merion. In addition, the double bend in the fairway (i.e. the fairway bends right off the tee then proceeds straight before bending right again toward the green) fascinates Forse. Without doubt, Flynn had few peers in draping holes across the landscape and in creating interesting playing angles.
Eleventh hole, 475 yards; The thing about a Flynn design is how effortless it appears. His holes, and thus his courses, never fight the land and are based in what nature gave him. Thus, they possess a timeless quality. Take the eleventh for instance. From an elevated tee, Flynn drops the golfer into a valley from where the golfer then plays his approach to the uphill green. The only significant dirt that was moved occurs at the tee and then the green where Flynn benched the green complex into the hill. In particular, he had to prop up the green’s left side to allow it to function properly. As it is, putts still break over a dozen (!) feet from certain locations on the green.
Twelfth hole, 180 yards; The one shot eighth parallels this hole in the other direction yet you couldn’t have two more diverse par threes. As opposed to the former which plays from one high bank across a valley to a long green on the far side, Flynn drops the golfer fifty feet down to the valley floor with this one shotter. Along with the fourth, this green represents the shallowest target on the course with a creek and five bunkers defining the tight target. The rub is the wind as there is no place on the elevated tee to hide from it. Some members don’t particularly mind should the wind grab their opponent’s tee ball near its apex and deposit it unceremoniously into the fronting water hazard.
Thirteenth hole, 515 yards; Ala Flynn’s masterpiece at Shinnecock Hills as well as Huntingdon Valley A/B, Pine Valley and Merion, Lancaster features only two par fives. This one adds much to the course, not so much because it is difficult but rather for the other reason: as a 4 1/2 par hole, it offers hope to all golfers in the middle of a tough stretch. This is a good thing as a certain sense of give and take by the architect is integral in most Golden Age designs. Obviously, it would be easy to move this green sixty yards forward and make it a tough two shotter to an uphill green. However, this nine already has plenty of those! The sixty yard pitch that many are left with on this double dogleg hole requires the most feel/finesse of any single shot on the back nine.
Fourteenth hole, 405 yards; Ron Forse has always been a fan of this hole and he is particularly pleased with how their work turned out here. He writes,
Always a solid par 4 (like so many at Lancaster) the uphill 14th possessed stiff shot requirements but seemed to lack something. When we planned improvements in 2005, the dogleg right 2-shotter reminded us of the 14th at Shinnecock Hills with its similar setting and routing. Shinnecock’s 14th is regarded as the best par 4 in the Met area. Lancaster’s 14th had two fairway bunkers, one right and one left. It cried out for a third feature, which would be situated on the left side, just beyond the turn. The three fairway bunker complex, arranged in a triangle and placed at distinct differences from the tee, is a common Flynn motif. And a quick review of Mr. Flynn’s 1920 plan for the course happily revealed just such a fairway bunker scheme. Adding the third bunker made one of the greatest changes to the course. Instead of a thought process of simply hitting the middle of the fairway or bombing it over the right-side corner bunker, golfers must now consider every shot possibility at the tee. Whereas one could hit into the left rough with a driver to avoid sand right, the newly restored bunker now makes you consider a 3-wood off the tee. But the hole is long and demanding enough that you want to hit driver and get past the trouble right, bringing the left side peril into play. One can draw or fade over the right sand hazard and find great reward, if well struck. And if you choose to avoid the far hazards, the shorter left side bunker is prominently in-view. This safer option however, puts a VERY long approach club in hand for an uphill shot to a severely back-to-front sloped green. From this distance an exceptional shot is needed to avoid ending up in 3-putt range or having a tricky chip shot. Flynn’s original asymmetrically arranged flanking greenside bunkers have been retained and restored/improved. The end result of the restoration of the 14th is a nice balance of shot values and strategic options and it reveals Flynn’s genius for infusing complexity into a hole through superb routing and his tastefully restrained placement of hazards.
Fifteenth hole, 440 yards; During his tearful acceptance speech after winning the 1998 United States Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, Lee Janzen spoke about how exhausting the course was with its requirements to move the ball left to right and right to left off the tee in order to hold the sloping fairways. Though the game at the elite level has changed since then to one of power, talented old-guard golfers still appreciate the nuances of playing such shots. Similar to the Olympic Club in this one respect, the golfer at Lancaster who can work the ball either way has a marked advantage over someone less talented. Take here where Flynn bent the fairway around to the right along the side slope of a broad hill. Though the fairway swings right, the land falls away to the left; thus, only a fade will hold this firm running fairway. In addition, one is virtually guaranteed on one’s approach that his ball will be above his feet (or below his feet if he is a left hander). Trying to control a ball into the right to left tilted green from such a stance will test the very best as anything past a slight draw is doomed to find the far left edge of the green. This hole is another example whereby Forse Design is working with the club board to return more of Flynn’s handiwork to the course. Aerials eight years into the course’s history show no bunkers on the inside of the dogleg right but Flynn built two enormous bunkers there sometime during the 1930s. These large bunkers are an example of Flynn continuing to refine the course well into its existence. Today’s smaller bunkers are a poor substitute and the return of Flynn’s heroic size bunkers would be a welcome event.
Sixteenth hole, 355 yards; The last two par fours swing right so it comes as no surprise to step on this tee and see this fairway moving left. What is a surprise is that this oft photographed hole was not built by Flynn. Its general configuration of bending sharply left around a nest of bunkers to a green reminds many of Flynn’s first hole at Philadelphia Country Club. In fact, Forse Design greatly expanded the breadth and scale of the bunkers here at the sixteenth at Lancaster in a similar manner to how they restored Flynn’s bunkers at the first at Philadelphia Country Club in 2000. Though some no longer exist, this type hole prevaded many of Flynn’s best designs including Huntingdon Valley, the North and South courses at Boca Raton, Indian Creek, The Country Club and others. Architecture students also see playing characteristics akin to Flynn’s tenth hole at Merion as well as the twelfth at Pine Valley. Hence, it is fair to assume/conclude that Flynn built it. Alas, history tells us otherwise and as at the second hole, Mr. Haverstick in 1966 again suggested moving Flynn’s green location some sixty yards to the left and down into today’s natural amphitheater. Initially, Flynn had this hole play straightaway from today’s tee to a green located on the far embankment. As at the second, the Gordons carried out the wishes of the club and built the sixteenth green and bunkers along with help from long time Green Keeper Bill Mellon. Even Wayne Morrison agrees that the second and sixteenth holes of today are huge improvements over Flynn’s designs, so give the club credit for knowing when to embrace selective change (the pond at the seventh is a third and final such example).
Seventeenth hole, 180 yards; The merits of this hole are in some ways better appreciated for what it isn’t rather than for what it is. What it is is a par three over level ground to a green with a typical Flynn front right to back left angle – think the penultimate hole at Shinnecock Hill’s as Flynn’s most famous high profile example. What it isn’t is what one finds far too frequently on modern courses – a hole contrived for excitement, generally with water. Such a hole would be grotesquely out of place at Lancaster. To the credit of the club as a steward, they have resisted for six plus decades after Flynn’s death into making this something that wouldn’t reflect its natural properties.
Eighteenth hole, 470 yards; Eight of Lancaster’s twelve par four holes feature a significantly uphill approach shot, which means a couple of things. First, the course plays longer than its yardage suggests (and at 6,850 yards, the course is plenty long). Second, elevated greens on Golden Age courses typically feature fierce interior contours and/or pitch and such is the case at Lancaster. As at Rolling Green, Flynn may have saved the best for last with this nearly 10,000 square foot green that drops seven and half feet (!) from back to front over its forty-three yards. This hole will finally get its fair share of recognition and accolades if Lancaster hosts the United States Women Open championship in 2015 as is rumored.
Lancaster holds true to Flynn’s own dictum that, ‘The principal consideration of the architect is to design his course in such a way as to hold the interest of the player from the first tee to the last green and to present the problems of the various holes in such a way that they register in the player’s mind as he stands on the tee or on the fairway for the shot to the green.’ While Lancaster has no overt weakness, its ultimate strength lies in the amazing variety of its twelve par fours. From the classic drive and pitch holes on the front to the big brawny par fours headlined by the tenth and eighteenth on the back, no one could ever hope to be a member of a course that possesses greater diversity among its two shotters.
Ben Crenshaw toured Lancaster for the first time in the fall of 2008 and summed up its attributes when he said: ‘I had heard about Lancaster for many years and had always wanted to see it as it is known not just in the GAP but nationally. With the lay of the land and Flynn’s routing, the tee shots set up differently from each other and are demanding. You have to get the right tee shot off in order to set-up the proper approach shot because of the way Flynn built the slopes in front of and within the greens. Overall, its shot values are demanding but the course remains a delight to play.’
Morrison also puts it well when he writes, ‘Consider the timeline of changes at Lancaster and one grasps the impact of improved players and technology on the sport and Flynn’s design response to these factors. Very few courses offer the variety of enjoyable difficulty and as fine a collection of long but interesting par fours. All who golf at Lancaster Country Club know that these old grounds for golf, though so often changed, remain one of America’s great courses.’
Thanks to the work by Forse Design, Lancaster is again a standout design, not only among Flynn’s own work but also other Golden Age designs and modern courses as well. Why is this? The answer is both time and continuity. Flynn was provided the luxury rarely afforded architects today of being able to make adjustments/improvements to the course over a substantial period of time. Most significantly, this included the purchase of the land east of the Conestoga twenty years into the life of Flynn’s course and the resulting exciting new holes. However, tweaking by Flynn to the bunkers and the greens, though less dramatic, also led the course from the age of hickory golf clubs into the one of steel. To the advantage of all parties concerned, Flynn’s interaction was primarily with Roy Eshelman and the benefits of the working bond formed between these two can once again be seen in the dirt today.
When their partnership came to an end with Flynn’s death in 1945, the transition seamlessly fell to William Gordon, a former partner of Flynn’s, and then his son David. Now, Forse Design is doing what it does best: meticulous research that allows them to help guide clubs to recapture the best playing features of their Golden Age courses, all while making it look like Forse Design was never there. The end result is a design that strikes the perfect balance between fun and challenge in a splendid environment free from outside disturbances.