Once I had confirmed a tee time at Merion Golf Club’s East Course for June 20th I decided to try to find another course nearby that I could tie into the same trip. Several months back I had exchanged emails with a fellow golf blogger who is playing the Top 100 in the World. His blog is located here and is quite a good read. He likes to maintain his anonymity so I’ll just refer to him at Bill.
When we initially exchanged emails Bill offered to help me get on at Galloway National Golf Club and I of course made a note of it. When I was looking at my list to see which courses were near the Philadelphia area Galloway National, just outside of Atlantic City, popped onto my radar. I contacted Bill again and he emailed me back with instructions to meet him at Galloway National at 8AM on June 19th. It turns out that his home club has a reciprocal agreement that grants him access to the Galloway National course.
Galloway National Golf Club is one of the modern courses on the Top 100 list being just 13 years old. It was designed by Tom Fazio who is one of my favorites as far a modern course design goes. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way about Fazio because at the time of this writing there are 13 Fazio courses on the Top 100 list – more than any other architect.
The club opened in 1995 and is owned by Vernon Hill, the founder of Commerce Bank. The story goes that Mr. Hill wanted to join Pine Valley Golf Club but couldn’t get in so he started his own club just 40 miles away. Golf is rife with exaggerated stories of would be members spurned and tee times so tough to get that Arnold Palmer himself would have to have a letter of recommendation, so I have no idea if this story about Mr. Hill is actually true. If Bill Gates had trouble getting into Augusta I guess just about anything is possible.
When I pulled up to the course at 8AM that morning I was stunned to see that the parking lot was packed. This was a surprise as my research on the club had indicated that the membership was very small and there were few local members. After talking with the caddiemaster I learned that most of the people were there for a clinic and there were only 2 other golfers playing the course that morning beside Bill and me. Nice, thats the way I like it!
Bill and I met on the practice green, found our caddie and decided to go straight off without hitting any balls. The clinic was taking up most of the practice tee, so rather than fight for a spot we just headed out to the course to work the kinks out on the first couple of holes.
The course was a typical Fazio design, fair but challenging. I particularly liked the 2nd hole (pictured below) which is a mid-length par 3.
One thing I did notice, though I failed to capture any photos of it, is that some of the holes had a striking resemblance to the look and feel of what I expect to see at Pine Valley. Bill who has played PVGC a dozen or so times confirmed that this was true. Maybe there is some truth to the story that Mr. Hill wanted his own version of Pine Valley. Hmmmm.
Below is a picture from the 11th hole which is a par 5. Bill’s 3rd shot just barely trickled into the water. About 2/3 of the ball was above the waterline so he decided to play it rather than take a drop and penalty stroke. Unfortunately he didn’t get the ball out of the water and essentially turned a 1 stroke penalty into a 2 stoke penalty when he ended up dropping outside the hazard after his attempt. Sometimes you just have to go for it though!
The hole pictured below, the 13th, is a the longest par 4 I have ever played. It is 449 yards all uphill and on this day it was into the wind . . . It was playing loooong. I hit a nice drive and then a perfect utility club and still found myself 80 yards short of the green.
Below is the 16th hole and our caddy pointed out that they designed the fairway to be shaped like the state of New Jersey which was a little surprising since Fazio is not one for gimmicks. The truth is that it’s so subtle I would have never even noticed if it hadn’t been pointed out, so in reality its not as cheesy as it sounds.
The 17th hole below was my favorite par 3 of the day. It played long being 212 yards on the ground, but dead into the prevailing wind. Thats the Atlantic City skyline in the distance. I hit a great 3 wood to the green and 2 putted for par.
I generally tend to judge a course on whether or not I want to play it again. While this was a great course, it didn’t really strike me as something special and I wouldn’t go out of my way to play it again. I had a great time playing with Bill and we spent more time sharing Top 100 stories than we did focusing on our golf game. With only 25 courses left to complete on his list he had more than a few interesting tales to tell. He also gave me some valuable advice about playing Merion that I would use the next day on that course. Onward to Philadelphia . . .