Host to the United Hospitals Senior Golf Championship on the Champions Tour between 1985-1987 (and subsequently under different sponsorship until 1997), Chester Valley Golf Club has flown quietly under the golfing radar since Don January (1967 PGA Championship victor) claimed the inaugural 1985 title here.
“Chester Valley was for many years the subject of debate as to whether its original 1930 course was built by Donald Ross (the odds on favorite) or Perry Maxwell,” wrote Daniel Wexler in The American Private Golf Club Guide, “a question rendered largely moot when late-1960s road construction led to George Fazio building 16 new holes, retaining only the 3rd and 4th from those early days.
The present layout represents fairly typical Fazio work, with smaller greens requiring accurate iron play, but also yielding birdie putts of reasonable distance. Aside from the creek-guarded 192-yard 7th, Chester Valley’s best stretch comes in the first half of the back nine where the 357-yard 11th (which twists between trees and over a creek), the 435-yard 12th, and the 441-yard 13th will test even the best of players. A solid track, but it’s doubtful that Fazio’s version is better than Ross’s/Maxwell’s was.”
The club itself states that holes 2, 3, 4 and the green at No. 9 are originals. Regardless, most of the classic design disappeared due to the building of Route 202, but a 2009 renovation by Jim Nagle of Forse Design, Inc, undoubtedly breathed new life into Fazio's old layout.
Chester Valley sits on terrain that rises and falls on nearly every hole resulting in a somewhat difficult walk.
In addition to the change In terrain, the second defining characteristic of the course is its smallish greens. This results in this course placing a premium on one’s approach shots into those greens. Having a good short game is a primary requirement because even though the course is relatively short in yardage, one is likely to miss many of the greens.
There is good green side bunkering as well as some good shaping just off the greens whether it is fall-offs or micro-contouring. Many of the greens are raised.
The green surfaces are defined by slopes, sometimes very steep, and shelves, and less by humps, tiers, and swales.
The negatives to the course are the unsightly steel platforms that hold the high tension electrical wires that one can see from most of the course. The second negative is having to cross a busy round to play holes 10-14. At times the course feels like it has too many rises and falls. I also thought the course could have had better fairway bunkering on a couple of holes. Finally, the small greens are a slight negative to playability.
There is much to like here beginning with the opener, a dogleg left par 4 playing first over water to a raised green.
The second goes sharply uphill then downhill as a par 5 second with its three bunkers, including one at the rear.
The third is a short par 4 going directly uphill.
The fourth has one of the better views from the tee going slightly to the right with flanking fairway bunkers. It offers one of the better green complexes on the course with four bunkers including the front two which pinch the front of the green.
Five is a long par 3 playing at least one club longer as it is uphill. The large front bunkers sit well below the surface of the green. This is a speedy green.
Six is probably the best hole on the course and one of the finest holes in the Philadelphia area. This par 4 plays downhill to a stream. Bigger hitters will be tempted to try to carry it. For those playing short of the stream as the approach is uphill the club selection will require one or two more clubs. This green is well protected with four bunkers as well as it being the smallest green on the course.
The seventh is another visual delight as a downhill par 3 over the stream with four bunkers guarding the green. The green has a couple of ripples in it.
Eight plays uphill to a sloped fairway to the right. For those trying to ensure their balls stay in the fairway by hitting to the left side of the fairway, two bunkers are there. The green is sloped to the right. This par 4 requires two good shots to reach this green.
Nine plays back downhill with a tilt to the right. This is another well defended green with bunkers on either side and one at the rear which catches a lot of balls hit more than halfway onto the green.
You cross over a busy road to play the long par 3 tenth which plays over a valley to a larger green that is not receptive to a low flighted shot.
The short par 4 eleventh plays downhill as a dogleg right with the approach playing over a stream. This green has always given me trouble as it is angled a bit to the right.
A longer slight uphill par 4 is next trending to the right. Any pin on the right will have to carry one of the deeper bunkers fronting the green.
My second favorite hole on the course is the long par 4 thirteenth. The stream is close to the front of the green which is elevated with three deep green side bunkers at the middle of the green on either side.
A short par 5 follows going gently uphill with a tee shot playing slightly left and the hole tending back to the right and uphill. For the shorter players, the hole twists about 100 -80 yards from the green where there are flanking bunkers. It is probably the most fun hole on the course.
You cross back over the road to play another long par 3 with a smallish green with a long bunker down its right side and a smaller one on the left. The green is not as tricky as some others.
A longer par 4 sixteen kicks off a trio of fine holes to finish the round. This dogleg right has inner corner bunkers and thick trees down the right. Longer hitters can easily carry the bunkers but the smarter play is down the middle. The green has flanking bunkers and is also the rare hole that has a bunker that begins about 60 yards from the green on the left side.
After having a sharp dogleg right, now there is a sharp dogleg left. This par 4 features a bigger green although the back half falls off. The hole is good because f the green.
The finishing hole is a final par 4 downhill with three fairway bunkers on the right. The approach plays over the stream to a green surrounded by three bunkers, with the left side bunkers being one of the largest on the course.
The Philadelphia area is blessed with a lot of good golf. I consider Chester Valley to be a course that suffers a bit from the competition but is a fine course. It almost qualifies as a hidden gem in the area.
My initial visit to Chester Valley came when the PGA Champions Tour played an event there from 1985 to 1997. The course's original pedigree is tied to the renowned architect Perry Maxwell and opened in May of 1930 although the club touts its creation going back to 1923.
The terrain for golf is mouth watering -- it's constantly in motion. Not overly excessive where walking is not feasible but it never takes the foot off the gas. You have to be especially aware of targets when playing Chester Valley because being out of position from the fairway will clearly impact one's approaches throughout the round.
Among the standout holes is the par-4 6th -- you head downhill then play back uphill to a well defended and contoured green. Very natural in its presentation -- but very stringent on what's expected. You almost get a mirror image of the same hole concept at the 13th -- once again -- the requirements are anything but pedestrian.
The quartet of par-3 holes are quality mixture -- my favorite being the uphill 5th with its bewitching green that was brand new in 2009. The par-3 10th is also quite finicky in the type of golf shots it will accept.
The thing about Chester Valley is that if the club were located somewhere else besides the golf rich metro Philadelphia area it would likely generate more awareness. In my view, I don't see the course being good enough to merit inclusion with the upper echelon of layouts that inhabit this area, however, Chester Valley clearly deserves attention and is anything but a golf footnote for the overall golf storyline for the area.
George Fazio beefed up the design and the updating by Jim Nagle with Forse Design brought into focus plenty of design elements that needed a bit of dusting off to really showcase what the course provides. Well worthwhile to play if the opportunity and invitation are forthcoming.
M. James Ward