An Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay design, the course at Commonwealth National Golf Club is routed around a very tight tract of land that lies adjacent to Horsham Air Guard Station. It’s acknowledged as a tough track so golfers are advised to choose their tees carefully, especially if playing here for the first time.
“Commonwealth National is something of an uneven design, both in terms of its aesthetic (holes are alternatively bordered by attractively wooded wetlands or corporate office buildings) and its playability, writes Daniel Wexler in The American Private Golf Club Guide.
The author continues: “Indeed, it features several notably strong tests but also at least four holes where longer hitters must lay up of the tee due to encroaching rough/wetlands/water – including the 491-yard par five 9th, which might as well play as a par four given its lack of a realistic lay-up zone.
The better holes include the 389-yard 4th (a genuine dogleg over water), the 561-yard 11th (a solid strategic hole which unfortunately doglegs around a large parking lot), the 183-yard 12th (with water on three sides), and the 431-yard 14th, which crosses wetlands before running a wooded gauntlet to a small, bunkerless green.”
Commonwealth National is a very challenging course. At times you feel it is big and at times you feel claustrophobic. The back nine has a number of holes which require absolute precision while the front has some elbow room. The intent was to build something more challenging than most in the area and in some ways that was done. It is a nice day out but there are so many better days out in the Philly area.
Commonwealth is an extremely well conditioned track that I would call a players course, as it requires proper shot making with most clubs in the bag. The first four holes require good tee shots to give you a chance at a decent score. Miss left on any of them, you're likely OB. Miss right, you'll be laying up back to the fairway out of thick rough or trees.
The greens are pretty fast but true. I really found that out with a 6 foot downhill par putt on 2 that would have gone 25 feet past had the stick not been in due to COVID regulations. I was overly cautious the rest of the round and it paid off.
The rest of the front is pretty unmemorable. I really liked the par 4 4th with an island green that gives a unique type feel despite being right on the corner of a pretty busy suburban intersection. The result of the holes are woven into the business park around it. The 9th hole is extremely difficult, narrowing significantly as it approaches 275-300 yards, and then forcing you to still make a significant carry of 180+ over probably 50-60 yards of bunkering. In a lot of ways, this is where the course truly begins to show the teeth that Arnold designed into it.
The back 9 feels like you are immediately transported to a different course. My friend who was a long time member said he would often only play the front, because he knew the back was going to make him feel bad about his game on certain days.
Proper tee balls are required on 10 and 11 to have a shot. I think the previously mentioned description of either or golf becomes super apparent quickly on the back. A fun hole is the par 3 12th, an island green surrounded by rocks. On this day, I hit off a rock and when in, but was able to put my drop shot to 8 feet and nail the putt for a great bog.
After that point, you go deeper into the backlands of Commonwealth's property and really forget you're in suburban Philadelphia, and not somewhere in the Poconos. Deep woods and water hazards line the back, and challenge even the most skilled player with no free shots given on 13-17. The 18th is a great hole, the perfect make or break finisher to an excellent round at a beautiful course.
Wonderful golf course. Well maintained and challenging. A few uneventful, tight holes but several great holes too. Well-protected greens.
From time to time one will come upon courses that feature a very straightforward but certain dynamic framed by the words "either or." Commonwealth National is a tale of two different nines. The outward half fairly basic -- design outcomes one has seen countless times from other Palmer courses.
The inward half is full dosage of "either or" golf. Either you hit the target or you donate a golf ball -- or two -- or maybe even more. There's nothing wrong with "either or" golf - provided - the architect provides sufficient landing areas so players of varying ability levels can have a reasonable opportunity for success. Pine Valley is very demanding -- but proper spacing is included. Commonwealth's back nine is narrow -- as in NARROW -- in a number of instances. You leave the fairway and, as said previously, you experience "either or" golf. There's no middle ground.
Ask yourself this -- how many courses sport a 138 slope from the white tees under 6,400 yards! From the extreme back the slope reaches 150. Frankly, the golf design has been forced upon a site that provides very little "extra" in terms of available acreage. Frankly, holes as the par-4 13th thru 15th holes are simply beyond the pale because you'd best drive the ball with the dexterity of a Fred Funk or the late Calvin Peete.
There's nothing wrong with having a demanding course but there must be a clear recognition that recovery is part and parcel of the game. For those who are proficient golfers the appeal of Commonwealth may be present but a steady diet of straightjacket type golf can be suffocating. Being a private club can be a bit helpful because play can be better spaced out than say a daily fee or resort type layout. Nonetheless, the greater Philadelphia area is awash in numerous top tier layouts -- some of the finest in the USA. It's best to schedule your golf accordingly with that in mind.
M. James Ward