426 Fox Chapel Road,
Pennsylvania (PA) 15238,
- +1 412 963 7885
12 miles NE of Pittsburgh city centre
Members and their guests only
The affluent Pittsburgh suburb of Fox Chapel is home to one of Seth Raynor’s best, yet least celebrated designs – perhaps the fact that Fox Chapel Golf Club lies a couple of miles across the Allegheny River from the mighty Oakmont Country Club has something to do with it being overlooked by many?
Nevertheless, the charm of Fox Chapel goes way beyond the stucco walls and red-tile roofs of its old clubhouse and – ever since its inception in 1923 – generations of golfers have fallen under the classic design spell of its esteemed architect.
Many improvements have been made over the years to maintain the validity of the course in the modern era, with a recent program of tree removal a prime example of keeping the layout true to the Raynor vision; that of a course which “rewards the well struck golf shot while appropriately penalizing the ill-advised stroke”.
Measuring a challenging 6,706 yards from the championship tees with a lowly par of 70 (par 73 for women), Fox Chapel was an unqualified success as host course for the 32nd Curtis Cup match in 2002, with the ladies of the USA team winning the match against Great Britain and Ireland by 11 points to 7.
Rudo, aka Mr Top 100, commented as follows: "I played Fox Chapel for the first time in September 2013 and was looking forward to the return. It is a classic Raynor design with one of the great Biarritz holes anywhere (#17). Other great holes certainly include #2 (a short uphill par 5 to a punchbowl green), #3 (a downhill Eden par 3), #6 (a wonderful Redan par 3), #8 (a tough long par 4, uphill to a brilliantly situated green), as well as #11, 13, 16, and 18 on the back. Playing a course such as Fox Chapel reaffirms my belief that Seth Raynor is golf’s most brilliant course architect."
Fazio Design’s Tom Marzolf completed a restoration in 2020 using old aerial photographs. According to Golf Course Architecture, “ the project has included building 97 new bunkers to shapes as seen on the original 1923 course. Sand lines, mowing lines, green shapes, fairway widths have all been restored to how Raynor originally designed them.”
“In an era that rewards things new, this course will serve as the benchmark restoration on how to properly and historically preserve the game and recreate the flair of the 1920s golden era of golf course architecture,” said Tom Marzolf. “The golf course looks like a genuine walk back in time to the 1920s!”
I've played most Macdonald, Banks and Raynor courses, this my most recent. I need to catch up on my reviews here so I'll offer this one. Recently updated (Earlier some Silva bunker work - I do not know its status now) by Marzolf of the Fazio group, I did not know what to expect nor did I know what was here before. This is an unusual oeuvre for several reasons. Several template holes just don't fit (Road being the most apparent) and there are many holes with local names not of the template character which are unique to collections of 'the usual suspects'. Old Macdonald at Bandon Dunes while not a MBR course is a great example just as NGLA or Chicago Golf for having most of the more familiar hole designs or at least their features. Combining features is prevalent such as at Fisher’s Island with the sublime Punchbowl-Alps hole. Shoreacres has many unique holes as does Fox Chapel but on far better land with superior results (save the so-so redan). There for example the Road is superb.
So at the Fox, The Biarritz! (evoking the best I’ve seen - Forsgate Banks) and Short are absolutely classic executions. The Eden (IMHO, the most difficult to reproduce old-world-links-inspired to do well) is quite good. The Redan (reverse) is excellent as well, but the club had called #7 Alps, they have properly re-named it Leven. A recent “Invert Bunker” added make it more clearly a Leven (17 NGLA e.g.) see photo. The Par 3 holes generally do come out the best in these courses.
They are land-locked at Fox Chapel and many holes will be difficult for the modern player to appreciate; as there is no room for lengthening many become a drive-pitch. The course is perhaps the lowest physical profile (Features low lying to the ground) MBR course I have encountered. The bunker work is very mechanical (I do not believe that this is how Brian left them) and leave me a bit cold. The excellent 16th (Bottle) a template that I particularly love, especially at NGLA, is extremely well done but the bunkering is very cookie-cutter and unimaginative. Ending on an odd note: The Club’s own site shows the road hole as having “Spectacle Bunkers when they are clearly a Principal’s Nose of quality.
Two more of note: #1 Away is of great character. #5 Cape is a concept poorly understand, it has nothing to do with the tee shot (and this one is peculiar) in naming the hold but the shape and position of trouble around the putting surface (Think CAPE in a bunker of “Capes & Bays”.
Overall Fox Chapel came a bit of a relative disappointment to me, yet it is a great round of golf and I would play there happily.
Unfortunately I had a camera death so a paltry few photos to show. I've added Leven, Bottle and Biarritz.
This one came I will not say as a surprise, but at least unexpected. I have to be honest and as well as with Mountain Lake, I was not fully aware of it and the inmense quality it had. And when talking about Seth Raynor, quality is really high end golf course design, challenge, creativity and variety not only in holes creation but greens design.
At Fox Chapel you have them all (Punchbowl, Alps, Eden, Biarritz, Redan, etc) and very well used. If you add a fantastic Club House, a ProShop that just says “Buy everything” and being hosted by a very kind Member it just makes the perfect combo.
The invite to Fox Chapel came after I was confirmed 2 rounds at my lifetime dream (Oakmont) and I have to say this couldn’t have been a better warm up for the one I expected more. I had already been almost 2 weeks in The States, played 11 rounds up to that day and although I was tired my body knew I had to get some more strength out of anywhere to play these final 3 rounds.
Early flight from Miami to Pittsburgh and 45mins Uber to the course the course where Ron was on the first tee waiting for me. The only thing I could do before quick shoes change at lockers room was take a picture with the board 1973 Club Champion (my year of birth) who happens to be a very good friend from Oak Hill CC, then I was not even able to take 1 practice putt and directly to the first tee to hit a baby cut to the fairway and start to enjoy one of the finest courses I have played in USA. Ron was just coming out of shoulder surgery and said to me he was not sure to be able to play more than 3-4 holes but that he would be happy to back me in my round. As long as the holes passed and with some advice on how to balance the pain with his swing he started to hit the ball and was able to complete the round which made me so happy I could be helpful to a man of my father’s age who is still in the game and trying to get better every day.
I feel to make it clear that having scored a great round, with maybe the best ball striking of the year, is not influencing my opinion that Fox Chapel is just great and well deserved USA Top 100. If I had putted better the score would have been unbelievable, but it happens and I was all the same able to enjoy a great round.
There are many holes to detail, will go with some of them:
- Par 3 3rd Hole, with a water hazard which is not really in play for single digit golfers but with a great left to right breaking green, name is Eden and you will imagine which hole it tributes ….
- Par 4 5th Cape is a short one where iron is the mandatory tee shot, trust me. And even with that club the tee shot gets you if you miss!
- Par 3 6th Redan which is a reverse design from left to right is one of the very greats, I hit a perfect tee shot landing it by the pin and went almost 15m long!
- Short 7 Alps is reachable, but everything left or right will require magic!
- Alfter Double Plateau 8th (very similar to Mountain Lake 2nd), you stop for a Hot dog and a beer in one of those charming half way houses, but before you hit the drive on 9th!
- How good is Short 11th? A perfect proof that length is not necessary for a great hole!
- I loved the tee shot on dogleg 13th where a high cut is needed, very similar to my home course 11th hole and the sharper you go the better and closer you get to the green.
- Biarritz 240yds 17th where I bombed my 2 iron is in my opinion the best hole on the course and one of those greens which should be never touched. Ron stated the channel separating both platforms might be too deep with no chance of placing a pin there, but go miss the platform and try to two putt!
- 18th was a little bit disappointing not because of the hole but because I failed to birdie it after the best tee shot of the day, but the hole is great! And the elevated Club House offers a very nice picture as well.
One thing I pointed to Ron is that in early fall, the mix of colors would be great and he encouraged me to go back in that time of the year which I will try to do, trust me the image will be great.
After that some Members Locker Room enjoying beer after a hole in one that had been made earlier and then off to Oakmont. But Fox Chapel filled and ticked every box of what a great golf course and golf club has to be. Members are always a great part of the Club’s spirit and many of the stories shared by Ron just confirm that.
Before leaving I made sure FC remains in my mind and bought some very nice stuff at the shop, one of the things us golfers do every time we visit a special one. And this is one is one of those!
I've had the pleasure of playing a few Seth Raynor courses, including Fishers Island and Yale. Fox Chapel is another Raynor gem. There's a good balance between long par 4s and short par 4s. The yardage is short, but it is a par 70 with only two par 5s. The greens are truly marvelous and play some defense against scoring. It is one of the most enjoyable courses I've ever played.
Have u played Mountain Lake? A pure golf jewel, I played 36 holes last Friday in 4.5hs!! Nobody on the course, just me and 3-4 more foursomes!