Rees Jones – son of the legendary designer Robert Trent Jones Snr and younger brother of renowned architect Robert Trent Jones Jnr – is perhaps not as prolific as the other two when it comes to the number of courses he has designed around the world but he still plays a very important role in the American golfing world.
Nicknamed “The Open Doctor,” Rees has been involved in the redesign of more than a dozen courses in recent years in preparation for national or international competitions – seven US Open circuits, five USPGA venues, three Ryder Cups courses and one Walker Cup site. Some might feel this amounts to unnecessary interference, others will vouch that it’s something that needs to be done to ensure the integrity of the layouts.
Best known for designs at the likes of Nantucket, Atlantic and Ocean Forest, Rees was responsible for setting out the course at Huntsville Golf Club over rolling terrain within a massive 470-acre site in the early 1990s. “What golfers will enjoy at Huntsville is the beauty of the site and the way that the holes fit the land so perfectly,” says Rees Jones. “This course will reward excellent shot making, yet it will not overly penalize a poorly played shot.”
The par four 2nd doglegs left from an elevated tee position and is rated one of the best holes in the Keystone State. Another series of holes worth noting on the front nine are the three strong par fours that start at stroke index 1, the uphill 6th. On the inward half, the 448-yard, par four, 11th is a real feature hole, with a split fairway separated by a stonewall and an enormous bunker.
An interesting tidbit re Huntsville. Upon it's opening Mr Maslow had Ted Tryba stop by to play the course. Ted at the time was on the PGA Tour and playing well. He is from the area of Huntsville. Mr Maslow is the sole owner of the course. Anyway, Ted played the course and Maslow asked what he thought. Ted said he loved it but 14 needed another tee box further back. Within a week that tee was built. The signature hole and one of the best I have played is the 11th. A spectacular par 4 offering a split fairway daring you to take the more direct route vs the longer wider right route. The longer right route offers excellent entry to the green. The front is more tree lined. The 6th hole dogleg right up the hill is the toughest hole on the course. It is long and fairly narrow and the green is extremely difficult. This is the area I grew up.
The most telling element of Huntsville is the massive sprawling property. The holes are free of any clutter and the opportunity to fully enjoy this quality Rees Jones design is clearly present.
Often times Jones has overplayed his hand in creating holes riding above and apart from the land rather than looking as they fit within. You still see some of that at Huntsville but it's not as obvious as is the case with so many other of his designs.
The rolling nature of the property really adds to the experience and while the bunkering can at times be a bit overly shaped there's little question that positioning off the tee is central to one's success at Huntsville.
The opening hole belies what the rest of the round will be like. It's a fairly simply hole and good to get the muscles stretched out. Comments have already been made of the superb 2nd hole. Interestingly, the outward side moves within a steady diet of trees so accuracy is clearly something to possess.
Frankly, it's the first five holes where scoring opportunities can be made. That changes when you reach the final four holes on the front. The 6th, 7th and 8th are a fine trio of stout par-4's. The closing 9th features a massive bunker on the inside corner of the dog-leg sprinkled with smaller ones just waiting to inflict some serious golfing pain. A birdie situation can only happen with smart execution.
The inward half is clearly the better of the two nines and when saying that it is by no means minimizing the front.
The 10th is a fine mid-length par-4 but matters ratchet up considerably with the sensational split fairway at the par-4 11th. Playing 448 yards the player must decide between the safer right side or the risky and narrower left side. So many times when split fairways are used -- the real option is almost always just one choice to make. That's not the case with the 11th. Taking the more problematic left side route requires a superb marriage between distance and accuracy. The reward provides for a much shorter and easier approach.
The par-5 12th keeps the momentum going -- a vintage risk/reward par-5 where the green appears to be sitting in the fronting pond and not actually immediately behind it. The par-4 13th plays just under 450 yards and here Jones tapers the fairway down considerably when players look to get as much distance off the tee as they can. I have always been an advocate in tapered fairways. Putting an extreme premium on distance provides for a much healthier balancing act between super strong players and those having average length.
Jones finishes the quartet of par-5 holes at the 14th and it's also well done. The fairway cuts off and when wind conditions are favorable and the turf is a bit on the dry side it's possible for long hitters to run out of fairway. The key is knowing what club can take you as near as possible without going too far. The 14th also provides for strategic calculations with both the 2nd and 3rd shots as a cluster of trees magnificently split the landing area. If you stay right you can attempt a go at the green. If you opt left you will have a short pitch but you'd best make sure you stay far enough left so the trees do not become an issue.
The par-3 15th is often overlooked but the heart-shaped green has plenty of quality pin placements with back left behind the bunkers a good one but equally challenging is right at the very front where the landing area necks down considerably.
The par-4 16th is the only real average hole on the side. Fortunately, the par-3 17th is another fine one-shot hole. The green is narrow in front and a rear right side pin location is rather particular about rewarding anything less than a first rate effort. The closing hole concludes the round on a fine note as the 456-yard hole is protected by a very long fairway bunker on the left. The putting surface ends the day with a number of interesting riddles presented by the internal contours.
Part of the issue for Huntsville is few people really do get all the way into northeast Pennsylvania. Many just assume the immediate Philadelphia area and the nearby suburbs are the key places to play golf and avoid going elsewhere. That presumption truly is in error.
The depth of courses in The Keystone State is no doubt very strong, however, Huntsville has the goods to be considered for a position among the top 20. The turf quality is often stellar and the elasticity of the course allows for a range of handicap levels to enjoy what's there.
Among the courses Rees Jones has designed over his career it amazes me how few people ever mention Huntsville among his finest. For those having the opportunity it's certainly one to savor when an invitation to play is presented.
M. James Ward
I believe Huntsville is underrated on this list, and likely because of its location. It has some of the best holes you may ever play in holes 2 and 12, and winds its way through the mountains as well as out on the open farmland. Although it may have some holes that are considered too difficult or will leave you scratching your head, it is a very strong golf course that is in the top 15 in Pennsylvania.