The words from founder James "Dutch" Himmelein to William F. Gordon when designing the course at what is now Medford Village Country Club: "Create a golf course that will be as challenging as Pine Valley." Well alright then! That’s a tall order, so the course will be forgiven if it doesn’t live up to the notoriety of the nearby south-Jersey icon.
Still, those playing from the tips at Medford will have a lot to think about. Among those things, however, one should rise to the fore: accuracy. The club advertises its tight fairways, measuring 30 yards on average, as core to its defensive strategy; a misplay off the tee is the quickest way to losing a hole in competition. The course begins with the more expansive holes during the first half, before diving into a claustrophobic back nine that loops around the property’s edge while demanding utmost accuracy from players.
Gordon took at least a few visual keys from Pine Valley (even if his sand budget was ultimately lower): No. 5, a par five, features a huge bunker crossing the fairway, which will prevent all but the best tee shots to allow crossing in two…”Hell’s eighth-of-an-acre” might be a fitting nickname.
Believe it or not, the course has actually been shortened since it was opened (to "just" 7,150 yards).
My first-time playing Medford Village was nearly 30 years ago and my most recent came in 2019. My experience the first time was very enlightening. The reputation of the course preceded the visit and the hype surrounding the golf lived up to expectations. The most formidable aspect was the narrow corridors -- driving the ball was a sine qua non element.
In some ways the sequestered fairways were a bit much and actually limited the strategic options when playing. During my most recent visit those corridors have been widened and the shotmaking challenges have been enhanced.
Better known to regular players as "Sunny Jim's" -- in honor of owner James "Dutch" Himmelein -- Medford Village was not meant to be a benign layout. The rigors were originally apparent given the marching orders by Himmelein to architect William Gordon.
The course has little real movement from a topography perspective but Gordon saw fit to provide for fairway turning points on a number of holes. It pays dividends on one's scorecard to respect those turning points even if means to not use driver and go with a 3-metal or something else. Being too aggressive can mean a meaningful connection to the pesky trees quick to grab a golf ball in flight.
Turf conditions are quite detailed and the sum total of the golf is good. From an architectural vantage point, the work of Gordon is a nod to the time frame he created his design efforts in the 1950s and 1960s. Will those who are enamored with the classical period of architecture and now being favored by the likes of Doak, Hanse, C&C and DeVries feel a meaningful bond with Medford Village? Probably less so -- but the course is a straightforward test. You hit the ball well -- you'll score. Fail to do so and you pay the price.
M. James Ward