Saucon Valley Country Club was formed in 1920 by a group of local businessmen, many of who were employed by the Bethlehem Steel company. Herbert Strong set out the Old course, the club’s original 18-hole layout, and this storied track has hosted a number of state and national professional and amateur competitions down the years.
To satisfy increased demand from its membership after World War II, the club constructed another 18-hole course, naming it after founder member and Bethlehem Steel President from 1916 to 1945, Eugene Gifford Grace.
Designed by the father and son architectural team of William and David Gordon, the Grace course was built in two stages with the first nine ready for play in 1953, followed four years later by the other nine.
The course is a long, demanding layout that complements the Old course and younger Weyhill course in terms of brute strength. There may be fewer fairway contours to contend with but there’s water and sand aplenty to keep you focused on the job in hand.
The much-respected Pennsylvanian architect Ron Forse has worked at Saucon Valley in recent times, tightening up the bunkering on the Weyhill and Old courses as well as revising the tees on the Grace course and submitting a long-term Improvement Plan for this layout.There are highlight holes on the course, including replica Eden and Redan par threes at the 5th and the 11th, back to back short par fours at the 12th and 13th, and “Little Sahara,” the 429-yard 6th, where an enormous bunker protects the front and left side of the raised green.
Beyond a golf course being absolutely pointless the next worst thing is the insertion of a very simple but direct word -- dull.
Saucon Valley is an immense complex containing three 18-hole golf courses and the facility has a rich history in hosting a number of top tier events -- especially USGA Championships.
The architecture at the Grace Course is a throwback to the period of time in America -- the 1950's and 1960's -- when the focus was on creating large-scaled courses with plenty of length, distance and difficulty. The Grace Course is bereft of any meaningful topography. Think being in Florida while actually in Pennsylvania. That's hard to imagine when the other layouts at Saucon Valley do have land elements of note. Interestingly, the Gordons did provide a superior layout with their work on the Weyhill Course.
Amazingly, the layout was ranked in the Top 100 by Golf Digest for a time and my initial visit to the club was because of this. I actually played another of the layouts first -- The Old Course -- before playing the Grace. I enjoyed the former and then after finishing the round at the Grace I was shaking my head in total amazement on how the raters could come to such a conclusion.
The style of architecture that came to fruition in American course design during that time frame is no longer in fashion -- thankfully replaced with more imaginative holes and courses that feature shotmaking and creativity at their core and often blessed with terrain that adds to the experience when playing.
The Keystone State has a number of top tier courses that have quite rightly been reassessed for their qualities. For too long they were in the shadows. The Grace, for me, would not sniff a top 25 position.
For total transparency, my review comments predate the recent bunker renovation,
but I feel the issues with the Grace course go way beyond a dressing up of the
by M. James Ward