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.
I cannot fathom why this course is thought of so highly unless those having played all three SVCC courses in a single day confused Grace with the nearby (albeit relatively duller parts) of the Old. SVCC grows incredibly great turf, it is one of if not THE most pastoral American Parkland Clubs. The Grace Course was built on left-over land many years after the "Old" - the better course.
Weyhill, the third course was also built almost 20 years after the Grace - both Grace and Weyhill were done by the Gordons, not well-known for having design talent. The Old was originally a masterful effort by the greatly disrespected architect Hubert Strong - with a little Perry Maxwell. All three course at SVCC have been ?fortunate enough to have had "Fazio work some magic". I say this because when renovating the Old, the club had the opportunity to restore as much as possible the original work and style of Herbert Strong.
The Grace was built on nearly dead flat dull land with Eugene Grace in Full H. Fownes ego-mode demanding Z-shaped Par 5 holes so that they could not be reached in two shots. The Gordons not having that much talent and not having much land to work devised Grace - a sober, challenging affair, but a painfully fair color-by-numbers effort. If all you want is a flat challenge - this may be the course for you, it's challenging for me to get excited. A chacon son gout.
This course being included in the top 20 PA courses is an insult to many notably better courses, but especially and unfortunately Philadelphia suffers an embarrassment of riches. I've played this Grace course a number of times, but have turned down more than I have accepted when I lived in the area. I will play it again when it is ploughed up and completely re-designed to see what another architect has done.
I apologize for not having any photos to share as in my trips around Grace I have taken zero. I cannot list the name of the site, but a friend of mine has extensively photographed hundreds of courses in the GAP and far flung areas as well. He, too, has no file for the Grace.
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
I had the privilege of being a junior member at Saucon Valley in the early 1980s. It's my favorite of the three courses. That doesn't mean it's the best. Still get to play there every once in a while. I don't agree that it's the members' preferred course. I still believe that's the Old Course. You may not find three better finishing holes in the Northeast U.S. than 16, 17 and 18 on the Grace Course. When they let the rough thicken a bit, you need three long and perfect tee shots to have a shot at par. And the 18th green can be quite an adventure. Does my putt REALLY break toward the creek? Mmmmkay. Good luck!