2050 Saucon Valley Road,
Pennsylvania (PA) 18015,
- +1 610 758 7177
7 miles S of Bethlehem
Members and their guests only
Herbert Strong, Perry Maxwell
Originally laid out by Herbert Strong, the Old course has since been renovated by Perry Maxwell and, more recently, Tom Fazio.
It’s one of three 18-hole layouts at Saucon Valley, where the club has hosted a number of national competitions down the years including the US Amateur in 1951, a couple of US Senior Opens and the US Women’s Open in 2009.A round on the Old ends with three very strong holes: water threatens the left side of the green at the long par four 16th, a creek crosses the fairway of the 422-yard 17th whilst the uphill 18th hole plays to a difficult, sand-protected putting surface on the home green.
Much has been written about SVCC Old - it is best known in the Lehigh Valley because of its seemingly continuous exposure via USGA events since about 1950. Having played in the area for almost 20 years I have had numerous plays and numerous tournament exposure. It is an interesting course historically - in the age of great restorations of Classic US golf courses the club being closely aligned with the USGA has made some bad decisions, the worst of which was in undertaking its last restoration/renovation/re-invention they made the sad mistake to have Fazio design create a much more Fazio course than to restore the lost Herbert Strong.
Herbert Strong is perhaps the most disrespected "Golden Age Architect" - most of his work now a memory. Kindly take a moment and notice the "Top 100 Architects" does not include him. Perry Maxwell did some green work and is listed with design credit, but this is a Fazio course now as is the Weyhill.
Thankfully, not as gutted and uninteresting as the dishwater dull Grace course - one can see with the southernmost holes of the routing (The club constantly changes the sequence and numbering of the holes for various tournaments) which are among Grace holes that the land is so devoid of interest they seem an afterthought.
The first nine cannot be altered in sequence much but there is quite a bit of dullness as well. The first as a Par 5 will have to become a Par 4 soon due to technology as the second/third is so downhill. The par 3 4th is perhaps the gem of the nine with its uphill shot, the rest of the nine suffering from dull, flat land and the literal "orphan" back tee boxes put in so far far away to "Toughen the course" (Hint: fix the ball). The longish ninth par 3 is always the consistency of chocolate pudding, not helped by the fronting creek.
Then a really bizarre thing happens, one must walk through or around the clubhouse to reach the second nine and one must be certain to know which #10 is the choice that day, No matter - the holes of interest are either of the two holes chosen as #18, the one coming from the south sub-400 yards with the echelon of bunkers or the downhill hole with the subtlest of Biarritz greens.
The downhill Par 5 on the westernmost part of the course is a very fun hole to try to get the tee shot just right and the northernmost hole Par 3 with an elevated green (Which I directly heard Jack Nicklaus criticize severely as unfair in the 2000 Senior Open) are the remainder of holes of true interest.
Taking away the tournament history is not as dramatic as discussing the Emperor's new suit, but if SVCC didn't have such great parking - what would we know of it?
This week I have been covering the US Senior Open at Saucon Valley and it's good to return after covering the first two editions there in 1992 and 2000 respectively.
Once again the Old Course serves as the layout where the best 50+ players will play.
I opined my thoughts in my earlier review but wanted to add a few other comments given the work carried out there by Tom Marzolf from Fazio design from over a decade ago.
There's also a different routing for this year's Senior Open. The front side remains the same but the back nine features holes 13-18 and then 10-12 providing the inner half selection. I think the championship routing works quite well.
The Old has some land movement on the outward side and the key is to avoid being caught by any number of pesky bunkers placed in the most likely of landing spots.
The opener is quite straightforward and gives players an opportunity to stretch the muscles. While this week's seniors can't fly the right-side fairway bunker -- it is doable for those who are younger and more limber. Getting off to a fast start is a big time plus. At the long par-4 2nd you reverse direction and the hole slides uphill with a fairway banked right-to-left. A fairway bunker hugs the right side and while the carry is 275-280 yards the uphill nature puts a bit more pressure on those contemplating that direction.
The green is set above the fairway and the 2nd showcases the array of internal movements that are a constant staple at the Old Course.
I like the par-4 3rd because it provides an ideal change of pace situation. Most often players will not hit driver but getting the ball into play on the dog-leg left hole is a must. The green is truly a work of art with more movements than what you see on a stormy day at the ocean. This situation is a constant item when playing so many of the holes on the Old Course.
The par-3 4th is not a long hole but you face various tiers that have to be factored when playing. Those who can't hit consistent approaches will find the likelihood in sinking longer putts a tremendous challenge.
The remaining holes on the front from the par-4 5th to the concluding par-3 9th are good holes but the terrain is fairly ordinary. The main exception comes with the thoughtful par-5 6th. Players have to deal with a mega-sized bunker that impacts the 2nd shot. The green on this hole is also well-positioned and sits more to the right than many might think on first glance.
The par-3 9th is a quality hole -- the approach flies over Saucon Creek.
The inner half of holes -- once you get past the vanilla short par-4 10th =-- the actual 13th really shines. The par-3 11th is listed at 183 yards but the uphill nature makes club selection vexing. On top of that -- the green is heavily pitched from back-to-front and heaven help any player who fails to find the appropriate landing area. A superb par-3 hole.
The 12th is a longish par-5 that moves left and downhill. There is a fairway bunker on the left but for stronger players it's a target they should fly. The key with the hole comes with bunkers inserting themselves for the 2nd shot. The necessity in avoiding a visit is a must.
The next two holes are satisfactory although I found the 14th to be one that can inflict some scorecard pain. Laurel Run, a creek that runs up the left side and then curls in front of the green, must be accounted for when you tee off. For this week's Senior Open the right side rough is quite dense and thick. Missing to that side can then bring into play Laurel Run as the creek awaits those unable to cross it when going for the green with the approach.
The ending stretch from the 15th to the end is a quality mixture. The short 15th turns left in the drive zone and is fiercely protected on the left side by a series of bunkers. The green is smartly placed on the top of the rise and being able to know one's yardage is essential. Then matters really accelerate with the uphill par-4 16th. Yardage listed is a misnomer -- it plays a good bit longer than listed at 385 yards. The green is a mega-riddle and requires -- change that -- mandates utter precision. Placing the pin in the deep left and right corners will be a test but if the flagstick is cut near the very front, will require a deft touch to secure a quality birdie putt.
The penultimate hole plays as a dropshot hole and it's an interesting test because anytime you are playing from a high point to one set below can be hard to gauge.
The closing hole provides a fitting climax. The hole starts from an elevated tee and turns left in the drive zone. Four bunkers defend the turning point and it takes a drive of no less than 300-310 yards -- depending on the angle of the carry -- to make the fairway. Most players will opt to avoid them and seek to attain a right fairway landing area. The green is a fantastic climax with a dip nearer to the center -- reminiscent of a Biarritz but not as deep. Plenty of numbers are in play when you come to the normal 12th positioned as the final hole for the event.
Candidly, I think the routing for the championship should be one used for daily play.
Credit Marzolf for refreshing the course without undercutting the foundation provided by Herbert Strong. The Old Course is a quality test and, in my mind, among the top 20 courses in the Keystone State but likely towards the back end. That's not a negative but the sheer depth of top tier layouts located just in the GAP section of Philadelphia before one even mentions the line-up of quality courses in western Pennsylvania.
Saucon Valley is something to see for the golf product it provides. Those having the opportunity to play the Old Course will find a worthy test.
The one immediate word that comes to mind when discussing the Old Course at Saucon Valley -- thorough.
The course was updated by Tom Marzolf and the elements of the Herbert Strong still play a role. The 18-hole layout is located on terrain that has movement but it's neither excessive nor as boring as the Grace Course at SV.
The front nine requires a number of hefty tee shots at the par-4 2nd, 5th and 7th holes. The outward half concludes with a quality par-3 at the 9th.
The inner half features a number of holes with turning points in the drive zone. The closing hole is quite good -- a short par-4 that features a devilish green tucked left and perched on a rise.
Turf conditions are generally exemplary.
There's not much rapture from the totality of the holes presented. It's straightforward golf -- you have to execute to secure low numbers om the scorecard.
The return of the U.S. Senior Open for a 3rd time in late June will be a clear achievement for the club and given the space SV has there's little question there's sufficient room.
The Old Course is a quality layout, however, when you take into consideration the sheer depth and caliber of courses throughout Pennsylvania, it's my take the layout is certainly among the Keystone State's top 20 but closer to the end margin than nearest to the top ten.
Saucon Valley is a complex of 54 spectacular holes of golf. The Old is the standard bearer but the other two are very nice in their own right. You could be dropped and play anyone of them and walk away quite impressed. They very much care about their golf here. The conditioning is always excellent and the staff is very welcoming. This is a place most anyone could call home and enjoy it the rest of their lives. The Old is quite challenging and delivers pure tough golf. Good length and strategic bunkering combined with diverse green complexes. Go spend some time here if you can. You'll love it.
Saucon Valley’s Old Course is very good and the conditions will be very good if you get the chance to play there. However, there was not a huge variety of golf holes or any exciting risk/reward opportunities. Overall, really strong golf course, just not the most exciting one you’d ever play.
Just when you thought all the long holes were over with, welcome to the 615 yards 15th followed by the merciless 496 yard par 4 16th hole! There’s at least 5 par 4s from the back tees on this course that feel like par 5s, and having played the course on a calm day, I can only imagine how it feels from the tips even with a 15mph breeze. Water comes into play on 16, 17 and the relatively short 18 hole. The Old course at Saucon Valley is a stark contrast to Weyhill and Grace courses, as it’s elegantly simple in design. It has undergone a number of renovations over the years, not only by the original architect, but also by William Gordon and, later, Perry Maxwell. With each renovation, the emphasis has been on preserving the integrity of the original design, while improving various holes.