The course at Shackamaxon Country Club is an A. W. Tillinghast layout dating back to 1916 so it’s one of the first 18-hole tracks the architect ever designed, employing features he would use throughout his career such as flash-faced sand hazards and diagonal cross bunkering.
Stephen Kay carried out a recent restoration, preserving the Tillinghast greens by expanding them as far as they could go to highlight the movement in the putting surfaces. A new Reef hole was also introduced when changing the short par four 13th to a par three in order to accommodate a realignment of the entrance road to the clubhouse.
The Reef hole – so called because of the angled ridge and bunkers in front of the green – is not one that Tillie replicated too often, though examples can be found on the Blue course at Bethpage and the Upper course at Baltusrol.
Rarer still is the architect’s design of an island green at the short par four 18th hole (which used to be the 9th before the nines were reversed) where a semi-blind tee shot is followed by an angled approach to a home green which is completely surrounded by water.
In The American Private Golf Club Guide, Daniel Wexler writes this about the course: “Tillinghast’s routing has been fully retained, though numerous bunkers have been added or subtracted, making the course play rather differently today than during the Golden Age.”
Despite having reservations about the bunkering, the author then states: “Shackamaxon doesn’t represent a pure Tillinghast playing experience, but it is a mature parkland layout with enough classic flavor to remain enjoyable nonetheless.”
Fortuitously, there still is a Shackamaxon to opine about. The layout faced an uncertain future just a few years back and the possibility of the entire course closing because of an aging membership and the push for real estate development on the property looked imminent.
The brake on that happening came from the intervention of Chris Schiavone. The NJ-based course owner took control of the property and he smartly has begun the process in resurrecting the layout to its long-ago heyday.
Shackamaxon came early in the design career of A.W. Tillinghast. Amazingly, Tillie was able to do a quality routing that keeps going in various directions. The bunkering plan is good and fortunately there's been a recent movement to bolster bunkers -- either repositioning them or repairing them.
One of the necessities in keeping the course was the forced insertion of housing that envelopes a portion of the property in the center of the course footprint. In bringing this into the picture -- a couple of other changes took place. The original entrance road was aborted and a new one created via Lamberts Mill Road. This then required that the original 1st hole -- a short dog-leg right par-4 was eliminated and a par-3 -- fashioned on the Reef hole concept which Tillinghast used for a number of his creations.
The routing of Shackamaxon now commences with the former par-5 10th. The hole is a fine introduction to stretch the muscles and failure to hit the fairway requires a decision on whether to attempt to cross a perpendicular creek that is located in the right spot for those looking to get near the green in two shots.
One of the main attributes of Shackamaxon is seeing a number of Tillinghast design inclusion that were just at their infancy. The par-3 2nd is on the shortish side but it's well-defended target via several bunkers and various internal green movements is quite engaging.
Shackamaxon rewards good driving. One need not be extremely long but it pays to be in the right areas at all times. The downhill par-4 3rd is fun to play and the counterpoint at the uphill par-4 5th has enough kick to keep one honest.
The routing is a mixture of back and forth on the outward side. The uphill par-4 7th is especially taxing because both sufficient length and placement are required.
The front concludes with a quality long par-3 over a scenic pond and a devilish short par-4 at the 9th which features a green with plenty of internal riddles to solve.
The inward half is where the routing was modified. The present 10th used to be the 8th hole. It's a tenacious long par-4 where shaping the tee shot is s must. The 12th is the final par-5 on the layout and it can provide an eagle opportunity for the stronger players who must cross a creek near the front of the green. At this point you play the Reef hole which Kay created and embodies well the Tillie vision. On an aside -- the club smartly kept the original 1st green and it's used as a practice green now.
The rest of the back nine is just not as interesting from the standpoint of design. The holes are straight and the terrain is a bit subdued. Fortunately, the par-3 17th livens up matters as the 200- yard hole is well-protected by frontal bunkers and a quality green.
The decision to re-route the course was done with one major objective -- have players conclude their round on one of the very first island greens in American golf. The former 9th hole was buried at the halfway point in the round and having it serve as the home hole is a smart move on a number of fronts. The elevate tee looks out over a left turning hole. Bunkers are nicely positioned although with today's clubs and balls it would behoove the club to re-position them to protect against strong players wantonly looking to cut the corner. The green is surrounded by water and when the pin is cut to the front left it takes a quality approach to nestle near the target and stay dry.
Shackamaxon is not at the level of later Tillinghast designs such as Somerset Hills and Ridgewood. But, as stated at the outset, the involvement of Schiavone has been a major blessing in not only sustaining the golf connection but in bolstering the Tillinghast fingerprints through Kay's involvement. I plan on returning in '21 to see how things have progressed. Looking forward to that next year.
M. James Ward