Founded in 1896, the Country Club of Scranton appointed Walter Travis to lay out an 18-hole course for the membership in 1927. Sixty years then passed before Michael Hurdzan was called in to add another 9-hole circuit in 1988, expanding the club’s golf offering to 27 holes.
Set out within a generous 384-acre tract of land, the three nines (named Pines, Willows and Falls) can be configured into three different 18-hole layouts, with the Pines and Willows combination forming the original Old course.
A number of new millennium developments have taken place to improve the golf facility, including the installation of a new irrigation system in 2004 and the introduction of new drainage on the Old course greens in 2009.Designer Tom Marzolf (former President of the American Society of Golf Course Architects) then completed a course renovation programme in 2012, which resulted in improved drainage throughout the property, the removal of undesired grass species from fairway fringes and the construction of new green complexes and bunkers on the Old course.
The golf course at the CC of Scranton features greens that are some of the most distinct I've come across, the shaping of mounds throughout created some unique playing situations and I found the routing flawless. The course is set on dramatic hill terrain and while it runs against a larger lake at the Seventh, water doesn't come into play. The course is scenic and features a combination of beauty due to the surrounding setting while the course is visually enjoyable yet every part of the course serves a purpose in dictating play.
The course had a terrific sense of fun and thrill all while requiring skill and strategy to play well. The contours of the greens and mounds presented so many different shots and were receptive to several different approaches. There was never a lull in the excitement of the round, nor did I ever feel any sense of slight or misfortune with where my ball ended up after a shot. Bad shots were handled appropriately and good shots were rewarded to the extent they were executed from a sound strategy. Each hole seemed to come at the exact right spot during the round and each shot seemed like a new and different experience from the prior. I had a sense of fulfillment after the round not due to how I played, but more so because the course provided a complete experience.
The bunkering and green complexes were thrilling and the routing resonated with me. It's a classic design where the style of the architect showed through. The challenge was not with length, but rather by allowing so many different styles of play succeed on the course, all while remaining interesting and fun. This was most evident around the greens, where the mounding and bunkering were unique and promoted creativity. Another well done aspect of the course was the visuals created by bunker alignment, causing a few issues with depth perception. Considering all of the attributes of the design and placed in a parkland setting that ranges in terrain, corridor-esque trees to wide open space, the scenery enhances the play to further make the round as enjoyable as possible.
For those of you that worship Walter Travis, or the epic virtues of Golden Age masterpieces, the Country Club of Scranton is one of the most impressive golf courses that doesn’t get a fraction of the recognition that it deserves. The location is isolated, but every mile of the road-trip is worth it a million times over.
Before I comment on the golf course, allow me to mention that every person on Tom Doak’s team has visited this course in recent years, including multiple visits from Tom himself. How many clubs can say that? A funny piece of trivia is that this is not the only world class golf course in the state of Pennsylvania which has Church-Pews and a main road running through the property! Sound familiar?
The growing conditions and green-keeping strategy are best in class and it shows in every direction. Thousands upon thousands of trees have been removed across the entire property, with thousands more on the chopping block. The sweeping views across the rolling topology and of the adjacent Summit Lake have been opened up for the first time in over a century. Just two years ago, the volume of trees was suffocating the airflow and views, but now the cloth has been whipped off the table to reveal the prize.
The club is at 1,600 feet above sea level and is blessed with wonderful change in elevation. I was skeptical about the flow of the course being broken by multiple trips back and forth across the road (like Royal Melbourne East bouncing across paddocks), but the orientation of the course is as good as gold. I just wished more people would walk the golf course rather than an entourage of golf carts down every fairway.
The quality, intrigue and genius of the Travis greens are right up there with the likes of Crystal Downs. The natural contours are superbly presented and are beautiful from any viewing angle. I conclude that these precious greens are essentially a golfing museum, but you’re allowed to touch the art.
A major point of contention for me though is the mix of bunkering. The original Travis bunkers are sublime and works of art in their own right. Many of them have the razor sharp edges visible throughout the iconic Melbourne Sandbelt, which steeply rise up above the level of the putting surfaces and generally make you shake in your boots. The shaping of them is beyond incredible, and there’s only 2 guys on the maintenance crew who are skilled/qualified to touch them every day!! I absolutely loved them.
Unfortunately, in recent years, many of the bunkers were renovated or added by the Fazio group who implemented their own style of bunkering, which simply put, are not visually appealing and look really out of place. The superintendent told me the full story of the background as to why it happened – but you look down a fairway or at a green-site and you have a sharp Travis bunker sitting right next to a cluster of Fazio bunkers with big grassy tongues. I am personally don’t support when a modern-day Fazio design team removes the bones from an old classic and strips it of its original appearance. The remaining Travis bunkers are wildly more impressive and “fitting” to the brilliance of the course. The visual mix of bunkering styles on too many of the holes just doesn’t work. In my humble opinion, a masterplan of remove all traces of Fazio bunkering and quickly implement 100% Travis bunkering all over the course is unquestionably the largest correction needed at this, otherwise, sensational golf course.
In summary, the club doesn’t get the praise it truly deserves as it’s certainly a US Top 100 golf course.
An underrated course by Walter Travis. Very few trees are on this classic gem, which provides for outstanding views of the rolling hills. The greens are wild, but fascinating and a whole lot of fun.