"Before" and "After" photos
From the day Inniscrone
Golf Club in Avondale, Chester County, opened in 1998, the 16th
hole was the hole everybody talked about. Some people loved it. Some people
hated it. Everybody scratched their
From the back tees on the 387-yard par 4, you
were facing a blind shot into an uphill dogleg left, with upper and lower split
fairways, separated by a dramatically sloped, unforgiving wall of gnarly
The second shot was even tougher. (Bausch Collection of Inniscrone)
Better players tended to favor the lower left
fairway, which was narrower and harder to hit but offered the reward of a
shorter shot into the green, 80 to 100 yards. That presumed, of course, that you were
not intimidated at having to carry an ominous, deep chasm of waste area and
sand that fronted the green.
All others took the safer route, up the steeper
but wider right section of fairway.
Problem was, even if you busted your tee shot up that right side, to the
150- or 100-yard marker, you were lucky if you could see even the top of the
pin from the fairway. That angle
into the green was made even more difficult by another rough-covered, wall-like
mound that effectively obscured the right half of the putting surface.
There seemed to be no correct way –
certainly no easy way – to play the 16th.
Early on, the mysteries and damnations of the
16th were a matter to be discussed among Inniscrone’s
membership. Built during the Great
Golf Course Boom, Inniscrone, one of Malvern-based Gil Hanse’s early works, was conceived, designed and birthed as a very private
club, after all.
Among non-members who did get a chance to play Inniscrone, the conversation almost always came back to No.
16. The spectrum of opinions only
increased several years later, when Inniscrone became
semi-private and more and more people experienced the hole.
I know I was baffled by it. The first time I played Inniscrone, to review it for the Inquirer, I took the upper
fairway, only to conclude that must be the wrong way to play the hole. I went back to the tee and replayed it,
this time up the lower left side. Again, wow.
"I still can’t decide if the 16th is
a stroke of genius or madness," I wrote in the Inquirer.
At the time, even Hanse,
now an architectural star, had concerns about the 16th, noting that
the extreme slope of the terrain left him little alternative in the design of
the split fairway. Indeed, he
has noted that he faced several environmental or design issues at Inniscrone.
Without mentioning the 16th, Hanse
has also said that his biggest regret as a young designer was trying to
incorporate too many of his ideas into courses.
Sixteen years, several owners later and a few
bumps and bruises later, Inniscone is a municipal
golf course, having been purchased by London Grove Township in 2009 for
Those members with the deep pockets and
single-digit handicaps are long gone, replaced by a loyal clientele of seniors
and Asian-Americans during the week, after-work and church leagues, and mid- to
high-handicappers on weekends – all looking for a bargain.
"That’s what this place has become, and
we are growing," said Tom Bolko, Inniscrone’s general
manager and superintendent since the township hired Healthland Hospitality Group two years ago to manage the place.
Which brings us to why there was a man on a bulldozer at the 16th
all day Monday.
Over time, Bolko came
to believe that Inniscrone was simply too difficult
for its new customer base. So, Bolko, who spent 20 years as the superintendent at
Coatesville CC, set about trying to soften the course around the edges.
He removed eight bunkers and recast the others,
turning some of them into grass bunkers, which high handicappers find less
penal. He took down 20 trees,
including two that blocked out tee shots on the 6th and 11th. He cut back or thinned the overgrown
wild grasses the lined every fairway and surrounded every green.
Still, it was the 16th that kept Bolko up at nights.
Besides it being a nightmare to maintain, Bolko
was hearing from golfers who said they wouldn’t be back because of the 16th. It was too brutal. It also had become a pace-of-play
One day, Bolko looked
on as a foursome of seniors tackled the hole. They played their tee shots up the lower
left side, then, one by one, dumped their second shots into the chasm. Because you’d can’t drive a cart through
the chasm, they had to reverse course and drive 100 yards back toward the tee,
then up the upper right fairway.
Once they reached the green complex, they had to get to the bottom of
the chasm, where each needed two or three whacks to escape.
"It was beyond painful to watch," said Bolko, referring to Chester County, southwest of
Philadelphia. "There is a lot of neat history behind the hole but at the end of
the day, trying to run a public golf course, it had to be addressed."
The solution he came up with was to bulldoze
the fairway wall, blending the upper and lower fairways into a single sloped
fairway. They didn’t completely
fill in the chasm but they did make it less severe. They also removed the bunkers along the
left side of the chasm. On the
right side, they softened the mound, enabling players the option of hitting a
bump-and-run into the green.
Although he hasn’t been in contact with Hanse, who has his hands full designing course for the 2016
Olympics in Brazil, Bolko likes to believe he would
have his support and understanding.
files, Bolko found a letter Hanse
wrote in 2000, after he brought in Nick Faldo to walk the course with him,
looking for suggestions. In the
letter, Hanse wrote that Faldo suggested, and he
agreed, that the right side approach on the 16th could be softened.
replied to my email asking for his reaction to the changes. He wrote:
I guess I am slightly disappointed
that the hole we designed is not considered playable for the new clientele at Inniscrone.
We pride ourselves on building fun
and playable courses, and that is across the board for all types of golfers.
We are always proud of what we put in the ground and at Inniscrone we had to deal with property line and
environmental issues that forced our hands in a couple of instances and 16 was
one of those holes.
It is sad to see an innovative and
interesting hole undergo such a big change but at the end of the day we
understand that the course needs to provide an appropriate challenge for those
who play it.
In a few weeks, when the 16th is
grown him, Bolko should have more empirical evidence
about how Inniscrone regulars like the changes. In the meantime, he is convinced he did
what had to be done.
"This is a very competitive golf market down
here," said Bolko. "If you can put a smile on their face,
people will come back. That is what
we are trying to do."