Golf Course Review - Lookaway Golf Club

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Updated: 1/16 6:25 am

Buckingham, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - FACTS AND STATS: Course Architect: Rees Jones (1999). Year Opened: May 1999. Location: Buckingham, Pennsylvania. Membership: Private Equity Club. Slope: 144. Rating: 73.4. Par: 72. Yardage: 6,924.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 378 Yds 10 - Par 4 341 Yds

2 - Par 3 201 Yds 11 - Par 3 182 Yds

3 - Par 5 572 Yds 12 - Par 4 390 Yds

4 - Par 4 387 Yds 13 - Par 5 585 Yds

5 - Par 4 423 Yds 14 - Par 4 477 Yds

6 - Par 3 182 Yds 15 - Par 3 170 Yds

7 - Par 4 399 Yds 16 - Par 4 408 Yds

8 - Par 5 542 Yds 17 - Par 5 523 Yds

9 - Par 4 355 Yds 18 - Par 4 434 Yds

Par 36 3,414 Yds Par 36 3,510 Yds

Key Events Held: The Brewer Cup (2013), Philadelphia Open (2008).

Awards Won: Ranked #18 by Golf Digest - Best Courses in Pennsylvania (2013).

Website: www.lookawaygc.com.

HISTORY: When crafting a golf course, several ingredients need to come to fruition.

First, a quality site, second, a team of individuals dedicated to seeing the project through from start to finish, and finally, an architect with a stellar reputation in the design business.

To say Lookaway Golf Club hit the jackpot in all three categories would be an understatement.

History has the property dating back to 1713, when Commonwealth of Pennsylvania founder and Englishman William Penn deeded the land to Thomas Watson of Yorkshire, England. The building, an 18th Century Manor House, which was erected during the mid-1700s, was used as a home and a schoolhouse. It currently serves as the clubhouse and is believed to be the oldest building in the country used as a clubhouse. In addition, the deed (Deed No. 1) created was the first of its kind in Buckingham Township, Pa.

Over the next three centuries, ownership of the land changed hands on several occasions and in 1923 the Paxon family of Edward and Albert sold the dairy farm to Theodore W. Sterling. Known then as the Paxon Farm, Sterling renamed the property Lookaway and maintained the business of a milk farm, which was known as one of the few places in which fresh milk could be purchased. In fact, the bottles of milk sported the club's actual logo, which incorporates Sterling's initials.

Fast forward to 1997, when the Lookaway Golf Club partners, led by Harry Ferguson, Bruce McKissock and Bill Black, purchased the site from the Sterling family. A handshake was all that was needed to make sure that the logo would remain as a symbol of this historic property.

The final piece of the puzzle was hiring an architect who could bring out the beauty of the 207 acres and craft a venue worthy to be called a world-class golf course.

Who else but the "Open Doctor," Rees Jones.

Son of one of the greatest golf course architects of our time, Robert Trent Jones, Rees has built a reputation of remodeling and renovating some of the greatest U.S. Open and PGA Championship courses in the United States, such as Congressional CC (Blue), Medinah CC (Course No. 3), Hazeltine National, Atlanta Athletic Club (Highlands Course), Baltusrol GC (Lower), The Country Club and Bethpage Black, to name a few.

In addition, since 1974, Rees has been crafting some of his own signature designs, such as Ocean Forest GC (Sea Island, Ga.), Atlantic GC (Bridgehampton, N.Y.), Haig Point Club (Daufuskie Island, S.C.) and Huntsville GC (Shavertown, Pa.), all of which have been rated as America's 100 Best Modern Courses by many publications.

The rich landscape of the region created a great canvas for Jones to work on.

"We bought three different parcels which we thought would be ideal for a golf course for this area," Jones said. "When it was open, we did a little more framing with mounds. When it was wooded, we used trees as frames, so we really have very distinct types of golf holes. We moved a little more dirt where there were less trees and the land dictated it."

In this day and age of moving hundreds of thousands of yards of dirt to mold a course, Jones was able to use this rustic property to shape a venue to enhance the land. "A lot of the historical aspects were maintained to uphold the integrity of the building," he said. "We really cared about the land. It had great topography. It has wetlands, which had to be incorporated into our design environmentally, but it all meshed very well."

Since it's opening in 1999, Lookaway Golf Club has climbed in stature and is now rated as one of the top-20 courses in Pennsylvania. Quite high praise considering the rich golf history of the region.

"I think it stacks up to the best courses in Pennsylvania, because it's playable," Jones added. "The green contours at Lookaway are fun. The course has the challenge, but it's fair and you can score. But in many cases, if you don't manage your game or play the proper angles, it can be a little more difficult. You have to think your way around Lookaway."

While some golf courses go through an adjustment period after opening, Lookaway has had very little changed since day one.

"We really haven't done much tweaking at Lookaway," Jones said. "We spent a lot of time there working with the partners and Dave Renk the superintendent, and they were with us every step of the way, so we designed the course to everyone's pleasure at the outset. There's false chipping areas and a short- game area that have been built since the beginning and the practice area has been enlarged, but for the most part, the golf course is intact from 14 years ago."

Lookaway Golf Club has hosted a pair of premium local events, the 2008 Philadelphia Open and the prestigious Brewer Cup in 2013.

Dating back to 1903, the Philadelphia Open has a rich history and was captured by Rich Steinmetz with a one-round score of 67, while the Brewer Cup was won by Robin McCool, a 2 & 1 winner over Michael Quinn. Not only did Quinn survive an eight-for-one sudden death playoff just to qualify for the match-play portion, but he knocked off medalist Chip Lutz in the first round en route to becoming the first two-time winner of this event.

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole at Lookaway Golf Club is as easy as it gets ... well, almost. Although just 378 yards from the tips, the drive requires accuracy, as water looms large left and thick rough/fescue stands guard right. For your approach, you need to be spot on, even if you're using just a wedge, as the entire left side is flanked by water and right is sand. Let's not forget the putting surface is two-tiered and long, so pick the right club for your second. A back-left pin looks great, but must be avoided, otherwise you might make a big number right out of the gate.

Lookaway is a great walking course; however, the stroll to the second is a bit peculiar, as you walk slightly back toward the clubhouse, roughly 300 yards. "Nobody seems to complain about that walk," Jones said. "I guess they still have their energy."

The only par-3 over 200 yards, the second plays downhill from the tee to a well-guarded green. A creek cuts in front of the putting surface, but it's the deep bunker on the front-left section that creates plenty of havoc. The green angles from right to left with very little movement. The key here is club selection, as long will make for a next-to-impossible up and down, while short and left brings bogey into play.

Number three is the first par-5 on the course. At 572 yards, it's the second longest at Lookaway, but this dogleg right plays slightly shorter than the yardage indicates. The critical play is the tee ball that must avoid the bunkers on either side of the landing area. If you can carry the ball 250 yards, then try to cut the right-corner of the dogleg to give yourself the best chance at getting home in two. If that's not your style, then play to the right of the fairway trap on your approach and you'll have a simple, downhill pitch to the green. The real trouble lies with the putting surface, as it reaches 44 paces in depth, with Biarritz-style feel. Bunkers on either side of the green sit well below the surface, so saving par might be tricky.

One of the several signature holes at Lookaway is the beautiful fourth. Just 362 yards in length, this dogleg right features a forced carry over a creek and rough to an uphill landing area. Several well-placed bunkers sit well- below the fairway to the right and must be avoided to have any hope of getting on in regulation. A successful tee shot will leave a medium to short iron approach to a fairly large green, dissected in the center by a large, left-to- right rise. Miss long or right and you'll be faced with a blind, uphill pitch. If you haven't figured it out yet, short at Lookaway does not mean easy!

The first of four par-4s over 400 yards in length, the fifth possesses one of the bigger fairways on the course, as the hole bends sharply to the right. That's the good news. The bad news, a half-dozen bunkers flank the left, and, two, deep traps protect the right, making this a must-hit landing area. Now it's your approach with a mid-iron to a kidney-shaped green, 34 paces in length. Sand on either side of this narrow, tiered surface tightens your shot even more.

Next up on the front nine is the par-3 sixth. A medium-lengthed hole that plays uphill from tee to green. Just 182 yards long, make sure you take an extra stick to compensate for the climb to the putting surface. In addition, the green is 41 yards long with severe movement throughout. Finally, the series of traps on the right are diabolical, so make sure you avoid the sandbox.

The seventh is another favorite of the author. Downhill from tee to green, this par-4 sweeps from right to left, reaching 399 yards in length. Two fairway bunkers are a good aiming point, as you move your three-metal from right to left. Trees guard the left side and may block your approach if you try to cut the corner. A level lie on this fairway is highly unlikely, so be prepared as you approach the green. The putting surface sits well below the fairway, so choosing the correct club is quite a challenge. Speaking of a test, the green is quite large with a secondary tier in the back, a creek in the front and sand to the right. Did I miss anything? Good luck!

Number eight is a dogleg left par-5 that stretches to 542 yards. Your tee ball is the key to conquering this hole, as it must favor the left side, avoiding the 100-yard bunker down the right. Mounding left to the green is not favorable either, so be on point. A big tee shot can afford you the opportunity to get home in two, but stay left, otherwise more sand awaits. This is a real birdie opportunity, so even if you can't reach in two, you'll be able to spin a wedge close on this minuscule green.

Another birdie chance awaits as you reach the ninth tee, one of the shortest par-4s on the course. Fairway metal off the tee should suffice, as sand crimps the landing area at the 140-yard mark. Your approach is slightly uphill to the smallest green on the course, just 27 paces in length and less in width. A near pin brings both fronting traps into play, so shoot past the flag and spin back toward the hole.

No rest for the weary upon reaching the 10th, although this is the shortest par-4 on the course at just 341 yards in length. The key here is the tee ball on this dogleg right. With thick rough flanking either side and a massive sand box on the right, you'll need to be spot on off the tee, so take less than the big stick from the start. A short iron should be enough to attack the green, but be careful, as the two-tiered putting surface, although long at 38 paces, is quite narrow. Missing long and right will spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E.

The one-shotter 11th is all about accuracy. Playing slightly downhill off the tee, you'll need to pick the correct stick, as the green is guarded on either side by sand. The green itself, with a rise in the center, is only 29 paces in depth. Protected by the wooded terrain, this hole can play quite difficult, especially with a back-left pin and a swirling wind through the trees.

The 12th starts a string of holes that will test the best of players right through to the picturesque finale. This par-4, although it reaches less than 400 yards, features plenty of challenge, starting right with the tee shot. With the earthy tree line on the right and the thick fescue bordering the right, your opening shot needs to be placed in the short grass. Toss in some of the white granules on the left and the landing area is narrowed just a bit. The real fun now begins, as your approach must carry a pond and sand on the right portion of the small and slick putting surface. Miss right or long to a back-right pin and you'll have little chance of making par, let alone bogey.

At 585 yards, the par-5 13th is certainly the longest hole on the course and is significantly more difficult, as it plays uphill from tee to green. The snake-like fairway has two distinct sections, as the first is tree lined, while the second section is wide open with guarding fescue. Sand will not affect your tee shot; however, when laying up, avoid the 50-yard bunker down the left. As you continue your green ward climb, remember to take enough stick to reach the putting surface. The green itself is one of the most benign on the course, so stay below the hole and you'll increase your chance of birdie.

There's good reason why the 14th is the most difficult hole at Lookaway. First off, 477 yards from the back markers. Second, a 200-yard carry over wetlands to reach the fairway. Thirdly, a 90-yard bunker guards the left side of the landing area, while trees and mounding guard the right. Piece of cake ... not. Despite the elevated tee box, this hole will play every bit of its length and even with a successful tee shot, you'll need a long iron to reach the green as the hole bends to the left. The putting surface is quite large, so make sure you have the correct number to get home. One of the many visually beautiful and intimidating holes on the course.

Although it's the shortest hole on the course, the 15th is not without its difficulties. Playing slightly uphill from the tee, with trees flanking either side, this par-3 is hardly a pushover. Wind and the topography will dictate your club selection, so you really need to be spot on, as a deep menacing bunker covers the front. Miss long and you'll sit well below the putting surface, which is just 29 paces in depth, but quite wide. Short and right is not a bad spot to miss, especially with a keen short game.

The rock-solid closing stretch continues on the par-4 16th, a medium-length hole of 408 yards. Bending slightly to the right, your tee shot must carry over 200 yards of wetlands to reach the accommodating fairway. Avoid the long bunker on the right and you're just about home free. Your approach must be struck with precision, as a hollow and deep bunker reside on the right of this long putting surface. The green is dissected in the rear by a large ridge, so play center cut for a routine par. With just a couple holes remaining, this is not time to get cute.

Your final birdie chance comes in the form of the 17th, a sharp, dogleg left par-5 that reaches just 523 yards from the back markers. The key to conquering this reachable hole is the tee shot. The preferable play is a draw off the right fairway bunkers which will run with the contours of the landing area. The player is now faced with two decisions, whether to lay up or not. Either way, you'll need to carry the environmentally sensitive area that starts at the 190-yard mark. Laying up will require just a medium iron to a fairly wide section around the 100-yard mark. Going for the green will be a bit of a challenge, as the fairway tightens significantly as you get closer to the flag. Bunkers down the right and left sides starting at 140 yards away will get your attention. The green is fairly long with a ridge near the front, but this surface can be had. One word of caution: Avoid the moat-like bunker that wraps around the green and your chances of making par or better will increase.

As good as the first 17 holes are at Lookaway Golf Club, the "piece de resistance" has to be the 18th. A sensational par-4 and the second longest on the course, the finale is as good as any in the region, except maybe the closer at Merion East. The first chore is the tee shot, which at first look seems to be tougher than it is, as the shape of the fairway makes the landing area look smaller than it is. Having said that, you'll still need to bust your driver down the right side to take advantage of the slope of the fairway. This also will help you avoid the sand left and don't forget the wetlands you must carry off the tee. Now the real difficulty of 18, your approach. Playing straight uphill and to the left, your second shot must carry wetlands and a cluster of bunkers wedged into the hillside. This is a two-club hill, so take the machismo out of it and pull the extra stick. The two-tiered green slopes quickly from back to front and is just 32 paces in depth, so if you can, stay below the hole and who knows, maybe you'll make par.

FINAL WORD: Certainly not long by today's standards at just under 7,000 from the back markers, Lookaway Golf Club has the play and feel of a championship golf course.

Despite the somewhat short numbers, Lookaway can definitely pack a punch.

You'll need to maneuver your ball in and around the course to have any chance of making pars, let alone birdies. But, Lookaway is not just for the accomplished player. The forward or Gold tees are just over 5,000 yards and with the mixed-courses menu of playing different markers on each hole, you have seven different options.

However, what really sets Lookaway apart is its variety and style of holes.

From the shear beauty of the fourth, to the dogleg left seventh or the magnificent 18th, you'll be left with a quite memorable round.

"Four is one of those really distinct and wonderful holes," Jones said. "I am a big fan of Merion and I think Lookaway is a lot like Merion, in which it has a lot of short par-4 and seven is like the 11th at Merion with the creek in front and 18 is similar to the second shot into the 18th green at Pine Valley, with all of that bunkering."

When strolling the immaculate fairways, you get the feeling you're playing a course that has been around for 50 years. Such a natural, and almost undisturbed sense that the course resonates.

"The naturalism of the site is what I believe we accomplished at Lookaway," Jones added. "The framing we did with the mounding on 12 and 13 and 1 and 10 and 3 and 8, we sort of did that, so that every time you're on a hole, you almost don't think you're anywhere else. You're isolated from the rest of the golf course. I think we accomplished that and it is quite an achievement to feel that, that every time you're on a hole, you're not interacting with people playing other holes."

In addition, with just over 220 members, you'll never feel pressured while playing your round of golf. A casual walk in the park, with no tee times, no hassles ... just golf at its best.

Hand picked by Jones for the job, Renk, who has a pretty good pedigree himself (formerly at Pine Valley), has been with Lookaway since day one and has protected and preserved every aspect of Jones' intentions.

Jones certainly doesn't shy away from his feelings about Lookaway.

"Every hole, because of the topography and because of the wetlands and wooded holes and the openness, are all distinctly different. Lookaway is really a finesse golf course, which is probably why it has so many members that have stayed around from the beginning, because you don't have to be a long hitter to enjoy this course."

Beginning with the 14th, Jones felt this was the best stretch of holes at Lookaway. "You really reach a great crescendo with 14 through 18. Sixteen is a heck of a par-4. Seventeen is a great chance to make up ground, as it's the shortest par-5 on the course, and 18 is a great finishing hole."

The bottom line is that the membership are the ones who need to be satisfied with the design, more than the architect, because they are the ones playing it on a regular basis.

Jones said it best about Lookaway and his designs:

"The satisfaction really comes from both restoring or redesigning or building new ones when it's really well accepted by the membership, as it has been by the membership of Lookaway. There are two different ways to look at it, the U.S. Opens and the PGAs, they want their championship courses to be a great test for the best in the game and my other clients, where I build new courses, they want the course to be as enjoyable and a great test for the everyday player."

"I believe we accomplished that at Lookaway."

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.

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