A Darling in Downingtown
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Finding a golf course that offers you the opportunity to challenge the upper reaches of your skill level while rewarding the cautious course manager may not be a rarity, but it’s still a delight when you find one. Such is the find at the inviting—and invitingly thought-provoking—Downingtown Country Club in Downingtown, Pa.
A mid-’60s, parkland-style layout by George Fazio, Downingtown plays at a compact 6,642 yards. At first, you might think you’re in for a straightjacket of a round of either being straight and accurate or playing recovery shots from among the trees. But Downingtown is surprisingly generous for the golfer who has an eye on playing it safe, while still offering opportunities for the average player to score well.
“Accomplished golfers may play the first five holes thinking they should be one or more under par,” says one veteran of the course. “They’re tempted, then, to take it up a notch—and that’s when they hit the sixth and seventh, which can make or break their round, depending on just how much risk they’re willing to accept.”
This is not to say that the first five holes are cupcakes. Fazio’s tendency here to construct trouble left and right as the primary challenge to shotmaking is visible on the first hole, a seemingly benign 397-yard “starter” par 4. While the pond on the left is primarily an optical defense, its presence may push tee shots farther right, where fairway and greenside bunkers suggest something less than the ideal path to the green and an opening birdie putt or safe par.
The 369-yard second hole continues Fazio’s left-right theme, with a sloping right to a tree-lined landing area that will block a straight approach to the green. A bunker at the top left side of the sloping fairway, however, may steer your target landing to that limiting right side. The plateau green will shed anything that’s off target.
The course’s first par 3, a mid-sized 187-yard one-shotter at the third, features a deep green framed by bunkers left and right, demanding accuracy off the tee.
So, you have the one-under round going as you approach the sixth tee? The sixth and the seventh pack Downingtown’s one-two punch, which can send an anticipated personal best either to the canvas or ultimately dancing in the middle of the ring.
These holes are the only back-to-back lengthy par 4s on the course, and represent the No. 1 and No. 3 handicap holes on the front. (The 476-yard 11th is the longest—and maybe the straightest—par 4 on the course, but it is framed by a short par 4 and a medium-length par 3). There’s no question that survival here is the launching point for a great round of golf.
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