area’s newest golf course, Applecross Country Club, is private,
part of the Talamore Group, which includes Talamore
CC in Ambler and the 36-hole Talamore
Resort in Pinehurst, N.C. That means access is limited to members,
their guests and anyone who makes it there for a tournament, outing for
But because Applecross is
the only fresh face on the local golfing scene, and because the Talamore Group embraces visitors and is not
bashful about pursuing the outings business, curiosity about this newbie seems
to be running high. (Full
disclosure: I am a member of Applecross, by virtue of my membership at Talamore, which
is five minutes from my home.)
Designed by Nicklaus
Design – primarily by Jack Nicklaus’ youngest son, Michael
– Applecross was eight years in
the making. When work began in
2002, Dallas-based Club Corp was developing the course and
a host of country club amenities as the centerpiece of an upscale Pulte Homes
Collection Photo Gallery
Early on, the project
stalled for about four years, thanks largely to environmental permitting issues. During that lull, Club Corp decided it wanted out and went looking for a buyer. It
found one in the Talamore Group, which took over in the winter of 2009 and saw it through to completion.
The grand opening was last July.
When it first opened, I
found much to like about Applecross. For
starters, as a member, what’s not to like about having access to a second
course in the area for which you par nary a nickel more?
Equally important, Applecross is a
nice complement to Talamore,
a very different golf course. While
both courses wend their ways through residential developments, Applecross is
far more sprawling and wide open, plus the terrain is much hiller. There were, however, two or three holes left
me scratching my head.
A year after the grand
has grown in, and it has grown on me.
Now that I’ve played it eight or 10 times, I’ve come to know many of its
nuances. Also, as with any new golf
course, the staff has used that first year to identify issues and make changes
and refinements, which has resolved almost all of my early quibbles. More on those changes later.
At 7,028 yards from the back
is not overly long by today’s standards, nor is it overly difficult for most all
levels of golfers. That’s because both
Nicklaus and Bob Levy, owner the Talamore Group
and a man who had a big hand in the design at Talamore, are keenly attuned to complaints
from many recreational golfers that too many of today’s modern courses are too hard.
Who needs to be punished and humbled by a round of golf? Hence, from the back tees, Applecross plays
to a respectable 74 rating, 131 slope;
from the forward tees, the numbers are a very manageable 65.9/112. Online yardage book. Scorecard.
To show off the course, Applecross held
a media one day last month, inviting Michael
Nicklaus back for his first return visit since it opened. Applecross was his third project as the lead architect, and
he was pleased with what he saw.
"For a year-old golf course,
it’s in great shape," said Nicklaus,
who attended Georgia Tech on a golf
scholarship, then played the mini-tour circuit for a time. "The members are enjoying it, which
makes me happy."
The same environmental
issues that caused permitting delays also gave Nicklaus more than a few design challenges, which have consequences. "The finished is a different from what
we expected," said Nicklaus. "There are a lot of places we weren’t
allowed to go."
That is not a complaint, merely
an acknowledgement of the reality that working architects face today. Every
project comes with design challenges and restrictions, big and small.
Applecross starts you off nice and easy with short dogleg par 4 that is the soft
underbelly of the front nine.
There’s a fairway bunker in the elbow of the dogleg and a greenside
bunker, but neither really come into play.
Even with a so-so tee shot, you’re left with a wide open approach shot
with a short iron for any easy par.
From there, the outward nine
picks up pace. No. 2 isn’t
long (375 yards), but it is a narrow, winding uphill dogleg, with OB on the left
and the right, plus fairway and greenside bunkers. For some reason, every I finally make it
to the green, I feel like I’ve climbed a mountain. Perhaps that explains why I
have yet to par this hole.
No. 3 is the longest of the
four par 3s at Applecross;
it’s a devilish downhiller, with a wide green and framed by a backdrop of trees. Again, there’s OB left and houses to the
right. Because of the accuracy
required off the tee, it’s a bit of a white-knuckler, especially if you’ve got
a hybrid or even 3-wood in your hands.
The front side boasts two
delightful short par 4s, and No. 4 is the first of them. It’s a dogleg left, only 320 yards from
the tips, up over a blind, crested fairway that banks from right to left. The play off the tee is to hit a 3-wood
and let it kick left off that hill, leaving a wedge into the green. At least I thought that was the play
until my last round there, when I saw a young guy bomb a driver over the hill,
almost to the green.
The beast of the front nine
is the long par 4 5th, not surprisingly the No. 1 handicap hole at Applecross. Even from the middle tees (417
yards), the tee shot is the most daunting of the round, needing to carry a wide
no-man’s land hazard that slashes diagonally across the fairway. The more aggressive you want to get in
cutting the corner, the more the required carry. If you’re a wimp and play it safely
to the most reachable landing area, you turn a long, difficult second shot into
an even longer, more difficult second shot.
Unless your tee ball is up the
right side of the fairway, the green, which is protected by a large bunker, is
obscured by a hill on the left that has never met a second shot that it didn’t
want to knock down. The next time I
reach this green in regulation will be the first time. Most rounds, I just accept my bogey and
limp off the green, head down.
Once you put the 6th,
a forgettable uphill par 3 in your rearview mirror, the front nine finishes
with a flourish. There’s the 7th,
a 374-yard uphill dogleg, which yardage book describes as "target golf at its
best." The play is to lay up short
of a vast expanse of six bunkers that fan out in every direction and dot the
uphill fairway, to a green dug into the side of a hill. Fun hole, easy par.
If No. 5 was the most
daunting tee shot so far, No.8 and No. 9 are where you can come out of your
shoes swinging for the fences. The 8th
is a mid-length dogleg par 4 with a downhill tee shot and fairway that feels as wide as a
football field. The term "signature"
holes is out of vogue these days, but if Applecross has one, it is
definitely the par 5 9th..
From the elevated tee, which
overlooks the Applecross
clubhouse and pool, the tee shot is even more downhill than the 8th,
into a most generous fairway. There
are four fairway bunkers in the distance but they are unreachable by the likes
of me. What makes the 9th,
however, are the second and third shots.
Beyond the raised fairway
bunkers, far in the distance, lies the green, which is obscured by the bunkers
and tucked behind a pond on the right side. Unless you are Bubba Watson, it’s a three-shot par 5,
with the second shot needing to give wide berth to that pond on the right. After that, it’s no more than a wedge or
a pitch and run, making this a potential birdie hole.
From the day it opened, the
10th was the ugly red-headed stepchild of Applecross. They are trying to change that.
In the original design, it
was to be a short dogleg right, 350 yards, with death on the right and a
fairway that ran out, into knee-high grass. From there, it was to be a short
iron into a slightly elevated, smallish green tucked behind two bunkers.
But environmental restrictions
nixed the intended box, forcing Nicklaus
to move the tee 50 yards forward. From
there, the new play was a hybrid or 3-wood, and even then some tee shots ran through
the fairway and into the deep grass.
Nobody was happy with the hole.
The solution has been to cut
the knee-high grass and extend the fairway all the way to the green. Now, you can still lay back and have a
short iron in, or you can try to bomb it around the corner to set up a
potential birdie. They took lemons
and made lemonade.
The most visually arresting
tee shot at Applecross
comes is the 590-yard dogleg 12th, the longest hole on the course
and one of three par 5s on the back nine. The tee shot is across an deep,
imposing crevasse, into an elevated fairway that angles sharply left and is as
wide as an eight-land freeway. The
green is in the far distance, down a hill, then up again. It’s a big, big hole, and together with
the adjacent 13th, a
dramatic downhill dogleg, the 12th and 13th combine to
offer the most spectacular scenery at Applecross.
If there is a hole at Applecross that
is determined to put you in your place, it is the 14th, a long,
narrow, brutal par 3. I say that
only half in jest because I have carded at least 3 pars at the 14th. But I have also done my part to ensure
that there will be no layoffs at the Titleist
factory any time soon.
It is long (227 from the
tips, 194 from the white tees) and all
carry. From the back tees, forgettaboutit. From the white tees, I have nailed
hybrids as good as I can nail them, then stood there posing, only to watch the ball
ker-thud into the nasty stuff short of the
restrictions were the issue at the 14th, precluding Nicklaus from building a forward that would have made the tee shot
more manageable for most golfers. The 14th has been softened
somewhat by moving the blue and white tees down as far as possible, in the
160-yard range, and by creating more bailout area around the green.
The second hole on the back
nine that separates the studs from the hacks is the mid-length par 4 16th,
, where the second shot requires a 160-yard carry over junk, into an
elevated green with a false front.
That’s 160 yards assuming your tee shot has come to rest just short of
the hazard, which, for some of us, would require playing the hole from the forward
tees. Otherwise, that second shot
is more like 180 or 190 yards – all carry -- into a green with a false
front. Good luck with that.
This too shall soon be
remedied by a new tee that enables most ordinary golfers to lay up just short
of the junk.
The closing hole is a narrow
par 5 that makes for a fast, furious finish. During the rounds I ‘ve played there,
somebody in the group almost always birdies the 18th, affecting the
outcome of the match. That’s a nice
way to finish.
What’s the bottom line on Applecross? I’ll still play Talamore more often, if for no
other reason than I can roll out of bed and be on the first tee in 10 minutes.
But I also feel the tug of Applecross, and I’ll make a point of getting out to
Downingtown another half-dozen times before the season is over.
Put another way, if Applecross was a
daily fee course, I’d work it into my rotation, along with Raven’s Claw,
Lederach and the GC at Glen Mills. That’s saying something.