POTTSTOWN, Pa. -- It’s
really no surprise that Raven’s
Claw Golf Club keeps topping state public course rankings. Golfweek and Golf Magazine, to name a couple of minor publications, have taken
note of the exhilarating combination of challenge and fun that Raven’s Claw offers.
Only seven years young,
Raven’s Claw is maturing quickly. Though first-timer expectations might be low
due to the housing development you drive through to get to the course, once
you’re on the course, the houses fade into the background. That’s because the
course demands your full attention.
Collection photo gallery.
Not only does the course
change gears frequently during the round and challenge every part of your game,
but each hole is distinct unto itself. After the round, you’ll remember
favorite shots, but you’ll be hard-pressed to remember where exactly you were
in the round.
Nods to history
The mastermind behind the
design, local course designer Ed Shearon, based in Plymouth Meeting, respects
the great, historic courses around Philadelphia. His goal is to bring classic
golf course architecture—and the golf experience of the best private clubs—to
daily fee players.
Shearon also thinks long and
hard about the "flow" of the round as the average player will experience it. He
believes that a golf course should ease the player into the round, mix it up in
the middle with a variety of challenges and leave the player with some memories
as they wrap up the round.
"I want a course that looks
intimidating but plays softer than it looks," Shearon explains. And, at Raven’s
Claw, thinking yourself around the course correctly can be more valuable than
brute strength or distance. "If you can position the ball like you do in pool,
you can beat the power player."
Play the course a few times,
and you’ll be wise to heed the axiom: "Once bitten, twice shy." For example, in
the heart of the course, knowing the lay of the land and your strategic options
can save you some risk/reward mistakes. Holes 10, 11 and 12 are challenging no
matter how you slice them, but a modicum of caution will help you avoid big
numbers. But that doesn’t mean you’ll be settling for bogey.
On the second shot for the
par-five 10th, a split-level fairway tempts an aggressive shot to the upper
level on the right side. However, the lower level is easier to hit, has less
risk of finding a bunker and even has a better angle into the green, which
slopes right to left. From the tee on the right-turning, par-four 11th, the
fairway looks like a thin ribbon of fairway, but there’s no need to risk aiming
at the 150-yard marker. And on the par-four 12th, there’s no reason to
challenge the bunker in the middle of the fairway, because you’ll still have a
short-iron approach from behind the bunker.
Working with the land
Ed Shearon is also concerned
with the long-term sustainability of all his projects. The full name of his
full-service landscaping company is Shearon Environmental Design Company. When
he plans a golf course, he figures out ahead of time how he is going to use all
the earth and boulders he excavates in other parts of the course. Nary a rock
or peck of dirt is wasted. And, like his other two courses in the region, RiverWinds
and the Renault Winery course, all
the rain falling on the course is collected for reuse in irrigation.
Raven’s Claw also kept a
number of the natural rock outcroppings as visual accents on the course. The
tee shot on the par-four 15th, for instance, is best played directly over the
light gray shades of a wall of natural boulders. "I try to design a course to
take a advantage of the existing features of the land," Shearon says. "Nature
is the best designer."
The 15th hole is also an
example of how Shearon plays with your depth perception during the round. The
carry over the boulders seems longer than it is, and there’s more short grass
on the right side of the fairway, which is out of view from the tee.
And as you become familiar
with these features of the course over repeated play, you’ll also notice that
there are a number of spots where the design offers players "bailouts" or high
banks that bring wayward shots back into play. The right rough of the 15th can
also helps you out there.
Tricks of depth perception
are also part of the experience of playing the dogleg par-four 9th hole, which
many consider the course’s signature hole. From the tee, the landing area poses
a conundrum. It appears that the better you hit it, the more uneven will be
your stance for the approach shot. The best strategy is to find the flattest
part of the fairway, about 150 yards from the green.
However, there’s no truly
flat part of the fairway, and those 150 yards play like 165 yards, uphill to a
tiered green with a false front and an intimidating front bunker. It's a true
test of concentration and execution to ignore the sharp drop-off on the left
side and try to hit a draw off a fade lie. But a par will feel like a birdie.
Feeling at home
Make no bones about it, from
the back tees, Raven’s Claw is a serious test. The rating is only 70.1 from the
Blues and 71.0 from the Blacks, but the Slope is more telling—128 from
Blues, 130 from Blacks. Scorecard. Rates.
But the excellent condition
of the course and the friendly staff will keep you coming back for more. For
the amount of play the course gets (about 35,000 rounds/year), the greens stay
remarkable smooth and birdie-able. However, subtle slopes here and there will
perplex you more than once.
The par-threes have a great
mix of length, though the last one, the 17th, you should just play as a short
par four. At 210 yards from the whites, the hole is intimidating even with an
oversize green and a bailout front left of the green. Like other holes on the
course, there’s an opportunity there to use the slope in front of the green to
run the ball onto the receptive center of the green.
The course offers a lot of
value for the price. Unless you’re playing on a weekend morning, you’ll usually
play for under $60 with cart. It’s more affordable than the normal math would
allow. Many times green fees are calculated at $10 per million dollars spent to
build the golf course. That means the Raven’s Claw fee should be $70 - $80 even
during the week.
That means you can afford to
step inside at the 19th hole to unwind, or eat on the deck with a view of the
18th hole. The Grill at Raven’s Claw offers a tasty menu of burgers, sandwiches
and sides and a selection of fine brews served ice cold. And the course is easy
in and easy out, only about 20 minutes up Route 422 from King of Prussia.