Inniscrone’s 16th  
The 16th at Inniscrone GC: When is a hole too tough?

By Joe Logan
Published April 15, 2014

New: "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 head. 


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 rough. 


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 $780,000. 


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 bottleneck.


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.


Among Inniscrone’s 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.


Tonight, Hanse 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."





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Judge Smails[4/17/2014 4:40:41 PM]
As 85% percent of the drives on the 16th land well before the 150 marker, the blind second shot will Always remain with the uphill lie. The real Benefit of the renovation will be better Cart flow and the illusion of confidence with the wall removal. The original design of the hole was not hard, it was just visually intimidating to the average duffer. Apologies to Mr. Hanse , this hole WAS a gem.
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