AVONDALE, Pa. -- If you asked average golfers what they thought of Inniscrone Golf Club -- between Philadelphia and Wilmington, Del. -- you're liable to get a mixed reaction. They will have one thing in common, though: They'll remember the course.
Inniscrone, which opened in 1998, is one of architect Gil Hanse's first solo projects. Up until that time, Hanse -- who learned his craft as Tom Doak's associate and partner -- had made his mark in Scotland after he won a competition to create a course for the Crail Golfing Society alongside Balcomie Lakes. Hanse would go on to design several top golf courses in the United States and abroad. He also did renovation work at Merion Golf Club, site of the 2013 U.S. Open, and is overseeing the design for the course for the 2016 Summer Olympics in Argentina.
In the case of Inniscrone, the original owner, Fairways International Club LLC, hired Hanse to preserve the remarkable topography of this old farm site, and Hanse did just that. With plenty of hills and uneven lies, the course is a mix of quirky and straightforward holes, and no two holes are remotely alike.
And don't be fooled by its yardage. It plays much longer than 6,561 yards, partly because it's a par 70 and also because some of the holes are very short, leaving several par 4s that are both long and exacting. Plus several of the short holes play uphill, adding an effective 40 to 50 yards.
Inniscrone G.C.: back and beautiful
The course -- which was supposedly inspired by the club with the same name in Avondale, England -- opened as a private club with initiations as high as $50,000. But like so many private clubs these days, it never panned out.
Inniscrone has changed owners several times and has suffered through various degrees of decline. But it became a municipal when it was purchased by London Grove Township, which hired the Heathland Hospitality Group to manage the club in late 2011.
Since then, management has worked hard to restore the club to private club standards. Today, the rack rate on weekends is just $59, a relative bargain. There's a magnificent clubhouse, ample practice facilities and a feeling of solitude on a course that's well-manicured and visually appealing. Bunkers have been restored, and the course's greens are flawless.
Give it your best shot
The course starts out easy enough, then gets increasingly more difficult. As reader Brian Wolfson said: "Bring you 'A' game. This course takes you on a journey you'll never forget. So get your birdies quick, because holes 2 and 3 are your best shots."
From the green tees, which are the regular men's tees, the straightforward first hole is just 368 yards, but it feels more like the tips at 404 yards because of the uphill tee shot. The second is also uphill but only 348 from the back tee. And the third is just 309 yards, but trying to drive the green isn't a good play.
The third is actually where Inniscrone starts to get interesting, and it doesn't let up from there. The hole plays down into a valley then back up to an elevated green with trees on the left and rough on the right. Anything in the fairway leaves a wedge to the green, so the conservative approach is best.
The fourth sets the tone for the rest of the course. At 431 yards -- with a tee shot through a chute and approach to a well-guarded green -- it's difficult at best. The sixth is an even longer par 4 at 445 yards, and the ninth, with an uphill approach, is 429 yards that plays more like 450.
The back nine is even more interesting. The 13th, for example, is less than 400 yards but requires a precise tee shot to the fairway. Accomplish that on this dogleg left, and you have a short shot over a hazard to a small green. Hit the green, and you have a realistic birdie chance. Miss it and saving par is a challenge, to say the least.
Perhaps the most talked about hole on the course is the par-4 16th. There's a split fairway (it's definitely easier to come in from the left lower fairway) that goes all the way to the green. Miss the green slightly to the right, and the ball could kick anywhere, especially if it hits a rock.
Miss it to the left or short left, and you can wind up with an awkward bunker shot at best. To complicate matters even more, the approach shot is blind, and even if you hit what looks like a good shot, you're not sure until you get there whether or not you hit the green. Some say the hole is over-designed, and Hanse himself may agree with that.
"There's no good spot to miss it," Head Professional Andy Watters said. "You just hope you find it and make bogey from there."
The 17th may be even harder, but it's right in front of you. At 471 yards, this par 4 is the no. 1-handicap hole on the course. The tee shot plays out of a chute over wetlands to a fairway that isn't easy to hit. Even with a good tee shot, you're left with 200 yards or more uphill to an elevated green.
"It's a very fair hole," Watters said. "It's just hard. You just have to keep it between the trees. It's just a matter of executing. It demands two really good shots to get it onto the green."
The good news is that the final hole, a 350-yard par 4, is dramatic but not overly difficult. A good tee shot leaves a wedge approach and a chance to get a shot back.
Inniscrone Golf Club: The verdict
While Inniscrone Golf Club has some tough and unusual holes, one thing it is not is boring.
One of the most important keys to enjoyment here is playing the right tees. While 6,500 yards doesn't seem daunting overall, some of the holes play to tour-like distances that require length and accuracy. Unless you are a scratch player or close to it, don't tackle it from the tips. Most players should, in fact, play it from the green tees, which is 5,790 yards (again, don't get hung up on the yardage).
The overall experience is definitely un-muni like. A good professional staff (lessons are available), friendly atmosphere and terrific course conditions bring an enjoyable golf experience.