Monday, July 4, 2011

A Pocono Mountain High

Earlier this year, Mrs Muni Golfer won the use of a Pocono Mountain vacation home during an auction at a charity fundraiser. So last week, we traveled up to Hawley, Pa., at the northern tip of Lake Wallenpaupack, for a five-day getaway. This provided me with the opportunity to play a couple of courses in the Poconos and to test my game amongst the mountains of northeastern Pennsylvania.

Cricket Hill Golf Club
Hawley, Pa
Yards: 2819/2451 - 5270
Par: 36/35 - 71
Rating: 66.1, Slope: 111
Score: 51/55 = 106
Date: June 28, 2011

For my first round, I played at Cricket Hill Golf Club, a public course located between Hawley and Honesdale, Pa. It was a real bargain, as green fees were only $18 to walk. Check out the Cricket Hill scorecard here. It was overcast and humid when I teed off at teh short, 305-yard First Hole and I promptly hit my tee shot dead right and out-of-bounds. It was an omen of things to come for the next 17 holes. The first four holes at Cricket Hill run parallel up and back, with three short Par 4s and a Par 5. A light rain began to fall as I holed out for an 8 at the First, but I settled down to play bogey over the next five holes. I seemed to have a problem with club selection at the higher altitudes and I was under-clubbing, leaving many of my approach shots short of the green. The rain had stopped by the time I played the Fifth Hole, but the humidity hung on as the sun finally appeared.

The Par 5 Fourth Hole

The signature hole at Cricket Hill is the Sixth, a 150-yard, Par 3 that plays downhill and offers a beautiful vista of the mountains from the tee box. After missing the green right, I chipped on and two-putted for another bogey, before moving to the 325-yard, Par 4 Seventh Hole, which plays back up the hill and doglegs right. I pulled my tee shot well right and had an awkward stance with the ball well below my feet. I managed to knock it back to the fairway, but with the ball again below my feet, I overcompensated and hit my next shot into the woods. I took a drop, hit my fifth shot to the fringe, then two-putted for a 7. That was the second of eight golf balls I would lose during my round. I made bogey at the Par 3 Eighth Hole, before hitting my tee shot way right into a pond at the Ninth, which led to another 7 and a 51 on the front nine.

 The Sixth Hole

At this point, standing on the Tenth tee after a quick stop at the clubhouse, I found myself behind two foursomes of women, neither of which would allow me to play through. The glaciers that moved these mountains thousands of years ago probably moved faster than my round on the back nine. And the second nine at Cricket Hill is completely different than the first. Where the front is fairly open and the holes play straight (except for the dogleg Seventh Hole), the back is shorter, tighter and features six doglegs. Many of these doglegs you can go over with no more than a middle iron, but you then run the risk of leaving yourself with a short pitch from a very awkward distance to a very small, sloping green.

 The Twelfth Hole, dogleg Par 5

My back nine crashed at the Tenth Hole, a 477-yard Par 5 that doglegs left. I hit one ball out of bounds and another was lost when it hit a tree. When I finally tapped in, I had an 11. I managed to hit good tee shots through most of the holes on the back nine, but I could never take advantage, and after a string of 4s and 5s on my card, I came to the very short, 243-yard Par 4 Eighteenth Hole, which doglegs right and has a pond in the middle of the fairway just around the dogleg. I hit three balls into the woods and bookended my back nine with another 11 for a 55 and total of 106. This was the first round this season that I had failed to break 100. I started the round with 12 balls in bag and ended with 4.

 The tight tee shot at the Par 3 Fourteenth

Cricket Hill can be a fun course to play, but you really need to be familiar with the layout. For instance, on the back nine, I would not cut the dogleg on several holes, leaving me with a full short iron shot to the green. I chalked up my bad round to poor course management.  If you ever get up to Wayne County, I definitely recommend you try a round at Cricket Hill. It will be one of the best bargains during your trip.

 The short Eighteenth Hole

Buck Hill Falls Golf Club
Buck Hill Falls, Pa
Yards: (Blue/White Course) 3029/3239 - 6268
Par: 36/36 - 72
Rating: 70.3, Slope: 127
Score: 57/53 = 110
Date: June 30, 2011

My second round in the Poconos was played at Buck Hill Falls Golf Club, which opened in 1901. I have long wanted to play at this historic 27-hole course which was designed by the legendary Donald Ross. Even though it was a 45-minute drive from where we were staying, I didn't to pass up this opportunity. I was especially ready to shake off my bad round at Cricket Hill and get my game back in the groove. My round started off on the Blue Nine, where I teamed up on the First tee with a young woman named Laura. The first two holes of the Blue play straight uphill, then the course winds its way around for the next five holes, before playing back down the mountain towards the clubhouse. Check out the Buck Hill Falls Scorecard here.

 Approach to the Fourth Green--Blue

My round started out OK, with a bogey and double bogey at the first two holes, when again, my poor putting reared its ugly head. The Third and Fourth Holes on the Blue are back-to-back Par 5s, and I played them with a double bogey and bogey. I was not hitting it that well off the tee, my ball striking was not that good, and I was again missing easy putts. At the 143-yard Par 3 Fifth Hole, my Pocono experience was summed up: I missed the green short right, chipped about 10 feet past the hole, then three-putted for a 5. Things only got worse from there as I made 8s on three of the next four holes.

 The Sixth Hole--Blue

Laura only played nine holes, so I was playing solo on my second nine, this time on the White Nine. The White starts out like the Blue, with an uphill Par 4, but is followed by a 523-yard Par 5, with a stream running down the right side and crossing the fairway. I lost two more golf balls on this hole--bringing my total up to four on the round and 12 in 29 holes--for a 10 on the hole. After a double bogey at the Third Hole on the White, I decided to try to forget about everything else and try to concentrate on course management and just getting back to the basics with my swing. I then made a nice bogey at the 554-yard Par 5 Fourth Hole--my twelfth hole of the round. From the Third through Eighth Hole on the White, the course winds through vacation homes set along the fairways. I played a little better the rest of the way in, finishing my round with my only par at the Par 3 Ninth on the White. This 199-yard hole features an elevated tee and plays straight downhill.

 The Eighth Hole--Blue

Even though I shot a 110, Buck Hill Falls is a beautiful, well-maintained course with scenic vistas. In the Donald Ross tradition, it features sloping fairways and devilish greens with many falloffs. I can see why Golf Digest calls it the "best course in the Poconos." It is a course I definitely have on my "must play again" list.

The Par 5 Second Hole--White

In returning from the Poconos, with scores as high as some of the mountain tops, I realize that my game needs some work. My swing is a mess right now, and only some time at the practice range is going to fix it. I also need to work on my putting, which has been brutal all year, as well as my course management. Until I get my game headed in the right direction, I need to take a more conservative approach on the course. Hopefully, some time at the practice range this week will get me headed on the right track.

Houses on the White Nine

The Par 3 Ninth--White

Photos by The Muni Golfer


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