Review: The Country Club of Scranton (Old Course)

Course Name: The Country Club of Scranton (Old Course)

Designer: Walter J. Travis (1927), Tom Marzolf (2012, Renovation)

Location: Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania

History: Founded in 1896, The Country Club of Scranton waited over three decades to build a golf course, which opened in 1927 as a Walter J. Travis design. This course, now known as the Old Course, contains the “Pines” and “Willows” nines.  In 1988, the Club enlisted Dr. Michael Hurdzan to design a new 9, named “The Falls.” In 2012, Fazio associate Tom Marzolf renovated the Old Course by removing many trees and fixing bunkers. Long considered one of the finest courses in the region, The Country Club of Scranton has hosted two Pennsylvania Opens, three Pennsylvania Amateurs, and numerous other state championships. It currently holds the following titles:

  • #84 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2018)

Conditions: 9/10, Despite a rainy week and freezing temperatures, The Country Club of Scranton was in near-perfect condition when I played in the Fall. The fairways and teeboxes are impeccable, while the rough is lush and a legitimate penalty. I have especially high praise for the greens and bunkers, which are some of the finest I’ve ever played. In particular, the greenside bunkers impressed me with their high lips and perfectly shaved borders I’ve only really seen on TV at Augusta National.

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A look at the tight lies and unique bunkering surrounding the 18th green

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                                 Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                             72           7015               74.9              138

Gold                               72          6774               74.3              134

Blue                               72          6420               71.9              133

White                             72          6095               69.8              127

Green                             72          5565               67.7              120

Silver                              72         5217               71.2              128

Hole Descriptions: If you’re a casual golf fan, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of The Country Club of Scranton or Walter Travis before. For the hardcore golf architecture aficionado or those who’ve been fortunate to play it, these two names conjure up strongly positive emotions. Having now played it, I can say with certainty Scranton is one of the most underrated courses in America, with a set of greens that rivals any course I’ve played. Travis was best-known for his wildly imaginative and strategic greens, which are prominently displayed at Garden City, Hollywood, Ekwanok, and Westchester. While not nearly as prolific as some other designers of his time, that pedigree speaks for itself and he deserves much more credit.

In addition to tremendous green sites, The Country Club of Scranton sits on a picturesque bucolic terrain on a mountain just northwest of downtown Scranton. The elevation changes and routing are excellent, and recent tree removal has opened up the course dramatically so that you can see the majority of it sitting on the clubhouse patio. While not terribly challenging tee-to-green, Scranton certainly packs a punch with brutal bunkering and tightly mowed areas surrounding these treacherous greens. It’s not an exaggeration to say you could easily hit every fairway and most greens and not come close to breaking 80, and the finesse golfer is sure to benefit more with a course like this than the pure bomber.

The opening hole provides a gentle start as a downhill, straightaway 379 yard par 4. Although relatively open, this fairway is rather tight, lined by a thick rough and two bunkers on the right starting at 250 yards. A creek runs on either side just short of a large, undulating green also guarded by bunkers on either side.

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The downhill par 4 opener
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Approach at 1

Although a difficult hole, I’m not sure the 2nd is deserving of its number 1 handicap designation as a 374 yard par 4. Playing slightly uphill, this is perhaps the tightest hole on the course with OB lining the entire right side and beautiful church-pew bunkering down the left between 220 and 260 yards. A giant chasmic bunker lies in the middle of the fairway well-short of an interesting and narrow back-to-front sloped green guarded by another bunker short right.

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The 2nd approach

At 173 yards, the par 3 3rd is an attractive one-shotter with a charming rock wall lining the entire right side. While not terribly long, this is an intimidating hole due to three giant bunkers that surround this tiny green. The green itself is terrific, running back-to-front with a crown of slopes behind, leaving a very difficult chip for those who go long.

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The classic par 3 3rd

The only par 5 on the front is the 4th, a 490 yard straightaway hole on the edge of the property. This is a good but not great hole that again feels very tight with OB and trees lining right the entire way. Left is a better miss off the tee, but be sure to avoid a large bunker at 270 yards. Like all good short par fives, this green is well-protected for those going for it in two with a bunker 80 yards short on the right, a pond short left, and three bunkers just short guarding the green like teeth. This large green isn’t an original Travis green (along with 5 and 11) and thus provides a real opportunity to pick up a shot.

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The 2nd shot at 4
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Another look at the terrific “scalloped” bunkers at 4

After crossing a street, you reach the 5th, a flat 188 yard par 3. This hole features an excellent reverse redan green that slopes hard back left-to-front right with two deep bunkers on either side.

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The par 3 5th

The 436 yard 6th is the longest par 4 at Scranton and begins a stretch containing many of my favorite holes here. This is a fantastic dogleg right that’s blind from the teebox and runs hard downhill as you traverse the dogleg. Trees line the entire right side and force you to decide how much you want to cut the corner, making the hole play as almost a reverse Cape. This back-to-front sloped green lies beautifully at the bottom of the valley with a giant bunker left and serious slopes on all other sides.

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The blind view from the 6th teebox adds an element of surprise
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The 6th approach

At 383 yards, the par 4 7th is another superb dogleg right with a narrow landing area between mounds of bunkers at 230 yards. From here, the hole runs right and downhill to a narrow, bunkerless green that has an almost Biarritz feel with a giant hump running horizontally, dividing it into thirds. A back pin is especially difficult, as the back tier is the smallest and going long drops off into thick fescue.

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The difficult teeshot at 7
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The 7th approach

At first glance, you’ll see the yardage (272 yards) on the par 4 8th and laugh, but like the notorious 5th at Boston Golf Club, this hole will yield more misery than it does birdies. Although reachable in theory, this fairway runs straight into a hill and requires an immediate carry of 140 yards over water just to reach. At about 200 yards, multiple bunkers on either side narrow the fairway to almost nothing, and I recommend laying up short of these. This elevated green is one of the most treacherous on the course with two deep bunkers short and an innumerable number of mounds and plateaus made for difficult pins. I three-putted from 6 feet here, a theme that carried over into many holes at Scranton.

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The gorgeous 8th is a terrific risk-reward par 4
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Pictures don’t do the difficulty of the 8th green justice

At just 329 yards, the 9th is another short par 4 that plays drastically more difficult than its yardage. Running back uphill towards the clubhouse, this hole is generous off the tee until about 235 yards with a tall tree down the right and bunker left. Driver isn’t necessary here, but an accurate approach is, with another devilish green complex one could study for hours and never begin to understand. Like the preceding hole, this green is guarded by two bunkers short and features numerous slopes and plateaus. I made the cardinal mistake of airmailing this green and found the difficult slopes of fairway surrounding the back. After playing pinball with some bump-and-runs, I made a smooth double from 120 yards out.

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The 9th approach is a lovely one

The 10th hole continues the terrific stretch and is perhaps my favorite hole on the property. Running straight downhill at 391 yards, this hole is essentially wide-open and invites golfers to rip driver. Like most holes at Scranton, the danger awaits around the green and you get another doozy here with an elevated two-tiered back-to-fronter guarded by a deep bunker right and wave-like slopes on all sides. With greens routinely running over 12′, I can honestly say I’ve never played a more difficult short game stretch than holes 8-10 at Scranton!

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The downhill par 4 10th
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The 10th approach demands precision

One of the major criticisms of Scranton is best illustrated on the 11th hole, an 150 yard par 3. When Fazio’s men renovated the course over the last few decades, they added or altered some bunkers that are flatter than Travis’ original high-lipped classic bunkers. Both are sufficient and while I prefer Travis’ bunkers, the problem is more with inconsistency than the quality itself. On the 11th hole, the golfer must carry a valley over a creek to a large, back-to-front sloped green guarded by a false front and “different” bunkers on either side. This is a stunning hole and terrific design, but would be better with only one of the bunker designs.

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Note the incongruent bunkering on the par 3 11th

You cross the road once more for the par 5 12th that I’m embarrassed to say plays only 443 yards. Playing straightaway and uphill, however, this hole was not reachable in wet, frigid conditions. OB lines the entire right side of a tight fairway and bunkers start at 235 yards on the right as well. This lay-up is very tight with a large bunker on the left about 80 yards short of the green that should be avoided. This large green predominantly slopes back-to-front with bunkers on either side.

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The blind uphill par 5 12th
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The 12th approach

The 13th is an interesting hole with another memorable green. At 357 yards, this straightaway hole features trees lining the right side of a wide fairway. A large crossbunker sits only 140 yards off the tee and is more a visual illusion than actual hazard. The real danger here comes near the green, which is elevated and squeezed between two magnificent high-lipped bunkers. There are quite a few bumps on this surface and steep slopes surrounds the back of the green, leaving some very difficult chips.

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The par 4 13th
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The 13th green gives you a sense of the difficulty on these surfaces

At 515 yards, the par 5 14th is the longest hole at Scranton as a sweeping dogleg left. This is a difficult driving hole due to two pairs of bunkers lining both sides for most of the landing area. From here, the second shot plays blind downhill as the hole turns hard left. This bunkerless green is long, narrow, and features several tiers with the front portion running front-to-back.

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Wonderful views of the surrounding hills can be seen throughout the course
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The blind 14th lay-up
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The 14th approach runs straight downhill

The 15th is one of the most difficult holes on the course playing blind uphill at 401 yards. Nobody in my foursome had ever played the hole before so we all had to guess on the ideal line. This fairway begins generous but tightens somewhat with bunkers down the left starting at 230 yards and thick rough down the right. The green sits just beyond a “field goal” of trees and is guarded by a bunker long right. RIP to all the elephants buried underneath this putting surface.

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There are virtually no sightlines on the 15th teebox
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The approach at 15

The 424 yard 16th is another memorable hole that reminds a lot of the other Pennsylvania classics, especially some holes at Philly Cricket’s Wissahickon Course. This hole runs downhill and to the left with a tight fairway lined by thick rough. A creek bisects the fairway at the nadir of the valley about 300 yards from the teebox. Your approach must carry this creek and runs back uphill to a back-to-front sloped green guarded by unique fescue-covered mounds behind.

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The approach at 16th adorned by an old willow tree
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The 16th green

At a prodigious 213 yards, the penultimate hole is a very challenging par 3. Running back over the creek, this hole demands a well-struck shot to find an elevated green. Two bunkers dot the right and the green primarily slopes back-to-front.

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The long par 3 17th

In fitting fashion, the closing hole is an epic 502 yard par 5 running straight back uphill towards the clubhouse. There’s not a single tree on the hole and the main danger on the drive is bunkers on either side starting at 240 yards. This hole is reachable, but plenty of danger looms near this green with bunkers occluding nearly the entire fairway about 65 yards short. The large green itself is again notable for its numerous plateaus and treacherous slopes falling off.

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The fantastic par 5 18th
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The 2nd shot at 18

General Comments: Built on an expansive 384-acre property, this 27-hole Club offers strong practice facilities with a large driving range and short game area. The majestic green and white clubhouse sits stately overlooking the course and is equally as impressive on the interior. The locker room seemingly hasn’t been touched since its inception and gives off an old-school feel only seen in the most exclusive private clubs. While I didn’t get the chance to experience them, I’ve heard the showers are some of the best in golf.

Verdict: Possessing one of the finest collections of greens complexes in America, the always impeccably conditioned Country Club of Scranton is extremely underrated and deserves to be in the conversation when discussing the elite courses in Pennsylvania. This is a hidden gem all those who appreciate classic architecture will love.


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