700 Linden Avenue
Hellertown, PA 18055
Architect: Donald Ross
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(Formerly Silver Creek Country Club)
They have been playing the game at Silver Creek for very nearly 50 years, but the 27 holes here are perhaps not so well known to golfers in the Greater Philadelphia area as they ought to be. That is because the Silver Creek Country Club, as such, was not founded until 1986.
It was back in 1947 that Bethlehem Steel Corporation decided to build a recreational facility just outside Hellertown for its plant management personnel. At the heart of it was an 18-hole course laid out by Donald Ross, whose earlier courses in GAP territory were Aronimink, Gulph Mills, Kennett Square, LuLu, Riverton, St. Davids, and Torresdale-Frankford. Ross’s construction company, supervised by his associate J. B. McGovern, with offices in Wynnewood, completed work on the Bethlehem Steel Club course by October 1, 1948. It promptly opened for play. Ross died less than a year later. The Hellertown layout was among the very last of his approximately 350 courses.
In 1960 a third nine was built on property now adjacent to Saucon Valley High School. This time it was Bill and Dave Gordon who were chosen to design the new holes. What particularly recommended them was their outstanding Grace Course, at Saucon Valley, the club to which Bethlehem Steel Corporation’s top executives belonged. The Gordon nine was now combined with Ross’s back nine to form the club’s regular eighteen (holes 1,2, and 12- 18 are by Ross; holes 3-11 are by the Gordons). The remaining Ross holes are called the "Hill Nine."
In the early 1980s, Bethlehem Steel Corporation began to divest itself of its several management country clubs, and in late 1985 came to an agreement with a group of members willing to purchase this club. The sale was consummated in January of 1986, and at that time a new organization, Silver Creek Country Club, was formed. The first officers were Alfred Hokenson, president; William Retter, vice president; Louise Tusak, secretary; and Robert Fatzinger, treasurer. Members of Silver Creek’s original board of directors, in addition to the four officers, were James Anthony, Harold Downey, Leonard Elly, George Escott, Wesley Gangewere, Joseph Koch, George Kostelnik, Owen McCall, Vincent Montafia, James Phillips, Lawrence Roberts, John Seiko, Nancy Strommer, Ronald Taylor, Alien Tice, and Richard Wasser.
A 2015 photo of the Silver Creek clubhouse, with the 18th green in the foreground.
In 1988 Silver Creek joined the Golf Association of Philadelphia. The new ownership has upgraded the practice range, the practice putting green, and the locker rooms. In 1994 an automated irrigation system was installed, and the following year the fairways were restored to their original contours.
Silver Creek members have two very attractive options when they come out to play. First is the regular eighteen— the Ross/Gordon combination—which is routed over mildly rolling land studded with a variety of hardwoods and evergreens. Par is 72. From the back tees—6,567 yards—the course is not long. But from the regular tees— just under 6,400 yards—the course is scarcely short. The forward markers’ total yardage is 5,591.
This is a very traditional northeastern United States parkland course. Which is to say, nothing in excess. There is out of bounds on five holes—2, 3, 5, 10, and 11—all, as it happens, to unnerve the player who hooks. There are many gentle doglegs and a couple that are quite sharp, on 11 (to the left) and on 17 (to the right).
Despite the club’s name, do not expect water to harrass you unmercifully. Still, that stream does pop up from time to time, especially on the inbound nine, imperiling the weak drive on 11 and 17,the shot to the green on 13 and 15. Speaking of the greens, they are big and boldly contoured. Indeed, they are the glory of the course and, at the same time, the bane of the unreliable putter’s existence. They make splendid targets, but once you have reached them your problems are just beginning. The undulations can be severe and the borrows, for the visitor, close to unfathomable.
As for the infamous "Hill Nine," some extravagant claims are made for it: "It is the hidden jewel of Silver Creek Country Club;" or, "It is possibly the greatest hidden gem in eastern Pennsylvania;" or, "It is the greatest nine holes of golf in the Lehigh Valley, period."
A look at the scorecard of this par-35 nine reveals that power is not essential: 3,200 yards from the back tees, 3,045 from the middle, 2,844 from the front. And since there are no water hazards and only 15 bunkers on the entire nine, we wonder what all the shouting can be about. Well, it is about trees and hills—thick stands of mature trees (generally known as a forest) and very high hills. In truth, the course has been hewn out of the lower reaches of a wooded mountainside. The overall change in elevation is more than 200 feet. Changes of elevation on individual holes exceed 120 feet. Awkward stances—uphill, downhill, sidehill—and awkward lies are legion.
On a visit to Silver Creek Country Club we have simply got to find time to play what the British call the "relief nine." Though, of course, there is no relief on it at all.