Chester Valley Golf Club
|Chester Valley Golf Club|
430 Swedesford Road
Malvern, PA 19355
Architect: Perry Maxwell/George Fazio
view larger map
The land occupied by Chester Valley Golf Club, which straddles Swedesford Road in Malvern, Pa., was, in the latter part of the 17th century, a place where Swedish fur traders exchanged rum for beaver pelts with the Indians. A hundred years later, this was where General Washington and General Howe deployed their respective forces for a battle that was rained out when a night-long torrential storm soaked both armies’ gunpowder.
By the time golf came to the Chester Valley, more than 150 years later, the would-be battleground was farmland. It was in 1930 that the Pennsylvania Railroad, aware of what DuPont and Philadelphia Electric had done in this vein, bought a parcel of about 135 acres called the Smedley Farm. The Railroad provided the land, but construction of the course of the Pennsylvania Golf Club was financed by the $90,000 raised when 300 bonds were sold at $300 each to railroad employees. All this on the very brink of the Great Depression. But in 1930, the Railroad was still the most powerful and prosperous enterprise in Philadelphia, and though its days were numbered, the end would be many years in coming.
Original clubhouse of the Pennsylvania Golf club (now Chester Valley), a converted barn more than 100 years old when the club opened in 1930. It was completely destroyed by fire in 1950.
There is some question as to who laid out the eighteen. Some evidence points to Donald Ross, but Cornish and Whitten, in The Architects of Golf, attribute it to Perry Maxwell, who had designed Melrose four years earlier. In any event, there was nothing predictable about the routing plan. At no point did more than two consecutive holes proceed in the same direction, so that the battle with the breeze was a constantly shifting one. Significant changes in elevation meant that the player was faced with a number of hilly lies. The greens inclined to be small and relatively simple. And since the fairways were decidedly narrow, bunkering was confined mostly to the greens.
The Pennsylvania Golf Club was not conveniently located. This was 1930. Nobody lived out there—way out there, practically suburban Harrisburg, the joke went, four miles beyond the last stop of the Paoli local, Paoli. And it wasn’t as though the great majority of club members owned cars. After all, they worked for the Railroad, so they had free passes, which they used—as did their wives and children—to go wherever they wanted to go by train. The club’s first professional, Dick Murphy, did not have as much time as he should have had to give lessons or sell clubs or tune up his own swing. That’s because he was also the club chaffeur, constantly shuttling members back and forth to Paoli in the club station wagon.
In the early years, there was a broad practice range out beyond the 4th and 5th holes. It got very little use, or so it certainly seemed to a short and skinny boy of eight or nine. Sometimes on a Sunday morning at about 10 o’clock, his father, who was one of the club’s original 300 bond holders, would lead him out to this open, rolling field, give him a club and two rather worn but not cut golf balls, and promise to return in about three and a half hours, when he had finished the round with his regular foursome. The club was an old jigger, designed primarily for chipping. Its hickory shaft was about the length of a putter shaft, so it fit the lad pretty well for a full swing, and, with the loft of something between a 5-iron and a 6-iron, it was close to ideal for getting the ball up and going. When he caught it just right, he could hit the ball about 80 yards. Since the practice range was more than 300 yards long, it took the boy four shots, four good shots, to go from one end of it to the other. (His goal was to cover the distance one day with just three swings.) He would use both balls on each trek. That way the long walk produced twice as many hits.