Blue Bell Country Club
|Blue Bell Country Club|
1800 Tournament Drive
Blue Bell, PA 19422
Architect: Arnold Palmer
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Here, on Route 202, Whitpain Township, Montgomery County, is the third of the grand triumvirate of Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay courses in the Greater Philadelphia area. As at Laurel Creek, the Blue Bell eighteen is the centerpiece of a residential community.
Construction of the course actually began in 1989, but a recession in the real estate industry put everything on hold here for the biggest part of three years, during which time ownership of the property changed hands. In 1992 the project got underway again. The Blue Bell Country Club was founded early in 1994. On June 1 the course opened for play and, simultaneously, the club became a member of the GAP. Subsequently, an advisory board, designed to provide effective communications between members and management (Blue Bell Golf Course Management Co.) was established. Named to the first board were members Anthony D’Lauro, John O’Hara, Belinda Penney, and Edward Wolkov.
The 4th at Blue Bell is Arnold Palmer’s favorite.
Well, once again Palmer and Seay have come up with a highly appealing collection of first-rate golf holes on what used to be gently rolling farmland. And the challenge is nonstop from the 1st tee to the cup on 18. But the course is not quite the brute that one might expect after a quick perusal of the club’s "Yardage Caddie." This handy compilation of useful facts about each hole could prompt a visitor to turn around and head straight for the parking lot. For, on 15 of the 18 holes, we are notified that there is "out of bounds left and right." The other three holes? On the 4th and the 14th the boundary is only on the left, and on the short 3rd, there is, marvel of marvels, no mention whatsoever of the dreaded white stakes.
Because housing frames virtually all of the holes at Blue Bell, these boundaries do, in fact, exist. But there is nothing claustrophobic about them. We do not stand on the tee in fear and trembling, staring down a narrow allee of patios and barbecue grilles. No, the homes are actually sited at a comfortable remove from the golf holes and can scarcely be said to impinge on the game.
The same freedom, however, cannot be assured where water is concerned. On ten holes there is either a pond or wetlands or both. And these hazards play no favorites, endangering the drive on one hole, the shot to the green on the next. Still, there is almost always room to steer away from disaster, and only in the rarest circumstances are we confronted with a forced carry that makes unreasonable demands on our swing.
The course, which can be played from 7,200 yards, 6,700 yards, 6,100, and 5,100 yards, is studded with marvelous holes. In view of the potential for drama that abounds here, it was interesting to find Palmer himself pointing to the 4th as his particular favorite. There is no water, essentially no risk of hitting out of bounds, no suggestion of a "death or glory" shot on this par 4 that can play as short as 306 yards or as long as 410. The hole doglegs easily left, the fairway slopes modestly from right to left, and the second shot is played up a gentle rise to a green effectively sealed off by a very large free-form bunker. Two good shots must be hit, but no lifetime swing is called for. It all strikes us as admirably unforced, so naturally does the hole fall on the land. Palmer’s comment was simplicity itself: "It’s just a beautiful golf hole."
The next hole has rather more going on. A 495-yarder, it doglegs sharply left, calls for a forced carry over wetlands (environmentally protected, as the scorecard points out) and then a shortish third to a heavily bunkered and slightly raised green. It really does not look like any hole you have ever seen, and it’s terrific. Palmer said, "That will give you a little treat, too."
A trio of holes early on the second nine show Palmer and Seay in a somewhat feistier frame of mind. We will ignore the championship tee entirely (from here the llth is a backbreaking 464-yard par 4), and tackle this hole from either 434 or 383 yards. Making sure to avoid the large pond that protrudes well into the fairway just beyond the tee shot landing area, we struggle to hit the moderately elevated and neatly bunkered green with what inevitably turns out to be a fairly long shot. The bunkering at Blue Bell is imaginative, adroit, and stylish.
The 12th is a great par 3 and it is a killer. It has just three elements: tee, pond, and green. The forced carry is uncompromising: the only way on is up and on. The prevailing wind is against the player. The hole measures 241 yards from the championship markers, or 198 yards, 164, and, from all the way forward, 122. Fortunately, the green is very broad and very deep (42 yards). Then comes the business of two-putting, never automatic on these beautiful and festively contoured greens.
The final hole in this cluster is the par-4 13th, which most will play at either 420 or 390 yards. The fairway, essentially level, moves almost imperceptibly left. The fiercely demanding second shot must avoid the preserved wetlands edging in on the right and the small pond to the left of the green.
The net of it all is that at Blue Bell Palmer and Seay are once again in top form. There is balance (we do indeed play every shot in our kit and maybe one or two we didn’t know were there!); there is challenge; there is unpredictability; and, in the end, there is more than a fair share of the one indispensable ingredient: pleasurable excitement. If the completion of this excellent course was long delayed, it was well worth the wait.