When one pulls into the Middletown Country Club parking lot the first thing you notice is a stately clubhouse that dates back to the early 1900s. Look toward the left of the entrance and you see the 18th green and a cavernous bunker that guards its left side. That initial view gives you a strong clue that you are about to tee it up at a historic, old time golf course.
Middletown dates back to 1913, when Scotsman Alexander Findlay designed the course. It was known as the Langhorne Country Club then and it opened with nine holes. The course didn't expand to 18 holes until 1927, and while development and later owners made changes the current layout has much of the character of the original Findley vision.
If Findley's name doesn't ring a bell maybe the names of courses like Aronimink (AT&T National), East Lake (home of the PGA Tour Championship), and The Greenbrier in West Virginia resonate. According to the official Alex Findlay web site he designed those layouts and also the Doylestown Country Club among scores of other layouts.
Keeping the course current with the times, George Fazio (two PGA Tour wins, five Philadelphia Open Championships) made some design changes in the late 1950s when he owned the course and Stephen Kay further renovated some holes in the 1990s. Award-winning golf course designer Tom Fazio remembers spending some time at Middletown with his uncle as he was getting his feet wet in the business.
In 1959 Tom Fazio remembers that his uncle George had a business partner in Flourtown who was from South Africa and knew of an up and coming young pro who needed a break. George fronted the money for Hall of Famer Gary Player to come to the United States to play on the PGA Tour. In return Player agreed to represent the Langhorne Golf Club from 1959-64.
Today's Middletown is a compact 80 acres of challenging golf, with rolling hills and large specimen trees that have watched many golfers travel its fairways over time. It has retained its old time feel with tees and greens in close proximity, allowing golfers to walk the course if they choose.
Measuring a relatively short 6,217 yards from the back tees and playing to par of 69 this course can play difficult and sneaky long with its tree-lined fairways, boundary OB, bunkers and water hazards. It offers four sets of tees, making it playable for golfers of all ability levels. John Sauers and Steve Cloak share the current course record of 62.
There is no easy start here with a roller coaster sloping fairway guarded by trees left and a hazard right. Hitting a downhill tee shot on the first hole seems okay until you consider that unless you are on the top of the mountain, what goes down must go back up. The opening 385-yard (White tees) par-4 plays long as does the 384-yard 2nd hole as the terrain causes havoc.
The Middletown greens are a glimpse of days gone by, to a time when precision played a premium. The greens have subtle breaks and rolls in them for the unsuspecting. They call for some careful observation and club selection as you approach them coming down the fairways.
The master designers of Findley's day built greens like this both for playability and drainage and the newer holes have maintained the tradition. The fairways and greens are well maintained. A well struck approach shot into the greens at Middletown will hold while well placed drives will scurry down the fairways.
Middletown head pro Dan Hoban maintains a full service pro shop and his staff provide quality and friendly service. Hoban asserts that the changes and updates the course has seen over time have not affected the old time feel of this layout. The enhancements have made Middletown a popular destination for area golfers.
The 516-yard 4th is the only par-5 on the course. It requires a straightforward tee shot that must hug the left side of the fairway on its landing where it will pitch and roll into the heart of the fairway. There are very few flat lies in the fairways at Middletown and the rolling terrain dictates that feature. In 1913 they didn't move a lot of dirt to create golf holes, they built golf holes using the contours or the land.
Number 4 has an exceptionally small green, but that is by design because on par-5 holes you are supposed to be hitting short irons into them. A large tree forces the approach shot to the left and a bunker sits just short of the left front of the green to keep you honest shooting onto this green.
The first par-3 hole (see photo, above) comes at a crossroads of holes in the middle of the course where a snack shop is conveniently located. Six is a relatively new hole (162-yards from white tees) that plays from an elevated tee down into a cove with the green guarded in front by the first water hazard you will face.
If you want to see what a challenging hole looks like, step back to the 198 yard blue tee and take a look. The old 6th was a 99-yard hole without lots of challenge.
The best chance for birdie might be on the initial 11 holes. From 12 to 18 a score of par is at a premium. Each offers a distinct challenge that can hurt the scorecard if not mastered by the player.
Kicking off the final seven holes is the 412-yard, gentle dogleg right par-4. Beware, as out of bounds is on the left side so a pulled shot will be a problem
The challenge intensifies moving on to Hoban's favorite hole on the course. The 13th is a par-4 of 412 yards that combines beauty and challenge. It requires a well placed drive with some length before the fairway slopes down toward a pond patrolled by some long time resident large carp. The pond fronts a sloping green while stately trees on both sides will not allow an errant approach.
"It's a beautiful, challenging hole," explains the pro.
A few words about the par-3 holes on the course: none are gimmie pars. The 188-yard 14th is no exception as it required precise club selection and execution of the swing.. The small benign looking pond fronting the 16th green may catch more balls in a day than the man behind the plate when Doc Haladay is pitching for the Phillies.
One exception to the string of difficult holes is the short, par-4 17th. This test has tempted players for years, because a stellar drive can find its way onto the green for an eagle opportunity. A misplayed shot will find numerous problems and set up a bogey chance,
The finishing hole measures benign 308-yards but the player faces an uphill, sloping fairway and a shot far right is out of bounds. To get on the last green in regulation there is no recourse but to be in the fairway. That dastardly bunker guards visible from the entrance to the course is left of the green and a long shot can find out of bounds. Many a match has been won or lost on 18.
Hoban calls Middletown a challenging layout with "lots of character."
There are future plans for expansion of the course by acquiring adjacent property, building a practice facility and possibly adding some holes as the club continues to show improvement, but they are future plans and only time will tell if they come to fruition.
In the more immediate future a renovation of the pro shop area is being planed as well as looking to eventually reopen the dinning room to the public.
For now, Middletown holds a place in Bucks County history and maintains its position of being a challenging and affordable, friendly place to play golf.
It's a venue where Ben Hogan once played an exbitition match and where Sam Snead played in a "Bundles for Britain" event. It's also a course where many modern golfers grew up learning the game. It's a definate place to sample.