A buddy of mine has been telling me for 4 or 5 years now. “It’s only 90 minutes away…. 36 holes, two totally different courses …perfect day trip” .. he preached. This past month, he had an opening for a 4th on his annual day-trip up, and I could swing it. The alarm went off at 4:15 am, and we departed 7-11 with our coffees just shy of five. We held the first tee time of the day on the Founders course at 6:40am, and we made it there with 30 minutes to get our wits about ourselves and even roll a few on the practice green.
At the break of dawn, there’s not much to see through the morning mist, but when the day’s first light punches through, and you’re lining up a wedge to a green glistening with dew… it just doesn’t get much better. That is ‘til you put that shot into the lake that’s lurking 10 yards behind the green which I failed to judge threw my squinty eyes, and rickety follow-through. Regardless, the day had begun, and even if I started this highly anticipated golf outing with back-to-back 8’s on the scorecard (a Pierre Garcon as my golfing partner coined), I was pumped to be out here. The front nine is a fairly straightforward parkland layout with really no tricks to it, other than a slight left turn at the par 5 second, and a right-slanted fairway at the par 4 eighth. Unless you’re playing stiff on less than four hours sleep, there are scores to be had on the front, if you just keep in the ball in front of you. The highlight of the front nine on the Founders visually has to be the opening hole, though I thoroughly botched it, did not take away from it’s beauty.
The back nine gets a little more interesting as unlike the front fairways turn away from the tee box or have uphill drives blocking sight-lines to the green on just about every hole. Well-placed shots off the tee become increasingly vital. If I may take a side note and boast for a moment, I did achieve a first for me starting the back with three straight birdies which I had not accomplished prior to this day. Granted it was a bit late to erase the memory of opening 49 on the front side to threaten any personal bests. This nine continues upon the path of the front with fairways lined with giant trees until the par 4 sixteenth. This hole offers you a tricky tee shot target with the lake from the first in your direct line of sight about 300 yards out, but seemingly much closer. It’s followed by the signature hole of this course in my opinion, which is an uphill forced carry over the lake Par 3 to visually shallow but wide green. The branches of a giant oak tree are hanging over the tee box, daring you not to Instagram your partner’s backswing. The finishing hole on the Founders is less dramatic than the two before it, but doesn’t take away from a great challenging first 18.
The nineteenth hole needs some upgrades in the high-def tv department, but their Salmon BLT does not disappoint , and is a great segue to another round without weighing you down.
The cart ride to the 1st hole on the Iron Forge takes several minutes, and when you arrive at the tee box you feel zip codes away. Not a tree in sight, just wide open fairway on a par 5 and a landing area seemingly a mile wide. This sight remains true for the majority of the course. Where the Founders course has a woodsy feel, with trees lining almost every fairway, the Iron Forge provides vistas of vast farmland on nearly every tee box. The contrast is stark and satisfying. The front nine on the Iron Forge allows for wide open drives that can get a bit loose without punishing you with lost balls or penalty strokes on the scorecard. It does play longer so not a not walk in the park, but if you’re holding out to bring your “A” game here, than you played the day right. The highlight of the back nine for me was the par 5 eleventh, which plays long and can give you a daring second shot if you have the length to go for it in two. There are traps straight ahead off the tee that seem massive, but shouldn’t come into play, and the pond short and left of the green will make you think twice about going for it depending on the pin placement. The preserved silo just beyond the green just adds to the visual which makes this my favorite hole on the course, while also making me draw comparisons to Laurel Hill.
The tricky part about waking up in the 4 o’clock hour for a pre-7am tee time, 90 minutes away, is that it will likely take you a few holes to shake off the cobwebs making it tough to score well on the opening 18. Then once you find your groove, the lack of sleep and hours on the course may catch up with you on the back nine of the second track. I say this, really, because this was my exact experience. I’m a nine-ish handicap and played holes ten through twenty-five in 1-over par… trouble was , I played the other twenty holes at +25. The Iron Forge definitely plays more open than the Founders and allows for a bit more scoring as two of members of our group played the latter in double digit strokes better than the former. There are arguments to be made as to the timing of how you time your day, but I can’t complain about how much fun I had, because I wouldn’t change it for the world. We were on the road by 5pm and I was home in time to make dinner. The playing of the challenging Founders prior to it’s more forgiving and very fraternal twin is a no brainer …. as is making this trip with three of your favorite fellow golfers.