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Winning hand: The Ace Club near Philadelphia is beauty and beast

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
The Ace Club - Gary Player Design
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The Ace Club is a beautiful, suburban Philadelphia golf course designed by Gary Player. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

LAFAYETTE HILL, Pa. - Theron Harvey, director of golf at the swank Ace Club outside of Philadelphia, stepped out of the golf cart, took a few practice swings and said: "When you finish playing this golf course, I'd be surprised if you don't think it's one of the best you've ever played."

He wasn't far wrong. The private Ace Club is indeed a rare treat: It's a sprawling work of artistic course design by Gary Player that manages to be both beauty and beast.

The beast comes in many forms, beginning with the length. The golf course is nearly 7,500 yard from the back tees. And here's a special note of interest for those of us who like to play from the blue tees: You'll still be playing a 7,000 yard-plus course; the blue tees measure a whopping 7,108 yards. You'll feel like you're playing with the big-boy pros.

It isn't until you drop down to the middle white tees, where the vast majority of Hacker America dwells, that you dip to the sub-7,000-yard mark, a still healthy 6,702 yards.

"Yeah, but I don't think it plays that long," said member Kenneth Henley. "There's a lot of downhill shots."

Yes, there are. As well as forced carries off the tee and uphill approaches over grass-topped bunkers. And serious sidehill lies.

The Ace Club is a restless piece of work, a course that never stops moving, with impressive elevation changes, high-banked, sloped and serpentine fairways and large, modern greens with swooping surrounds.

It's always showing you something, giving you something to think about. The big, bold bunkers aren't satisfied with just laying there on the fairway borders, waiting to digest errant drives. They like to lurk in the fairways themselves.

The greens are beautifully contoured, with sometimes severe slope, undulation and multiple levels, and they frequently drop off to deep ravines.

And yet ... this is a very playable golf course. Player likes to design his obstacles so that they show you the line. Play smart, take some time on the tee to come up with a plan, and you can score here. The forced carries are usually easier than they appear.

The regulars here like to play the angles - play it off a banked fairway here, off that slope that kicks it down to the green there. It's like a puzzle that rewards you with a little thought and effort.

Throughout all the strategic hurdles lies the beauty. It is a beautiful course. You would never know you were 20 minutes from downtown Philadelphia. Beautiful stonework is worked in throughout the layout, it's well-treed, and the elevation gives off scenic views in almost every direction.

Streams run through the terrain, as well as lakes, pristine wetlands and natural rock outcroppings. There are few houses to mar the ambiance of this lovely layout.

The Ace Club: The Verdict

One of the marks of a good course is that it holds interest after repeat play. The Ace Club is one you'll want to come back to.

It has a quiver-full of interesting holes that can be played differently according to your strengths or weaknesses. For example, no. 5 is a downhill, drivable par 4 for big hitters, and there are a number of risk/reward decisions.

The course takes up 311 acres and has an on-site heliport. It also has a caddie program.

The Ace Club has excellent practice facilities, including a 40-tee, two-tiered driving range with Pro V1 golf balls waiting for you, a big putting green and a two-acre short game practice area. There is a 35,000 square-foot clubhouse with conference facilities.

Philadelphia lodging

The course is a 3-wood away from the Ace Conference Center, a 120-room hotel, just down the road.

The conference center is designed exclusively for business: The center has taken care to keep the living quarters separate from the conference and recreation centers.

Nearly 20,000 square feet of meeting space is available, including 38 conference rooms and three ampitheaters holding from two to 300 people. They all have built-in video projectors and screens.

The center has business services including high-speed wireless Internet access.

The recreation center has a fitness room, racquetball court, game room and indoor pool with an adjoining hot tub.

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The Ace Club Golf CourseThe Ace Club - Hole 9

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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