The Grass is Always Green: Turtle Creek Golf Course

Conditions are a big factor in how Americans judge a golf course. While the quality of the playing surface is certainly important to a golfer’s experience, this has taken on too much importance in considering how “good” a golf course is. Why is it this way? The largest influence is certainly what we see weekly from the PGA TOUR and in particular the course that hosts a major event the second weekend in April. If the quality of the grass on a golf course is very important to you, you would be hard pressed to find a public option in the Philadelphia region better than Turtle Creek Golf Course.

Turtle Creek - 4th Green

Turtle Creek 4th Green (March 2019)

Built and maintained by the Waltz family, whose original business is a grass turf farm, Turtle always has great conditions, all year round. Beyond that, Turtle Creek is fun course for golfers of all levels and a good value. The weekday rate is $32 to walk or $51 to ride and the peak weekend rate is $69 before 11am. While it lacks strategic design, I always enjoy playing the course. It’s a only 45-minute trip (without traffic) from Center City and worth the drive.

Course History

Waltz Golf Farm Ad 1964
Waltz Golf Farm Ad from 1964

The Waltz family entered the golf business in the mid-1960s establishing Waltz Golf Farm – a driving range, mini-golf and 9-hole par-3 course. The family planned to open a regulation 18-hole course shortly after, but the patriarch R.G. Waltz passed away in 1965. In the late 80s the family resurrected the dream, and over an eight year period planned and developed Turtle Creek. Ed Beidel (Five Ponds, Highlands of Donegal) designed the course and it opened for play in 1997.

The Takeaway

Both my 2018 and 2019 golf seasons kicked off at Turtle Creek. Last year my oldest son and I embarked on a cool, windy and overcast day the Friday before Easter. This year we were joined by a high school buddy and treated to a slightly warmer day. In both cases, the course was in a remarkably good state considering the cold and wet winters that preceded the outings. (It was overcast and the lighting wasn’t very good on both days so I don’t have many good pictures.)

Turtle Creek Aerial
Turtle Creek from Above

Rare for a modern design, the course is contained within a larger property without corridors of housing encroaching on your golfing experience. The course is very open with wide fairways and few trees, but it does feature a number of water hazards. The greens are large but not overlay undulating and always in very good condition. Also unusual for modern designs, it is a very easy walk, with short distances from the green to the next tee and no hills to climb. They’ve also kept the cart paths outside the playing corridors.

From a golf course architecture perspective, Turtle Creek is accessible to all ranges of golfers but lacks risk-reward strategy to truly challenge good players. Most holes are very straight forward, with fairway bunkers easily avoided. While the par 3s offer a good deal of variety, the par 4s are typically very similar, straight away holes. Three of the par 5s are protected in some way by water that can generally be avoided with safe plays. To add strategic value to the course, the simple improvement is to mow the fairways out to the edges of the fairway bunkers. As it plays today, the hazards do not direct play, being set 5 to 10 yards off the fairway. 

Turtle Creek - 10-11-12

Turtle Creek Holes 10 thru 12

My least favorite section of the course is the wooded area from 10 to 12. The 10th is a short par 4, which should be a drive-able hole, but is bordered by the back of the driving range on the left with Landis Creek on the right. Due to trees along the creek, the green is blind from the tee, so the only play is a 200-yard tee-shot leaving a short wedge into the green. The 12th is another shorter par 4 with the green set off to the left, protected by a line of tall trees on the left. Again, the only real option is a 200-230 yard tee-ball and short iron into the green.

In both cases, the holes would be improved by clearing out the few trees that come into play on the course. On the 10th, removing the threes along the creek would open up the view of the green and creek, allowing daring players to attempt to drive the green. On the 12th, taking out the trees on the left and replacing them with a bunker would add a risk-reward challenge on the drive while opening up a path for more conservative players to lay back off the tee.

Turtle Creek - 13-17-18
Turtle Creek’s 18th hole (center from left to right)

The hole most criticized is the 18th. Measuring 552 from the Blue tees, it requires a layup to about 150 yards to approach the green due to a hill running down to a pond in front of the green. Anything closer risks going in the pond or leaving a downhill lie on your approach (which I did, subsequently chunking my approach into the pond). It’s only reachable in two by the longest hitters and even then there’s too much risk for the reward. 

Turtle SnipbitAll that said, I like playing Turtle Creek. Compared to other area courses, Turtle is a great change of scenery with few trees and a wide-open feel. The conditions are always great and pace of play is generally good. In our round this year, we unfortunately started 25 minutes after our tee time but finished in 4:15. The Waltz family still staffs the well stocked pro-shop and there’s a small grill room with standard food and beverage options. In good weather, the large tented patio is open, overlooking the 18th green and 1st tee. There are a number of competitors in the 422 corridor and I choose to play Turtle as often as any of them.

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