In the northwestern suburbs, along the 422 corridor, there is a bounty of public golfing options compared to the rest of the region. One that stands out among the 16 courses in the area is Bella Vista Golf Course. Opening in 2002, it was designed by Jim Blaukovitch and is set over rolling countryside. While part of the course is set within a housing development, most of the course is self-contained. It’s a little pricey, with weekend rates peaking at $71, but the conditions are always good and the golf is varied and keeps your interest. In talking with the random people I’ve been paired with over the years, it often comes up as a favorite. The course a 50-minute to hour drive from Center City and certainly worth a visit if you have never played it.
For those that grew up in the 1990s and 2000s, Bella Vista is an example of golf course design stuck between eras. With a boom on golf course construction through that era, houses became a part of the golf course landscape. Fortunately at Bella Vista, the homes don’t come into play but for a most extremely wayward shot. The artificial “containment” mounding lining in fairways exists, but is not nearly as offensive as most courses of the era. With only part of the course playing along housing corridors, it’s a relatively easy walk with only a couple long transitions between holes (13-green through 16th tee being the rough stretch).
Note that there is not a driving range on the property, so it will take a couple holes to warm up. There are three main buildings – a pro-shop, a grill and a banquet facility is the large, old barn. The pro-shop small with limited stock. The grill is also small but perfect for the mid-round stop or post-round beverage. The staff have always been friendly in my visits. A tip of the cap to Bella Vista for participating in the Youth On Course program, allowing registered juniors to play for $5 weekdays from 12pm-2pm and after 4pm on weekends.
About the Architect
Based in Quakertown, James Blaukovitch is a Penn State graduate who began his career working for Killian and Nugent Golf Course Architects. In 1986, he branched out to form his own design firm. From the 90s to the early 2000s, Blaukovitch built 10 courses in the region, adding 3rd nines to two 18-hole clubs, and renovating several other courses. He was tapped to design the first new course within city limits in over 50 years when Island Green GC opened in 2001. While unfortunately short-lived, it was a pleasant design. In the Lehigh Valley, Blaukovitch designed highly rated Olde Homestead, Riverview, Southmoore and Whitetail, also adding 9-holes to Wedgewood. Near Reading, he designed Golden Oaks and the excellent Honeybrook. Closer to Philadelphia is semi-private Deerwood in New Jersey and the Blue-9 at Gilbertsville GC. Like Bella Vista, his designs are pleasant and playable. They’re not overly difficult nor very strategic.
I certainly understand why Bella Vista gets high ratings from many people. It’s a enjoyable layout that doesn’t beat you up. The holes are well separated so you aren’t ducking for cover for errant shots from other holes. Many holes are appealing to the eye and there’s good variety of hole layouts. Perhaps most importantly, course conditions have been very good in each of my visits. Pace of play has also never been an issue, with my last weekday round coming in under three hours.
Bella Vista is a rare routing that starts with a par-5 and ends with a par-3. From a design perspective, the holes mostly fall into the “pretty good” bucket. It isn’t a strategic course, nor is it a penal course. There’s nothing particularly excellent, and only one truly bad hole. The greens are rather mundane, but they’re kept quick so the limited slopes can be tricky. The fairway widths are typically around 35-yards with wide playing corridors so as not to be overly penalizing on wayward drives.
The weakest hole is the 5th, a short par-4 that is awkward to the eye and even more so to play. A stream divides the hole to the right of the tee and left of the green and a large bunker guards the front of the green. This results in a short fairway left and with the main fairway right. Your choices are a 150-yard lay-up short of the creek left leaving 130 to go, or a 210-yard shot over the creek and brush to leave 70-yards. This is a classic “connector” hole that is forced in to fill out the routing. Rather than making it an interesting par-3, it’s a par-4 so the course par would stay at 70. Most courses have one or two of these. Unfortunately it’s one of the more memorable holes on the course (for the wrong reasons).
There are several very good holes. The 9th is a stout par-4, requiring a good drive and accurate approach. The par-3 14th is an island green, built in a retention pond. It’s a smart use of the land and a challenging hole. The two-tiered green is ample, the water surrounding forces a well struck shot. Once you’re on the putting surface, you could easily three put if in the wrong tier.
I’m not a big fan of tree-lined fairways, but I particularly like the section of the property with holes 10 through 12. The 10th is a dogleg left par-5, with the tee shot playing uphill. The green is situated with a swale in front and right, requiring a well struck approach. The 11th is a shorter par-4. Off the tee, the fairway slopes slightly right to left, with a hill and trees right and OB left. Bunkers guard the green on both sides. The 12th is a moderate par-3 at 165-yards from the white tees. At the green, there is a hill to the left with bunkers left and behind and a fall off on the right.
I’m more fond of classic courses and a bit tougher of a grader than many, so while I like Bella Vista, it fits solidly in the “good” range. To me it’s a little overpriced, at the same fee level as nearby Turtle Creek and Raven’s Claw, and I would rank it third in that group. However, it’s a good value as you know you’ll get a fun and enjoyable golf experience, with very good conditions and a quick pace of play. Amongst the many courses in the 422 corridor, Bella Vista justly deserves it’s place towards the top of the rankings.