Golf Bucks County

By Bob Oliver

Middletown Country Club

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.

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NVCC a true family affair

Written by Bob Oliver on .

The contrast between Northampton Township today and 40 years ago is like salt and pepper.

In the early 1960s, Northampton was a vast area of dairy and sod farms sprinkled with less than 10,000 people at a time when most police officers were volunteers. It was so secluded that a Nike missile base (PH-07) was situated on what is now township recreational property just off Newtown-Richboro Road.

Phil Sklar saw the gently rolling hillside and had an idea.

“My father was a visionary. He was a golf enthusiast who acted on his dreams (with some business partners) and commissioned golf course architect Edmund Ault to design a layout that would challenge golfers of all abilities,” explained Gary Sklar.

 

Ault, who designed more than 300 courses in his career, turned raw Bucks County farmland into a pleasant, challenging golf course.

The Sklar family has owned and operated the Northampton Valley Country Club in Richboro since its unveiling in 1963.

“The course was built on a dairy farm, on rolling hills, and they used the terrain to provide challenge to the player,” said Sklar, whose father passed away in 2004. “There were virtually no trees --- we obviously have added hundreds of trees over the years --- so over time they were added to provide some definition and challenge.”

In its 43 years the course has been altered and updated as Sklar’s team has enhanced the layout and attempted to keep up with changes in the game brought forth by new technology. Routing of the golf course has been changed, several holes have been completely redesigned. Obstacles have been added, sand and grass bunkers have been reworked, and various other revisions have occurred.

Over the years, however, there has been one constant at the club: its ownership.

“Unlike a number of golf courses which have seen ownership transferred time and time again, Northampton is still a family-oriented business,” explains Gary Sklar, whose wife Mila’s designs are seen throughout the buildings. “We hope to provide a high level of customer service, a golf course experience where you are a name, not a number. It’s a challenge, the competition for the golfer’s dollar is intense, but we feel we give our customers value. We do our best to provide an outstanding golf experience from the time you arrive until the time you leave.”

Sklar and Company made numerous improvements and enhancements to the layout in recent years to increase playability.

These days the layout plays to a modest 6,330 yards from its back tees, while also offering intermediate tees of 6,102 yards and short tees of 5,083 yards. To make the game more fun for beginners, there are also special tee markers on each hole that allows novices to enjoy a course of approximately 3,500 yards.

The course offers two par-5 holes, so it plays to a par of 70. Golfers must evade five water hazards, tall fescue grasses, trees and more than 45 bunkers as they traverse the 127-acre layout. Included on site is a small practice area and putting green, and the professional staff is available for lessons. The club annually offers a strong ladies and junior program.

“This is a competitive business. We’ve seen Island Green (10 miles away in Northeast Philadelphia) and Makefield Highlands (in Lower Makefield Township) enter the public golfer market in the last few years,” said Sklar. “Golfers have many opportunities. We are what we are, offering a solid golf course and golf experience, and we are constantly looking to improve. I believe that’s why we have so many regulars and repeat players.”

One area Northampton Valley has worked on is speed of play. Golfers everywhere don’t want to make an entire day of a round of golf.

“There are so many time pressures, and we realize that golfers hate slow play. We attempt to keep rounds moving. Some of those trees which weren’t here in the old days became a problem, so we’ve trimmed many back, about 200 of them. Over time these trees had shown dramatic growth and tended to slow down play.

“We’ve widened fairways while adding strategic mounding to allow better definition to each hole. We’ve added tall fescue grasses near greens to do the same thing…allowing the golfer to have a target yet adding challenge when there is an errant shot.”

Sklar admits it's a constant work in progress, where his team strives to improve the course whenever it can.

“Absolutely, because as much as we’ve done, there is always something else we can work on. We attempt to improve each and every day. We hope people recognize the improvements and enjoy the qualify of our golf experience.”

Vin Ciarlone heads up the PGA professional staff, and Justin Rieth is the golf course superintendent.

"We strive to improve in every way possible, but especially in the amount of time it takes to play a round of golf,” said Ciarlone. “We’ve removed some sand bunkers and replaced them with grass collection areas. That gives us better playability yet still offers a challenge while reducing the average time to play a round.”

Ciarlone calls holes 11 through 14 “bears” as they each can be true tests. The 11th hole stretches 415-yards from the white tees, the 12th 395 yards. Both require accurate tee balls. The 13th hole is “only” 375-yards, but its green is fronted by a large, ball attracting point.

Then there is the 14th hole, which is as much as you’d want in a par-5. Stretching 530-yards from the white tees, a stellar drive is required. Even if perfectly placed, reaching the green is only a dream for the majority of players. The smart shot is a lay up which must clear a stream and evades trees, bunkers and stay out of the rough. Pull the ball left and you are in a lake. Finally, your wedge shot needs to be close to the hole as the expansive green causes many three-putts.

My personal favorite is the 18th hole. Like Congressional (Blue), 18 is a par-3. There’s a lake and bunkers fronting the184-yard hole, and the green offers numerous difficult pin positions.

The Northampton Valley Country Club has survived the test of time and remains a classic area course.