When people think of Pittsburgh and great golf, often times the conversation is dominated by Oakmont. And that's understandable. Oakmont is a behemoth in the world of golf courses, with its rich history of U.S. Open championships and features like its famous church pew bunkers. But the reality is, the Steel City offers lovers of the game a number of really fantastic options. I've been fortunate to have played most of them through the years, including Oakmont, but one course I'd never had an opportunity to play was Fox Chapel Golf Club.
Throughout my career, I've probably worked with two dozen or more members at Fox Chapel, but I'd never secured an invitation to play the course that has hosted prestigious tournaments including the U.S. Women's Amateur championship, Curtis Cup, and the Senior Players Championship from 2012-2014. The Seth Raynor layout has long been on my bucket list, and I've put out feelers over time, fishing for an invite. Then, months after I last mentioned it in any public space, I got a Facebook message recently from someone who offered to connect me with a member ... and the very next day I was on the tee at Fox Chapel.
And the course lived up to its reputation, thanks in no small part to some restoration work led in recent years by Tom Marzolf, of Tom Fazio Design.
Some of the things I loved about the course are the variety of shapes and contours to the terrain and key features of the layout. From squared-off bunkers you don't see on many courses to the punchbowl green on the par-5 second, the necklace of sand that makes the par-3 11th play like an island green to the roller coaster of a swail that separates the front of the 17th green from the back ... you just don't see many courses with one or two of these elements, let alone so many collected in one place and blended together so well to give a course character and create a fun and exciting challenge for those who play it.
On top of that, the course is eminantly walkable -- a real achievement for any piece of land in Western Pennsylvania! As it happens, I'm managing through the golf season on a bad wheel with two torn tendons in my left ankle, and I had to abandon my attempt to walk the course on the front 9 in favor of a cart. But it is a perfect course to walk for a healthy golfer, and the caddies are terrific.
From the practice green to the 18th green -- and really, from the moment one arrives -- the entire experience of visiting Fox Chapel Golf Club is world class. The property is beautifully and immacculately manicured and conditioned. The staff is warm and friendly. And the members I met during my visit -- not least of all my host for the day and his son who played along with us -- could not have been more gracious. I've waited a long, long time to check the box next to this one on my Pittsburgh-area bucket list, and it was absolutely worth the wait ... despite my score!
As usual, I took a lot of pictures on the course -- after double checking with my host that using my phone/camera to do so would not be a breach of club etiquette. I took too many to share them all, but here are some of my favorites:
I was delighted to roll in about a 30-foot putt for par on the opening hole, a 382-yard par-4.
The par-3 third hole, playing about 160 yards, is one tough test of golf for those who don't find the putting surface off the tee. My host for the day nearly aced the hole, which I'd like to think would have earned me an open invitation for life had the ball gone in the hole.
I love this shot of the par-4 fifth hole.
The 410-yard par-4 ninth hole, named "Lion's Mouth" on the scorecard, is a beast of a hole that will eat you alive if your drive does not find the fairway.
At just about 160 yards, the par-3 11th ought to be a relatively easy hole. but a mis-hit tee shot that finds the sand that almost completely surrounds this elevated green can easily lead to a bogey or worse.
It's a tight shot through the chute to get off the tee on the par-4 12th hole. Playing just 321 yards from the Blue (members) tees, the narrowed field of vision created by the trees as a golver squares up for his tee shot actually creates the illusion that the hole is much longer and tighter than it actually is.
The approach shot to the 12th green is blind from the left side of the fairway, creating the impression that a player needs to hit a higher-lofted shot than they otherwise might want, believing they need to stop the ball on a dime when in fact the green is deeper than it appears and may actually demand an approach that runs out a bit once the ball clears the mounts in front of the putting surface.
Maybe it's just the fact that I played the hole well and scored a par, but I really like the look of the 380-yard par-4 14th hole at Fox Chapel.
The par-4 15th requires something short of a driver off the tee in order to lay back of the stream that crosses the fairway down below. A 3-wood or even a hybrid is the smart play off the tee on this 380-yard hole.
The 16th is another that just suits my eye really well. I just love the look from the tee box with the stream cutting through the teeing area and the fescue that helps to give the hole shape and character but really isn't in play unless you hit an especially bad tee shot.
The 17th hole is all about getting the number right. If the pin is on the front of the green, don't go long. If the hole is in the back, don't be short. Very few golfers will successfully lag their first attempt at a putt from one level of this green to the other, and far fewer still will actually hole a birdie putt from the wrong plateau on the putting surface.
The par-5 18th hole is a really fun closing hole, provided you don't hit your tee shot right into Glade Run -- the small stream that runs up the right side of the hole for the tee shot and then traverses the fairways at just the right place to catch a mis-hit layup attempt on the second shot.
Fox Chapel's magnificent clubhouse and terrace overlook the first and 18th holes, offering members the perfect vantage from which to watch others conclude their rounds.
A look back at 18 from beyond the green.
I couldn't be more appreciative of my host -- and the new-found friend who connected us -- for the opportunity to play Fox Chapel Golf Club. If you'd like to read more about the club and see some really terrific professional photos, I recommend you check out this write-up about the course from Golf Digest.