The Review: Raven’s Claw

A Real Lovely in Limerick

The greens at Raven’s Claw, such as the one on hole 14, can be easy to reach, but tough to finish. There are two ways for a golf course to become memorable. It can be the site of your best round, most dramatic eagle or in that rarest of cases, home to your hole-in-one. The other is to provide visual imagery that stays with you.

From the ruin of an old stone wall in the fairway of Raven’s Claw’s first hole to the arresting shifts in elevation created by gorges and gullies, this Limerick Township layout is sure to provide lasting visual memory, regardless of the outcome on your scorecard.
On a cold and damp December day, a lone player from Exton, Pennsylvania, noted, “The differentiation of the holes is unique for a public course.” The 4-handicapper went on to note that he had hit every green in regulation thus far, and still had not recorded a birdie. “Greens are easy to reach, but tough to putt,” he said.
The length of Raven’s Claw is rather modest: 6,739 yards from the tips, under 6,000 from the whites. But compared to the modern muscle tracks, it disguises challenges that result in a 71.0/130 rating and slope from those back tees. Raven’s Claw may be seen as a tale of two courses: one that is open and playable to any golfer who has the discipline to manage his game, and another that demands the very best shot placement and strategy to avoid the steep, penal drops that curse anything less than precision.
Courses that begin with a par 5 offer a warning of what’s in store. Raven’s Claw is no exception. Its 526-yard opening hole is a sweeping double dogleg with mounds and fairways that guard both sides of an otherwise generous fairway. A stone wall that bisects the fairway near where your second shot may land is an appealing piece of eye candy—unless your approach nestles directly behind it and causes you to substitute for “stone” a more impulsive adjective for the wall.
From there, however, your 100-yard pitch to the narrow but deep green must avoid the mound at the mouth of the green, which could send your ball careening left or right. There is also a steep drop into thick woods awaiting any approach that is too long or too far right. With those woods staring at you from the far side of the green, bunkered mounds on the left could make for a white-knuckle recovery.
The 361-yard par-4 second hole challenges you with water down the left and a green featuring a severe drop-off. The third hole is an all-carry par 3, where a pull left can find water again. The green is set deep into surrounding stadium-like mounds. The par-4 fourth is another moderate-length dogleg right, again with water guarding the left side of the fairway. The par-3 sixth is a short one-shotter that may seem to provide the first relief of your day.
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The back nine, including No. 13, is known for its severe slopes and frequent elevation changes.But the false security of the sixth is revealed at the par-5 seventh, where a steep drop into the woods on the right side of the fairway does not suffer slices gladly. The right side is the prime landing area for setting up a second risk-and-reward approach toward the green. Cut off as much of the dogleg as you dare. You’ll reach the green in two or a short pitch shot. The green slopes downward on the right, though, so take care in deciding whether to go or not on your second.
The medium-length par-4 ninth is your first look at the visual stimulation Raven’s Claw’s sloping topography offers. After your tee shot toward a sloping fairway that is protected by a deep gully on the right, your approach is back up and across the maw to an elevated plateau green that will send short approaches back down to the bottom of that waste. A false front increases the likelihood of disappearing in the gully. Another steep drop on the left of the green makes this one of the toughest targets on the course.
As you negotiate the ninth and several other holes, you may sense a kind of claustrophobia creeping into your strategy. Things tighten up as you start to experience severe slopes and greater elevation changes.
The medium-length par-4 15th provides an optical challenge. The elevation on the right makes you want to push your tee shot left toward the woods, but this is one of the more forgiving fairways on the back nine.
The elevated green on No. 9 can easily send your approach shot into a gully.The 242-yard par-3 17th forces you to hit across a deep ravine, with out-of-bounds lurking on the right and steep mounds on your left. It may be one of the toughest one-shotters in the tri-state area. Then you arrive at a simply wonderful little dogleg right finishing hole.
The 18th measures only 382 yards from the back tees, but the severe dogleg blocks any approaches from the shorter right side. The proper approach is from the left fairway, so leave your driver in the bag. That approach offers the best chance to land close to the pin. And proximity is important because, if you’re on the wrong side of either radial ridge around the three-tiered green, you face difficult putts for par.
If Limerick may seem out of the way for a casual weekend round, consider adding an afternoon round at nearby Turtle Creek. Regardless of how you justify it, Raven’s Claw is worth the investment of time.
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