This Is No Ash Heap

Seaford rescues a former DuPont playground and offers a bargain—as well as a quality layout.

The former Seaford Country Club course received a makeover in the mid-1990s and experienced further restoration under its new owners.With top in-season fees priced at $45, city-owned Hooper’s Landing Golf Course would strike the unknowing as another scruffy, overused muni. But Hooper’s is the former Seaford Country Club, a private domain of DuPont, whose original nine holes were designed by well-known architect Alfred Tull in 1941.

“Hooper’s Landing is defined by a need for accuracy,” says head golf professional Michael Connor. The original nine requires accuracy off the tee, and the newer nine (basically a reclamation project for architect Richard Mandell, whose other area work includes the Eastern Shore’s Easton Club) requires accuracy with your irons.

The former private club almost went to seed when declining membership led to declining upkeep, which led finally to its sale to the city of Seaford, Del. The new management group immediately set to work restoring what had been neglected. By the fall of 2010, signs of that neglect were confined to a few patches of crab grass and bare spots scattered throughout the layout.

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The new routing at Hooper’s blends Tull’s old with Mandell’s new, which was built in the mid-1990s. Holes one through four are Tull’s.  Numbers five through 13 represent Mandell’s added nine. The course wraps up with Tull’s original numbers five through nine.

At 6,725 yards from the tips, Hooper’s Landing presents a broad examination of all skills, not the least of which is knowing when to leave the driver in the bag in favor of a well-managed game of shotmaking and ball placement.

The exam begins with a medium par 4 that doglegs slightly right and features a large mound of dirt that was deposited when the original course was built. The mound serves as a convenient target, but actually  puts you in a straightjacket for your approach.

Avoid the temptation, and steer your tee shot left for a cleaner look at the green.

Page 2: This Is No Ash Heap, continues…

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The first of Hooper’s moderately distanced par 5s is the second, where heavy brush down the left side of the fairway is in play off the tee. The small green is well-guarded by deep bunkers. The 146-yard par-3 third, while short, demands accuracy. Off-target tee shots to the left will roll into a tree-filled gully where, as Connor puts it, “pars go to die.”

The fairways of the old Tull design may be tight, but the lies are spongy, thanks to one of the few Delaware courses featuring Bermuda grass on the fairways. (They’re overseeded with rye in the fall and winter to maintain a green look.) It’s the Mandell nine where you can let the big dog hunt, but then the undulations Mandell added to otherwise table-flat acreage makes for more careful iron play. That’s especially important with so many of Mandell’s greens protected by deep-faced bunkers.

Mandell’s wider fairways come at a price, however. Created as a result of a state mandate that DuPont dispose of a Nylon byproduct known as fly ash in an environmentally safe way, the company decided that burying was the least expensive option. That produced more than 200 acres of moonscape that Mandell was able to sculpt into Seaford’s additional nine holes.

Wide open as a result of the reclamation, the holes are at the mercy of prevailing winds. When the breeze is up, Hooper’s wider fairways can turn out to be of limited value. Wind is a factor, especially at the fifth and at the 17th, a 533-yard par 5 that generally plays into the prevailing direction, thus playing a lot longer than its yardage would indicate.

Mandell’s first (Hooper’s fifth) is a 423-yard par 4 with a generous opening to the green on your approach. But any off-target hits may find you in the first of what could become a nightmare of deep bunkers that will run up your score in a hurry. Stay left when you approach this green.

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Water doesn’t dominate Hooper’s, though it is present on many holes. At the par-5 ninth, a pond lurks along the right side of the approach to the green, which defends this slight double dogleg against most attempts to reach in two. Third shots hit too long will find a watery grave.
The long par-3 11th changes the challenge by demanding distance control—a ravine wraps around a long, deep green that will capture overcooked tee shots.

The 14th is a simple, straight, long 440-yard par 4 with a fairway bunker in play on the left. The approach is a longish 200 yards, with water along the left side of the green. It’s not the hardest hole in handicap ranking, but it can definitely play that way when the wind holds sway.

With a par-3 finishing hole, Hooper’s Landing may seem to be giving you a breather at the last. But at 219 yards, with a long, slender bunker guarding any roll up to the green and with a deep-faced bunker on the right, the finishing hole offers little resembling a gimme.

Golfers looking for a bargain will find one at Hooper’s, both in terms of price and quality of layout. With the biggest problems of renovation behind it, the staff can begin grooming Hooper’s into a dandy little gem of a course. Not bad for a muni. Not bad for an ash heap, either.
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