Medford Village Country Club
|Golf Professional||Chris Hutchinson||(856) 697-8900|
|General Manager||Bob Doria||(609) 654-8211|
|Superintendent||Bruce Rickert||(609) 654-4880|
|Tee Sheet||Front 9||Back 9||Course|
A group of investors headed by South Jersey businessman Michael Procacci acquired the Sunny Jim Golf Club in 1971 and renamed it Medford Village Country Club. The celebrated—indeed, infamous—course was then just seven years old.
In 1963, James “Dutch” Himmelein had earmarked 152 acres of the Sunny Jim farm in Medford, which his father owned, for a golf course. The objective of this 5-handicapper was simple: to create an eighteen that would rival Pine Valley in pure challenge. Since the land at his disposal lacked the elevation changes of the Clementon masterpiece, he decided to make his course long, brutally long. He called in Bill and Dave Gordon and gave them their marching orders. Nothing if not obedient, the Gordons delivered one of the most demanding and most punishing courses in the entire country. From all the way back, the par-72 layout measured 7,345 yards. The white tees added up to a mere 7,045 yards and were recommended for players with handicaps ranging from 4 to 10. The red markers—the forward markers—produced a course of 6,638 yards. There were no ladies tees for the very good reason that ladies were not permitted to play.
The fairways, averaging less than 30 yards in width (Pine Valley’s are roughly 52 yards wide in the tee shot landing area), were curving and, more often than not, framed by trees. And though there were only 64 sand bunkers, many of them were vast and all of those at greenside had nearly vertical faces not less than four feet high. The greens were spacious, undulating, and complex, accommodating a number of difficult cup positions and promising no shortage of opportunities to three-putt. Water was not a factor except on two or three holes.
Himmelein hired as his head professional Vie Rice, who had held the same post at Greenacres Country Club, Lawrenceville, N.J., for more than 30 years. Harry Shaffer left Medford Lakes Country Club to become the greens superintendent.
The course opened in May 1964. Philadelphia Golfer Magazine dubbed it “The Magnificent Monster of Medford.” And Dutch Himmelein offered $1,000 to the first man who could break par.
There were plenty who tried. In October, Bert Yancey, a regular on the PGA TOUR by then, detoured long enough to take a crack at Sunny Jim—and at Himmelein’s $1,000. On those occasions when a player would announce his intention of playing for the prize, Himmelein would personally choose the cup positions and then play the round with the contestant. Yancey went out in one-over-par 37 and needed a 34 coming in to claim the check. But big trouble on the water-fronted 13th dashed his hopes and he struggled home in 42 for a 79. He said, “There isn’t an unfair shot on the whole layout, and I don’t recall anywhere that you can miss a shot and not be penalized.” When asked what score he thought would win a tournament here, Yancey mulled the question for a moment and then said that he would be glad to take $300 and let the rest of the field shoot at it.
No one ever did collect Dutch Himmelein’s $1,000. But he suffered serious financial reverses in 1969 and the club went into receivership, to be bought two years later by the Procacci interests. Women were now welcomed. An additional 6,000 square feet of floor space was added to the clubhouse. Tennis courts and a swimming pool were built in the years that followed. And the golf course was made considerably more user-friendly. Nevertheless, it is still among the seven or eight most difficult in the Greater Philadelphia area, with a Slope of 133. But many of the remote back tees have been abandoned. Now from the championship markers the course measures 7,120 yards. From the whites it is 6,503 yards, and from the gold tees, 6,200. There are ladies tees today, with total yardage from them of 5,232.
At least as important as the reduction in mileage (someone once said that every hole at Sunny Jim should have a half-way house) was the extensive reworking of the bunkers. The faces are no longer high sheer walls that often necessitated hitting out backwards or sidewards. Now, from these shallower hazards, mere mortals are able to avoid card-wrecking triple bogeys.
Qualifying for the U.S. Open has been held at Medford Village. So have the South Jersey Open and other professional events. And if this outstanding eighteen is no longer a man-eater, it is still uncompromising in its demands. Dutch Himmelein’s legacy endures.