Of all the new or redesigned golf courses in the area, the one that has received the most publicity and praise is Hartefeld National, south of Avondale, Chester County, near Wilmington.
After playing a round, it's easy to see why. Public golf courses don't come much better than this.
Designed by Tom Fazio, whom Golf Digest calls the premier course architect in the world today, the 16-month-old Hartefeld National already has cracked Golf magazine's elite list of top-10 public tracks in the country. No surprise, also, that it's in the running for the Golf Digest selection as best new course of 1996.
What makes Hartefeld so special?
Three key ingredients: a wonderful, rolling piece of rural real estate that's wooded in some areas and wide-open links style in others; the most celebrated designer on the scene today; and an owner - Wilmington restaurateur and 2-handicapper Davis Sezna - who knows how to cater to customers.
"When you have Tom Fazio, all you do is introduce him to a great piece of property," said Sezna, whose 1492 Hospitality Group in Wilmington owns the Columbus Inn, Klondike Kate's and Kid Sheleen's.
"My only prerequisite was a course that could be enjoyed by everybody, but be able to set up for championship play if I wanted to."
Fazio, who also designed the lavishly praised Galloway National at the Shore, certainly accomplished that. On perhaps a half-dozen holes, you may find yourself standing on the tee marveling at what lies before you and muttering: ``Wow.''
And yet Hartefeld is not a backbreaker. From the championship tees, it's long - 6,969 yards - and plays to a 73.2 rating and a 131 slope. But from the middle tees, the Hartefeld course measures only 5,936 yards and carries a 68.3 rating and a 123 slope.
There's water on only one hole, No. 6, a medium-length par 3. And even from the back tees, the half-dozen or so holes that require carries over ravines are not overwhelming.
The strength of Hartefeld National - and the source of its beauty and uniqueness - is the contour of the land, which was once part of the estate of a wealthy Delaware family, the Robinsons. Scarcely a single hole is flat - they roll and pitch, or slash across ravines - giving Hartefeld National a distinctly different feel from almost any other course in the area.
Take Nos. 15 through 18, for example, as picturesque and terrific a sequence of four holes as you could hope to find.
Fifteen, a 392-yard par 4 from the championship tees, begins from an elevated tee and requires a drive over a 150-yard ravine into an elevated, uphill fairway, framed by trees on the right and far left, as well as bunkers.
No. 16, a 552-yard par 5, is all uphill, punctuated by nasty bunkers, into a treacherous, sloping green. No. 17, a 447-yard par 4, takes you back down the hill, with a large, hungry bunker pinching the fairway from the left. And No. 18, a 409-yard par 4, starts from another elevated tee, over a ravine, into an uphill, dogleg-right fairway.
A personal favorite is No. 5, a 534-yard par 5 from the championship tees that slopes downhill to a small ravine that gobbles up long tee shots, before heading uphill again, doglegging left as it goes, into an elevated green.
What's most interesting about the hole is the approach shot into the green. Because No. 5 plays 507 or less from the shorter tees, many players will be tempted to go for the green in 2. But the green is guarded by a small army of ghastly bunkers that have "snowman" written all over them.
What's Sezna's favorite hole?
"That's like asking me which is my favorite son," he said.
Greens fees at Hartefeld National are not cheap, $75 weekends and weekdays, including mandatory cart fees. Nor is Hartefeld - located between Interstate 95 and U.S. Route 1 - easily accessible for many Philadelphia area golfers. But the trek is worth it, at least once or twice a year.
And because Sezna is a veteran of the hospitality industry, he has devoted probably as much attention to the service from the staff, the clubhouse, the restaurant and the grill, called the Walker Cup Room, honoring the nation's finest amateurs. It has all paid off in a state-of-the-art public facility.