The golf course at Sunnehanna is a terrific example of an Albert W. Tillinghast design. Perched on a hilltop, the course meanders 360 degrees around the clubhouse. The greens are basically small in size, well bunkered, requiring accurate iron play. The ball needs to be placed below the pin to produce the best chance for a birdie. Fairway bunkers generally are only on one side of the fairway, which is a typical Tillinghast characteristic.
Like many of its brethren designed in the early 1920’s, the course has evolved over time. Built prior to the advent of central watering systems, Sunnehanna was designed to play bump and run shots. The course when playing as designed, plays hard and fast with shots meant to be played short of the greens. This accounts for the open entrance to the greens. The course was relatively free of trees.
In 1956, in response to the success of the Sunnehanna Amateur and the growing influence of parkland golf, Sunnehanna would also change. New trees were added throughout the course, specifically mentioned in tournament notes were 50 trees on the right of #6 and #11, to name a few.
That same year, the gully on #8 would be built, with a new green added as well. Both would be used in tandem for the first time in 1959. Six new tees would also be added, adding over 250 yards to the overall length of the course.
The very nature of the course played today was influenced by the changes made in 1956 to provide a more challenging course for the Sunnehanna Amateur.
In 1960, par would be reduced from 72 to its current par 70. The previously benign 6th hole would be lengthened from 426 yards to 453 yards and changed from a par 5 to a par 4. The 14th hole was reduced from a 297-yard par 4 to a 250-yard par 3. By 1961, the impact of the changes were apparent, as the 6th hole yielded not a single birdie that year. The 8th hole would play almost a half stroke more difficult with the addition of the new tee and green.
The strength of Sunnehanna is its par 3s. Varying in length from 171 to 241 yards, they demand an array of various shots. In fact, in the 2000 Sunnehanna Amateur, the 14th, 5th and 10th, all par 3’s, were the 3rd, 4th, and 5th most difficult holes, respectively.
The front nine is by far the more difficult of the nines. The second hole, a demanding uphill dogleg right measuring 409 yards, commands a solid drive, but a more demanding uphill second shot to an elevated green. Any ball above the hole demands a deft putting touch. It regularly ranks as the second most difficult hole during the tournament.
Number six is the #1 handicap hole on the course, a dogleg right measuring 435 yards. The yardage is deceiving with an uphill tee shot, which typically will be played into the prevailing wind creating a hole which can play considerably longer. This hole usually is the hardest hole during the Amateur and has been designated by the USGA Golf Journal as one of America’s great holes.
Sunnehanna is truly a great golf course that has withstood the test of time. The club has recently begun the reconstruction of the fairway and greenside bunkers to return them to their originally intended design. Greens, which had also shrunk, have been brought back to their original size. These subtle changes have resulted in a more aesthetically interesting and demanding course. It is a layout that members and the best players in amateur golf recognize as a terrific test of golf, which is fair and challenging at the same time.
With these relatively minor changes performed on the course, the scoring average for the Amateur field has changed very little in the 47-year history of the Sunnehanna Amateur.
The average score over all the years has been 74.09 for 18 holes. A round of golf played on the beautiful course can rarely be described as a “good walk spoiled”.
With a championship nearly seventy years in the making, the course at Sunnehanna Golf Club boasts an incredibly rich history in the world of amateur golf. Explore the annals of history and learn about how some of golf’s greatest players got their start.