A Matter of Course
Golfers of all ages find natural beauty and a challenging game on the Rees Jones-designed course at Lookaway Golf Club
by Leigh Stuart

As any avid golfer will say, golf is more than just a game; from the sportsmanship and camaraderie to the tranquil, almost meditative aspects of strolling the links on a beautiful day, golf is more a parallel to life than a pastime. A passionate golfer will also be quick to note that all courses, and clubs for that matter, are not created equal. To truly enjoy the full gamut of experiences, one needs a club that is welcoming, with well-tended grounds and an inviting atmosphere—and this is just what members find at Lookaway Golf Club in Buckingham.

Harry Ferguson serves Lookaway as club president and was one of 25 members who founded the club, which opened for play in 1999. Ferguson explains that the founders wanted the club to embody all the best aspects of the club’s location on a historic plot of land in Bucks County. Lookaway achieved this by renovating where need presented, but also in preserving many of the features the building has had since its construction in the mid-1700s.

“We didn’t want a grandiose clubhouse with enormous overhead,” says Ferguson. “We didn’t want this supersized clubhouse with [grand] ballrooms. Our club has a Bucks County motif—it’s warm, comfortable, casual, but well done.”

Lookaway stands apart from other clubs in the area also because of its unique ownership model, according to Dave Jenkins, club secretary and chair of the membership committee. While many clubs will ask members to pay a sizable initiation fee, Lookaway is a private equity club, meaning each of the 229 full members is a partial owner of the club.

“The club is owned and managed by partners who use and are active at the golf course,” says Jenkins, who is a financial advisor by trade. “And we make the decisions on the governance of the club for the long-term benefit of the partners, not a corporation.

“We have a very active and involved board,” Jenkins adds. “We meet every week, so no problem festers.”

The founders also placed paramount importance on creating a club that put golf first. It is for this reason that the Lookaway founders sought a top course architect to design the grounds, and found that person in Rees Jones. Jones, who created his golf course design firm Rees Jones Inc. in 1974, has designed so many championship courses that he earned himself the name “The Open Doctor.”

At Lookaway, Jones worked to utilize the naturally occurring features such as creeks and wetlands areas to preserve as much of the land’s natural beauty as possible while adapting those features to create a challenging course.

“The grounds are very beautiful—quintessential Bucks County,” Jenkins observes. “The slight rolling hills and the marshland make the course a great place to take a walk. There’s something classic about it.”

Playability was paramount in designing the flow of the course, which is typically open April 1 through November 30. Each hole features four tees—black championship tees, blue, silver and the forward-most gold tees—that range in yardage and ensure each player can enjoy a challenging round. There are even scorecard notations for those wishing to mix things up a bit. There is a “purple” course, which blends the black and blue tee-off spots, an “azure” course featuring a combination of silver and blue tee-off spots, and a “bronze,” which blends the gold and silver distances.

“To me, it’s about choosing the right set of tees and distance markers to make the game fun for you,” says Chuck Rininger, Lookaway’s head golf professional.

The front nine offer players a series of challenging holes with formidable visual intimidators, including the deceptive par-three No. 2, the No. 4, with its series of right-side bunkers, and the water-fronted No. 7.

On the back nine, hole No. 14 is an imposing 477 yards from the black tees and features two wetland areas. The last hole on the course, too, provides an exceptional challenge to golfers.

“[No.] 18 just a phenomenal hole,” Rininger says of the par four. “In terms of stroke averages, it’s the most difficult on the course.”

This, he explains, is thanks to wetlands, which players must clear off the tee, as well as a green surrounded by six bunkers. Not to mention the distance: 434 yards from the black tee.

“Rees Jones did a wonderful, masterful job in designing the facilities at Lookaway,” says Rininger.  “It’s such a beautiful place to play. It’s peaceful to walk around … and how Jones put his signature flair on things—in the bunkers, and some of the water and natural wetlands hazards—this combines all together to create a course that is very fun but, on the second side, also challenging. It’s just a special place.”

In line with its goal of creating a bucolic, peaceful place to play, Lookaway has, since its founding, put a strong emphasis on its caddy program.

“We have a great caddy program, and I’m happy to see that the members have embraced that,” Rininger says. “I understand that some people have challenges and will need a cart to play, but [walking] is good exercise, if a player can walk, and it facilitates communication.”

“Sometimes the golf cart is a distraction,” Jenkins adds. “A caddy allows you to focus more on the game.”

The caddy program is but one aspect of Lookaway’s emphasis on providing sterling-quality member services. “We feel we have a service model that’s second to none,” Jenkins says. “We only have 229 members, so it’s very intimate and the staff gets to know the members well. A lot of the staff has seniority, and we keep the staff happy, so we have consistency.”

To attract the next generation of young leaders to the club, Lookaway launched the “Pathway to Partnership” program last year. This program offers a discounted dues structure to individuals ages 25 to 40 and provides these individuals credits toward the purchase of membership in the club in the future. (Partner members can enter the club officially at age 40.)

Yet, Jenkins emphasizes, this focus on new members is unlikely to change one facet of the club: its intimacy. “One of the sacred things at Lookaway is the amount of partners,” he says. “It has been 229 since the club’s founding.”

The founders wish to uphold this limit for a number of reasons, one of the foremost relaying back to the club’s focus on putting golf first.

“If I drove over there now I could park the car, get out and go to the tee to play,” says Ferguson, explaining one of the features he likes best about Lookaway is the accessibility of the course to all its members.

“We didn’t want to worry about outings or external tournaments. We wanted a place where we could go play,” he continues. “You don’t have to call on a Monday to get a tee time 18 days later. That’s what we were really trying to achieve.”

Lookaway Golf Club
4219 Lower Mountain Road
Buckingham, PA 18912