For many years, the Philadelphia area’s notable courses were sequestered inside members-only clubs — among them Merion, Aronimink, and Philadelphia Country Club. But the last decade or so has seen an influx of new public facilities as well as a rebirth of some long-established layouts.
Today, the variety of public-access golf within a reasonable drive of the city is tantalizing, and a tour of these courses is a great way to take in the sights around Philadelphia. A good place to start is with the handful of new, upscale layouts set in the countryside west of the city.
The drive to Tattersall Golf Club (6,826 yards, par 72), about 45 minutes from downtown, leads through the zig-zagging streets of West Chester, a town brimming with charming antique shops and quaint, old homes. Once out of town, the landscape quickly becomes rural. Tranquil fields surround stone farmhouses, creating a pastoral postcard.
The dramatic movement of the landscape gives some idea of what to expect at Tattersall — a premonition that is realized driving up the steep entrance to the clubhouse. Portions of that structure, with stone walls several feet thick, date to 1702.
Course designer Rees Jones must have brought his climbing ropes when he laid out Tattersall. In fact, the terrain makes one wonder if this former farmland was home to horses or mountain goats. It all starts with the view from the 1st tee: The green sits far in the distance — 498 yards, to be exact — with only a deep valley, a steep climb, and a small river standing between you and par.
Throughout the round, you’ll encounter long-distance glimpses of the course, which is largely wide open, as well as roads so far below that the cars traveling them look like toys. Tattersall, which opened in 2000, prides itself on being a first-rate facility with all the amenities you could ask for, including global positioning systems in the carts and perfect sand in the bunkers.
A little farther southwest in Oxford, Wyncote Golf Club (7,012 yards, par 72) offers a similar country setting — cows graze next to the 4th green — but with far different topography. The routing here occupies gently rolling land, without steep drops or rises but offering surprisingly few flat lies.
Architect Brian Ault draws his inspiration from English heathland courses, and Wyncote’s landlocked setting provides remarkable similarities. His design flows with the natural contours and land forms of the site, lending a mature feel beyond what might be expected from a course that opened in 1993.
The 356-yard, dogleg-left 12th is one of several highlights. The approach shot requires a heroic carry over a stream and small pond. But you’ll never get too uptight, as Wyncote is a relaxing walk, with few long hikes between green and tee.
Continuing south to Avondale, you’ll encounter Hartefeld National, a GOLF MAGAZINE Top 10 You Can Play selection in 1996. Many consider this the best public course in the Philadelphia area. Unfortunately, that soon will change. This big, bold Tom Fazio-designed layout will remain, but the facility is going private in January. With just six months of public access left, you should plan for a last crack at this monster. Hartefeld National is 6,969 yards (par 71) with a Slope of 143 from the back tees, so think carefully about how much you want to chew off.
The 8-year-old course hosted the Senior PGA Tour’s Bell Atlantic Classic in 1998 and 1999. When you see the challenge Fazio built into this layout, especially from the back tees, you’ll truly appreciate the 27 that local amateur turned senior star Jay Sigel posted over the opening nine during his 1998 victory.
After Hartefeld goes private, a portion of the dining room will remain open to the public, and both the cuisine and the hilltop views are worth a trip.
Following Route 1 toward the city, stop by Duffer’s Pub in Glen Mills. Golfers are welcome at this decidedly blue-collar hangout, though a sign near the door warns, “No demolition clothes allowed.” The food is great, and golf memorabilia — including photos of PGA Tour notable Jim Furyk, who was born in nearby West Chester — adorn the walls. Conveniently, the next course on the Philly-area golf tour is just a few hundred yards down the road.
The story behind The Golf Course at Glen Mills (6,636, par 71), a GOLF MAGAZINE Top 10 You Can Play choice last year, is compelling. This is no housing-development course — it’s actually an educational facility. The Glen Mills Schools (circa 1826), a highly regarded facility for troubled youth, several years ago recognized an opportunity to develop a piece of land surrounding its picturesque campus. The goal was to generate income for the school’s scholarship fund while furthering its mission of improving the social behavior of its students. A golf course seemed like the perfect solution and would provide students with valuable employment experience.
Bobby Weed, a Florida-based designer known for his work on Tournament Players Clubs throughout the country, created a design that is entertaining and memorable. Thanks to the partly open, partly wooded surroundings, some holes feel massive, others tight. One example of the latter is the 376-yard 11th, where the fairway landing area is about as narrow as they come, bordered by a steep slope on the right and a brook to the left.
The school’s massive clock tower is visible from many holes, but the most prominent reminder of the unique mission of Glen Mills is the courteous service provided by students in the clubhouse as well as their diligence in maintaining the course.
Traveling north from Glen Mills but still west of downtown, near the top of “The Blue Route” (Route 476), is Valley Forge National Historical Park. A bit of trivia: No battles were fought here, but 2,000 soldiers died while camping at this site during the brutal winter of 1777-78.
Just a few miles away in West Norriton is Jeffersonville Golf Club (6,450 yards, par 70), a course that’s easy to overlook on a visit to the Philadelphia area because of its relative obscurity. The layout has plenty of character to hold your interest, but Jeffersonville is not one of the high-end publics that have become so popular lately. Its charm is based less on service and amenities than on its newly restored Donald Ross layout.
Ross installed his resourceful routing way back in 1931, but it was only recently that the facility’s management rediscovered its architectural heritage when a longtime town resident remembered seeing the Ross name on a sign for the course. A subsequent search of receipts proved that recollection correct. Fortunately, those operating the township-owned course had the wherewithal to seek out golf architect Ron Prichard, who has earned a reputation for sensitive renovations of Ross layouts, including the aforementioned Aronimink Golf Club in nearby Newtown Square.
The refurbished Jeffersonville course reopened last year. Historic touches abound, as evidenced by a terrific stretch on the front nine. There’s the squarish shape of the roller-coaster green on the 576-yard 6th, the platform putting surface on the 383-yard 7th, and the terrifying, downhill 195-yard 8th, where a creek runs directly in front of the green. Perhaps it was features such as these that inspired a young Tom Fazio, who grew up caddieing at this very course.
A similar architectural legacy can be found within the city limits, at the most highly regarded of Philadelphia’s six municipal layouts. The Old Course (6,202 yards, par 71) at Cobb’s Creek Golf Club is pure, old-fashioned golf, with clever, quirky holes that use the natural features of the land at every turn. The quality of the 1916 design shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows early American golf course architecture. Hugh Wilson worked his magic on only three courses — Merion, Pine Valley, and Cobb’s Creek.
Following the creek that flowed through his beloved Merion, Wilson eventually came upon the land that is now Cobb’s Creek Golf Club. That same creek comes into play on the quaint, 413-yard 5th, as water nearly divides the fairway lengthwise from tee to green. It’s the kind of hole that probably would not be built today.
The course hosted the 1928 U.S. Public Links Championship and remains very much as Wilson left it, though a portion of the routing was altered during construction of a missile silo during World War II. It is still there, in a corner of the property between the 8th and 9th holes, but because it was essentially built underground, it now just looks like an overgrown parking lot.
Just across the Delaware River in West Deptford, New Jersey, is RiverWinds Golf Club (7,086 yards, par 72). It sits on the riverbank, and you get the feeling on holes 14 through 17 that you can reach out and touch downtown Philadelphia.
|Tattersall Golf Club |
|Wyncote Golf Club |
|Hartefeld National |
|The Golf Course At Glen Mills |
|Jeffersonville Golf Club |
|Cobb’s Creek Golf Club |
|RiverWinds Golf Club |
|Pine Hill Golf Club |
RiverWinds was designed by Ed Shearon, his first 18-hole layout after a number of successful course and renovation projects throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Replete with cart paths made from crushed seashells, RiverWinds features large bunkers, narrow fairways, and a few refreshingly offbeat holes. For instance, on the 156-yard 17th, your tee shot will fall sharply toward the Delaware River — and into the water if you don’t find the putting surface on this island green.
Just a little farther into New Jersey, there’s no telling how many golfers have taken a detour on their way to Pine Hill Golf Club (6,969 yards, par 70) in the town of Pine Hill, just hoping for a glimpse of its famed neighbor they’ve heard is “right next door.”
The search is futile: The entrance to ultra-exclusive Pine Valley is well-hidden and the guard at the front gate is imposing. Besides, Pine Hill, ranked 31st on GOLF MAGAZINE’s Top 100 You Can Play, is too good to waste your time driving in circles. Pine trees line nearly every hole, and the areas without trees feature massive waste bunkers. It’s easy to get psyched out by the intimidating setting, but the fairways are generous, and there’s only one hole, the 534-yard 14th, where water comes into play.
In addition to Fazio’s superb routing, the conditions at Pine Hill are impeccable, and the massive Adirondack-style clubhouse sits atop the highest point, providing dramatic views of the Philadelphia skyline some 20 miles away.
The truth is, Philadelphia behaves more like a big town than America’s fifth largest city. Still, it’s home to four professional sports franchises, with new fan-friendly football and baseball stadiums for the Eagles and Phillies, respectively, near completion.
You’ll also find a number of luxury hotels (The Radisson in Center City and the Adam’s Mark on City Line both have golf package deals with Cobb’s Creek) and renowned restaurants: Le Bec-Fin is well known for its French cuisine, and world-famous cheesesteaks can be had at legendary eateries like Pat’s and Geno’s in South Philly.
If you want a quiet night out, take in an IMAX film at the Franklin Institute. For a louder time, you’ll find all you can handle on South Street (www.south-street.com), where too much fun can result in missed tee times the following morning.
For more information, visit the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau at www.pcvb.org. Though the city of Philadelphia (www.phila.gov) provides little in the way of golf course recommendations, it does offer comprehensive travel information — hotel, sporting events, dining, etc. — to help you plan a trip.