Swing Shift
Tee up at 18 of the area’s elite golf courses
by Jill Lupine

Getting a ball to find its way into a hole should be an easy task, but if that were true then the Professional Golf Association tour would be a rather crowded place. Truly, the most frustrating aspect of the game of golf—its difficulty—is also its most endearing quality. Each round of golf presents its own challenges, and the subtleties of a course are what put the task of making par so out of reach; never mind the impositions of light, temperature and the golfer’s own level of confidence.

In Philadelphia and its surrounding counties, golf enthusiasts of every ilk can choose from a range of some truly superior courses. Whether private, semi-private or public, these facilities provide challenging courses dreamed up by the world’s most sought-after architects. Although the 18 courses featured on the following pages don’t assure that a golfer will enjoy a perfect game, they do guarantee a perfect day, with excellent course conditions, spectacular amenities and some of the most enjoyable views outside of a park setting. So find a friend who shares your love of the game—and, for an ideal day, your handicap—and polish up your best driver. Prime golf season has returned.

Photograph courtesy of Lookaway Golf Club

Applebrook Golf Club
Designed for the walking golfer, Applebrook provides one of the most compelling courses around. Designed by Gil Hanse, the course combines natural beauty with plenty of water hazards, nasty bunkers and quick fairways. The par-4 holes here can make or break a round, as can the four beefy par-5 holes, beginning with the 522-yard first hole. Be ready for the so-called “quarry,” a sandy area that comes into play on Nos. 9 and 18, the latter of which offers gorgeous views of Hanse’s creation in its entirety. 100 Line Road, Malvern, applebrookgolfclub.com

Aronimink Golf Club
There’s a good reason Aronimink has been tapped to host the PGA Tour’s 2018 BMW Championship. Founded in 1896, Aronimink remains one of the area’s most beloved private courses, designed by Scottish pro Donald Ross. Ross designed the course for long-iron play, as evidenced by the course’s very memorable first hole: a climbing, 428-yard par-4. The course will challenge, as well as enchant, golfers of every skill level—especially on No. 16, a monster par-5 spanning nearly 560 yards from the black tees. 3600 St. Davids Road, Newtown Square, aronimink.org

Bella Vista Golf Course
The gently rolling property of Bella Vista offers plenty of water hazards, none more famous—or infamous—than the island green at No. 14. Getting to the pin of this 152-yard, par-3 hole is an admirable pursuit, yet four more holes await. This includes the 500-plus bunkered yards of the par-5 No. 16, as well as the coup de grace of No. 18 that leads to the clubhouse, where you can recount the joys of besting that island green. 2901 Fagleysville Road, Gilbertsville, bellavistagc.com

Broad Run Golfer’s Club
The tee box on hole No. 1 gives golfers a glimpse of what they’ll experience in the course of a round at Broad Run: breathtaking views that belie the challenge ahead. Although he had excellent source material when he began carving Broad Run out of Chester County’s pristine farmland, designer Rees Jones built a course that truly deserves its many accolades, including the National Golf Course Owners Association 2014 “Golf Course of the Year” honor. 1520 Tattersall Way, West Chester, broadrungc.com

Cherry Valley Country Club
A stone’s throw from Princeton, N.J., lies Cherry Valley Country Club, home of a Rees Jones-designed course. The 7,000-plus-yard course has earned a reputation for its undulating greens and contoured fairways. It’s also renowned for its practice facility, which will help golfers steer clear of the sand, water and rough next time they play the course. 125 Country Club Drive, Skillman, N.J., cherryvalleycc.com

Cobbs Creek Golf Club (Olde Course)
This course is continually ranked as one of the nation’s best municipal courses, and understandably so. Designer Hugh Wilson incorporated the waterway known as Cobbs Creek, quite fittingly, into several holes on the front nine, making precise shots a must. It doesn’t get any easier on the back nine, particularly on No. 14, a par-5 hole clocking in at an imposing 600-plus yards. For any chance of making par, be ready to crush the ball when stepping up to the tee. 7400 Lansdowne Ave., Philadelphia, cobbscreek.golfphilly.org

The Golf Course at Glen Mills
Designer Bobby Weed did something special with the Golf Course at Glen Mills, and the grounds crew has more than contributed to what he did here, as it remains one of the most pristinely maintained courses in the region. The course makes the most of its natural beauty, but its beauty is deceiving; off-the-mark tee shots or overly energetic putts could make for a painful round, given Weed’s use of water, bunkers and other hazards. 221 Glen Mills Road, Glen Mills, glenmillsgolf.com

Hickory Valley Golf Club (Presidential Course)

Hickory Valley’s Presidential Course—its Ambassador Course accounts for the other half of the club’s 36 holes—is known for its generous fairways and fast greens. No. 2, which is the course’s signature hole, is a 400-plus-yard par-4 that requires a precise tee shot and an equally accurate second shot to avoid the pond protecting the well-bunkered green. Likewise, the back nine offers some of the most satisfying finishing holes around. 1921 Ludwig Road, Gilbertsville, hickoryvalley.com

Ingleside Golf Club
Fashioned out of the summer estate of James Buchanan, 15th president of the United States, Ingleside ensures an enjoyable day on the links, especially for daily golfers looking to improve their game. Amid the lush greenery of idyllic Chester County, water hazards come into play on nearly half of the course’s 18 holes, meaning shot selection is the key to a rewarding day. 104 Horseshoe Drive, Thorndale, golfingleside.com

Jeffersonville Golf Club

Opened in 1931, then restored and modernized in 2000, this Donald Ross-designed municipal course is a diamond in the rough. With four sets of tees, Jeffersonville will test the mettle of any golfer, regardless of his or her skill level. The par-5 No. 18, at 545 yards from the blue tees, is a fine example. Even so, the yardage is hardly the only challenge here, as even some of the par-3 holes are particularly demanding. 2400 W. Main Street, Jeffersonville, jeffersonvillegolfclub.org

Lederach Golf Club
Rife with natural beauty, This Kelly Blake Moran-architected creation offers a “links”-style course with plenty of land-based hazards. Lederach offers five sets of tees, offering plenty of options to conquer this challenging course. It also lays claim to one of the area’s most expansive practice facilities, which will come in handy the next time a golfer steps up to the tee on this par-71 course. 900 Clubhouse Drive, Harleysville, lederachgolfclub.com

Llanerch Country Club
It’s no surprise that Llanerch has hosted so many national and local golf championships, including the Philadelphia section of the 2014 PGA Championship. The expertly manicured holes are diverse and deceptively challenging, especially the signature finisher. Measuring 296 yards from the blue tees, No. 18 leads to the clubhouse, where the distinctive green could mean the difference between birdie and bogey. 950 West Chester Pike, Havertown, llanerchcc.org

Loch Nairn Golf Club
At Loch Nairn, it’s all about the obstacles. Whether it’s the tree-lined fairways or the array of ponds and bunkers, the back nine has a stretch of hazards to intimidate even the most confident golfer. The title of “most imposing” might belong to No. 10, where a pond and creek conspire to make this 156-yard, par-3 hole a more than worthy adversary. 514 McCue Road, Avondale, lochnairn.com

Lookaway Golf Club
Opened for play in 1999, Lookaway succeeds as a truly inspiring course by way of its thoughtful course design courtesy of Rees Jones, its beautifully tended grounds and its formidable hazards, not to mention its excellent caddy program. Although every hole has its share of takeaways, two par-4 holes spring to mind as the course’s most memorable: the 477-yard No. 14—a favorite of PGA golf professional Chuck Rininger—and the 434-yard No. 18, which Rininger characterizes as Lookaway’s most difficult. 4219 Upper Mountain Road, Buckingham, lookawaygc.com

Meadowlands Country Club

“Gently redesigned” in 1996, the Championship Course at Meadowlands Country Club was designed by the notable father-and-son team of Bill and David Gordon. The result: a course characterized not by long yardage but by rolling greens and the strategic use of land- and water-based hazards. This walking course has more than its share of deceptive holes, including No. 12, which measures less than 200 yards. No. 12 offers plenty of sand and slope, making it one of the more daunting par-3 holes on the course. 711 Boehms Church Road, Blue Bell, meadowlandscc.com

Merion Golf Club (East Course)
Merion’s place in golf history is more than secure, yet its legend continues to grow. Merion’s Hugh Wilson-designed East Course has provided a more than worthy stage for some of golf’s most defining moments. In fact, Merion has hosted more U.S. Golf Association championships—including the 2013 U.S. Open—than any other course in the nation. Merion’s grounds have earned a reputation for their well-tended fairways and carefully kept greens, not to mention formidable bunkers and ball-stealing water hazards. In particular, the imposition of Cobbs Creek early into the back nine can make or break a round. 450 Ardmore Ave., Ardmore, meriongolfclub.com

Philadelphia Country Club (Spring Mill Course)

A William Flynn design, the Spring Mill course at Philadelphia Country Club is a treasure tucked away in Gladwyne with a rich history in professional and amateur golf. It has earned its place in history, of course, for its prime conditions and challenging routing. Of particular note is No. 5. At well short of 200 yards, this par-3 is far more imposing than its yardage suggests. Sawmill Run, which lurks at the green’s edge, is a notorious hazard. 1601 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne, philadelphiacc.net

White Clay Creek Country Club
Wetlands specialist Arthur Hills had plenty to work with when he designed the course here—namely, White Clay Creek and Mill Creek, both of which cut through the property and impose themselves on unwary golfers. Opened for play in 2005, the course gives golfers the distinct feeling that it’s been in use for much longer, as the course brings into play the water hazards and other natural obstacles. Developed as a complement to nearby Delaware Park, White Clay Creek Country Club has a lot going for it besides its excellent 18-hole course with five sets of tee boxes. The club is also known for its excellent practice tees and short-game facility, the use of which is included in the greens fees. 777 Delaware Park Blvd., Wilmington, Del., whiteclaycreekgolfcourse.com

Open Season
Lancaster Country Club tees up as host of the U.S. Women’s Open this July

This summer, nearly 160 of the world’s best professional and amateur female golfers will descend upon an area about an hour’s drive from Philadelphia. From July 6 to 10, Lancaster Country Club will host the 70th U.S. Women’s Open, one of 13 national championships hosted by the United States Golf Association.

“Go to any men’s golf event and ask anyone in the field what tournament they want to win and you’ll get varied responses; some will say the U.S. Open, some will say the Masters, some will say the British Open,” says Matt Sawicki, director of championships for the USGA. “Ask any woman pro golfer, and she’ll say the U.S. Open is the only one they want to win because it has the best field with all the names people recognize.”

The “who’s who” include Michelle Wie—“possibly the most visible female athlete in the world,” as Sawicki describes her—who will be defending her 2014 U.S. Women’s Open title in Lancaster, as well as the likes of Paula Creamer, Stacy Lewis and Inbee Park. Perhaps the most compelling aspect about the international lineup of players competing in the U.S. Women’s Open, according to Sawicki, is the element of surprise.

“What’s so unique about the U.S. Open is that the field is not set right now,” he says. “From May through June you have qualifiers in the U.S., Europe and Asia, where you might see someone like 11-year-old Lucy Li qualify. You have these players who get hot—even an amateur player, even an 11-year-old—and all of a sudden she’s playing against people whose posters she has on her wall. You have all these unique background stories that, for four or five days, will captivate the nation.”

In fact, the event has “surpassed nearly every ticket record we have to date,” Sawicki suggests. Also, the local community has embraced the event fully, with 80 percent of participating vendors having close ties to the Lancaster area; planners suggest the event will inject as much as $30 million into the local economy. Here, the spotlight will fall on not only some of golf’s biggest names but also on a fabulously challenging course dreamed up by the late William Flynn, a legendary golf course architect and also the longtime superintendant at Merion Golf Club.

“Flynn was involved with [Lancaster Country Club] from 1919 till his death, and he probably did more work on our course than anywhere else except Merion,” says Rory Connaughton, Lancaster Country Club’s course historian and a member of the executive committee that has been organizing the upcoming event since 2008. “The Conestoga River runs through the course, and it wasn’t till the 1940s that the course crossed the Conestoga. The four holes he built on the other side of the river are among the most memorable on the course, and they have all the hallmarks of a classic Flynn golf course: great routing, great use of the subtle land features and great use of the water features.”

The subtleties of the course will pressure the U.S. Open players to “attack the greens from the proper angle” and “place the ball not just on the fairway but on the right part of the fairway,” Connaughton says. While the first six holes of the course will provide their share of birdie opportunities, the middle of the course is where long hitters can take over. After hole No. 12, which Connaughton describes as “the beginning of the ‘amen’ corner of the course,” it’s anybody’s game.

“People who have never attended a golf event will be pleasantly surprised by this experience,” adds Sawicki. “My fiancé’s mother had never been to a golf event before I took them to Merion [for the U.S. Open] in 2013, and now I can’t get through a season without getting them to another event. For golf fans, and even for non-golf fans, it’s a great experience. For a general admission ticket, you can sit in the front row and be on the rope line of the putting green within an arm’s length of some of the best athletes in the world.” 

Lancaster Country Club (lancastercc.com) is slightly more than an hour’s drive from the Philadelphia area. For ticket options and more information, visit 2015uswomensopen.com. —Bill Donahue