Green Days
It’s time to tee up at some of the area’s elite golf courses
by Jill Lupine

“It is almost impossible to remember how tragic a place this world is when one is playing golf,” as the Robert Wilson Lynd, the long-deceased Irish poet, once said.

His words ring true today, even now more than ever. Although a handful of golfers have gotten good enough to consistently put in a good round of golf, most men and women who spend a day on the course are there for one simple reason: to escape. After all, the golf course is the perfect place to unwind the coils of a week, to forget, at least for a little while. It’s about walking well-tended greens, taking in fresh air and spending time with friends away from the world and its problems.

In the Philadelphia area, golfers of every skill level have plenty of above-par courses at which to focus purely on the joys of open space, camaraderie and solving the maze that lies before them. On the following pages are some of the finest options within an hour’s drive that are sure to please golfers of every age and skill level.

Applebrook Golf Club
At this private Gil Hanse-designed course in Malvern, the challenge begins with the very first hole, a more than worthy par-5. Golfers face water hazards, fast fairways and insidious bunkers aplenty here, though the course’s most remarkable characteristic could very well be the so-called “the quarry.” Golfers must contend with this imposing sandy area near hole No. 9, and again with the course’s rewarding finisher, No. 18.

Aronimink Golf Club
In Newtown Square, this private course designed by Scottish pro Donald Ross finds its way onto just about every annual “best of” list and also remains a regular stop on the pro circuit. (It’s set to host the PGA’s 2018 BMW Championship.) Why? It offers plenty of yardage, deceptive hazards and other surprises sure to test even the most skilled golfer. Hole No. 16, a par-5 crusher spanning 512 yards from the blue tee, is a sample of the satisfying play golfers can expect from a day at Aronimink.

Broad Run Golfer’s Club
This semi-private course in West Chester features some of the most appealing views, and challenging holes, found anywhere in the Greater Philadelphia Area. Designed by Rees Jones and built out of more than 370 acres of hilly Chester County farmland, Broad Run offers a rewarding test of one’s mettle, beginning with the very first hole. It’s no surprise the course earned Pennsylvania Golf Course Owner’s Association “Golf Course of the Year” honors just a few years ago.

Cobbs Creek Golf Club (The Olde Course)
Designed in 1916 by Hugh Wilson (architect of the famed East Course at Merion Golf Club), this award-winning municipal course in Philadelphia utilizes its tree-lined surroundings remarkably well. As the course’s name implies, the waterway known as Cobbs Creek makes its presence felt on several of the holes on this course, particularly on the front nine. Hole No. 14, a par-5 measuring a mammoth 600-plus yards, requires a robust drive.

The Golf Course at Glen Mills
A Bobby Weed design, this public course in Delaware County offers a satisfying round, all surrounded by gorgeous foliage. It also features a creek that ends up stealing tee shots gone astray and overly aggressive putts, particularly on Nos. 11 and 18. Glenn Mills has earned a reputation for being one of the area’s most pristinely manicured courses, which is unsurprising considering students from nearby Glen Mills Schools who are studying golf-course management help maintain the grounds.

Hickory Valley Golf Course
A semi-private course in Gilbertsville, Hickory Valley offers 36 holes for golfers perfect their game, particularly on its Presidential Course. Although its signature hole, No. 2, gets most of the attention—and deservedly so—golfers can expect to put in a solid effort on the back nine. With ample fairways, well-tended greens and challenging yet manageable hazards, Hickory Valley delivers an A-plus round suitable for golfers of every ilk.

Jeffersonville Golf Club
This 135-acre course, which is a stone’s throw from Norristown, gained a facelift thanks to a 2000 modernization and restoration from a local architect. Originally designed by the legendary Donald Ross, the course offers four sets of tees, meaning golfers of any skill level will enjoy a day here. The course’s finishing hole—a par-5 measuring 545 yards from the back tee—is a fitting finale to one of the area’s top public courses.

Llanerch Country Club
This private, 129-acre course in Havertown has quite a history, having hosted several noteworthy national and local golf championships, including the PGA Championship (Philadelphia section) in 2008 and 2014, and the Philadelphia Amateur in 2015. The holes are diverse, challenging and immensely satisfying—especially No. 18, a deceptively difficult pursuit measuring less than 300 yards from the blue tees, which delivers golfers to the edge of the clubhouse.

Lookaway Golf Club
This private Rees Jones-designed course in Buckingham offers plenty of opportunities for golfers to test their short game. Although each hole shines, Nos. 14 (477 yards from the black tee) and 18 (434 yards) are perennial favorites. Golfers marvel at the room to roam; the course’s spaciousness and solitude mean that most golfers prefer to play their rounds on foot, with caddies.

Merion Golf Club

Merion has attained a certain mysticism, not only for its excellent course conditions but also for its history. Designed by Hugh Wilson, this private course in Ardmore has played host to a few of golf’s most dramatic events—from Bobby Jones’ completion of golf’s “grand slam” at the 1930 U.S. Amateur to Ben Hogan’s show-stopping performance at the 1950 U.S Open. In fact, Merion’s East Course has hosted more USGA championships than any other U.S. course.

Penn Oaks Golf Club
In mythology, when a phoenix dies, it catches fire and a new phoenix rises from the ash. The good folks from Penn Oaks can relate. Last year this gorgeous private course in West Chester suffered the unthinkable when contaminated fungicide essentially killed the course’s greens. Through a little ingenuity and a lot of hard work, however, Penn Oaks has—like the phoenix—been reborn. The entire club, from course to clubhouse, has benefited from a complete renovation that has improved conditions beyond its original form, making 18 holes here an experience that is tough to duplicate.

Philadelphia Country Club—Spring Mill Course
This private course in Gladwyne, designed by the illustrious William Flynn, has hosted more than its share of prestigious events—the 1939 U.S. Open, the 2003 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship, the 2005 U.S. Men’s Amateur Championship—and it’s easy to see why: Each hole has its cunningly designed hazards to overcome, requiring each player to plan his or her approach with a blend of care and confidence. In addition, the practice facilities are among the area’s finest.

Rolling Green Golf Club
Rolling Green, a private club based in Springfield, Delaware County, will take center stage this August, when it hosts the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. It’s not hard to see why the USGA selected Rolling Green for the honor. The 157-acre, William Flynn-designed course opens with a demanding par-4, and it gets only better from there, with a number of superb par-3 holes ahead. With a committed program to ensure the playability of its greens and renovations (the course, the clubhouse, etc.) under way, Rolling Green is, ahem, on a roll.

Photograph of Rolling Green Golf Club, courtesy of USGA