Tee Party
Celebrating the 18 most daunting hazards at the Philadelphia area’s top private and public golf courses
by Nate Oxman

The late Jim Flick, one-time instructor of the great Jack Nicklaus, once said that golf is 90 percent mental … and the other 10 percent is mental, too. That just might explain why amateur golfers everywhere have difficulty standing over the golf ball and visualizing where they want it to go. Instead, visions of where not to hit it leave many standing over the ball, scatterbrained. This state is only heightened when the hole laid out in front of the golfer is dominated by a hellacious hazard. Whether it’s in the form of a life-size puzzle-piece bunker or a well-positioned pond, some hazards are simply impossible to ignore.

We scoured the suburbs (and city) for the hazards that haunt golfers well after the round ends. Although there are undoubtedly dozens of worthy candidates that didn’t make the list, those found below (listed in no particular order) have been known to give golfers all over the Philadelphia area nightmares.

In some cases, a single hazard is enough to strike sheer terror into golfers standing on the tee, while in others it’s a cruel combination of water and sand that the golf course architect clearly took great pleasure in creating. So enjoy … yet forgive us if the following pages resurrect some demons you’ve tried so hard to erase from memory.

Bellewood Golf Club
Signature Hazards: Pond and bunkers on No. 14
While many of the water hazards on this list elicit fear from their position in front of greens and thus force golfers to grab an extra club, the lake behind the green at the 187-yard par-3 14th at Bellewood Golf Club has the opposite effect. Taking once less club to avoid the water and account for the decrease in elevation would be an easy decision if it weren’t for the trio of bunkers in front. With a back-right pin position and a steady wind, you would be hard-pressed to find a more petrifying par 3 in southeastern Pennsylvania. 400 E. Schuylkill Road, North Coventry, 610-718-9100, bellewoodgolf.com

Applebrook Golf Club
Signature Hazards: Bunkers, boulders, waterfall and stream on Nos. 9 and 18
Although they are really two separate hazards on either side of the 10th tee, we’re combining them into one mighty mega-hazard because each one is too impressive to leave out. Let’s start at the 149-yard par-3 10th where anything but a front-right pin requires a hit-it-and-hope carry over a mammoth bunker. Another bunker lies beyond to catch more wayward tee shots and several small bunkers are perched thankfully out of play on the hillside beyond. At nearly 70 yards long and wide, the bunker at the 454-yard par-4 18th causes nightmares for those who enter and can’t escape. Gil Hanse generously provided an alternate route by extending the fairway up the left side of the hole, well away from the greenside behemoth, but those who place their tee shots down the right side of the fairway have little choice other than to close their eyes and pray as they try to carry the bunker. If you succeed and find yourself standing atop the green, admire the tranquil waterfall and stream trickling down the hillside toward the bunker. 100 Line Road, Malvern, 610-647-7660, applebrookgolfclub.com

Aronimink Golf Club
Signature Hazard: Pond on No. 17

In the opening round of the 2010 AT&T National at Aronimink Golf Club, eight of the best players in the world found the pond fronting the par-3 17th, which proved to be the most difficult hole on that day for the pros who played it at a punishing 215 yards, downhill over the water to a shallow green with a bank in front sloping down to the water. Two of those eight found the drink twice: Boo Weekley, who made a triple-bogey six, and Byeong-Hun An, who made a seven. Although members and their guests typically tackle this one-shotter from around 180 yards, the pond still swallows up its fill of balls each season, especially on days when there is a front or far-left pin. 3600 St. Davids Road, Newtown Square, 610-356-8000, aronimink.org

Meadowlands Country Club
Signature Hazard: Lake on Nos. 3 and 17
This list features several holes where water hazards stand squarely between a golfer and the green. Those inciting the most intimidation fail to provide a viable alternate route. At Meadowlands, the 168-yard par 3 offers a golfer no choice but to pound one over the lake and pray that he or she has pulled the right club. Golfers tend to salivate when they see a par 5 listed at less than 500 yards. Of course, there’s a catch. At the 487-yard 17th here, it’s the water hazard parked in front of the green. Golfers are free to bomb away off the tee, and those who rip one down the middle can then toy with taking on the lake that stretches over 40 yards from the end of the fairway to the front of the green. But with a carry often well over 200 yards, it’s far from high percentage play. Anyone thinking clearly, even when standing in the middle of the fairway, justifiably knocks a short iron down the fairway to set up a wedge and a decent birdie opportunity. 711 Boehms Church Road, Blue Bell, 215-646-2300, meadowlandscc.com

Lookaway Golf Club
Signature Hazards: Wetlands and bunkers on No. 14

At Rees Jones-designed Lookaway, PGA golf professional Chuck Rininger describes No. 14 as “a pretty doggone demanding yet satisfying hole.” Measuring 477 yards from the black tees, No. 14 has all the makings of a classic that demands good shots: decent length, visual intimidation and potentially absorbing hazards such as a series of deep bunkers and two wetlands areas, along with additional hurdles such as mounds and fescue. Ending up in any of these snares could make for a long day, meaning golfers need to choose their clubs carefully. “It is our No. 1 handicap hole,” says Rininger. “It’s a phenomenal hole, from start to finish.” 4219 Upper Mountain Road, Buckingham, 215-794-5727, lookawaygc.com

Philadelphia Country Club—Spring Mill Course
Signature Hazards: Sawmill Run, bunkers and sycamore tree on No. 5
Just one of the four design features surrounding the green would be enough to frighten those into backing off the ball, but toss all of them into the mix and the 167-yard par-3 fifth at Philadelphia Country Club’s Spring Mill Course turns from one of the most magnificent in the Delaware Valley to one of the most vexing. Add in the claustrophobic feeling resulting from the row of towering trees framing on either side of the hole from the tee down to Sawmill Run and fear undoubtedly becomes a factor, where the margin for error is probably smaller than at any other hole on this list. A miss short or right will likely wind up wet. A miss left could find the sycamore tree and ricochet into a number of unsightly spots or bury in one of two greenside bunkers, leaving a second shot equally as intimidating as the first: downhill to a green sloping toward Sawmill Run, which sits just three yards from the right edge of the green. 1601 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne, 610-525-6000, philadelphiacc.net

Torresdale Frankford Country Club
Signature Hazard: Byberry Creek on Nos. 1, 8 and 11

Those teeing it up at historic Torresdale Frankford Country Club in the greater Northeast are greeted on the first tee by Byberry Creek, sitting perfectly in the landing area 260 yards away and running southwest across the fairway. It’s a lovely sight, especially for those who successfully lay up short with the first shot and clear it on the second. Although the creek crosses half of the holes here, it really only plays a pivotal role in how players attack Nos. 8 and 11 following the 345-yard par-4 first. Running on a diagonal, Byberry Creek especially influences a golfer’s plan of attack when a pin is placed in the right side of the green at the 215-yard par-3 11th. Those who choose to take dead aim must carry the ball more than 190 yards over the creek and then contend with a bunker beyond the green. Those who opt for the more intelligent play face a carry closer to 170 yards and can even play for the friendly fairway area short and left of the green. Byberry Creek’s biggest bang is felt at the ferocious 474-yard par-4 eighth, where many refuse to waste any thought on attempting what can be a carry of 200 yards on the second shot and simply lay up to the 40 yards of fairway in front. 3801 Grant Ave., Philadelphia, 215-637-5289, tfccgolf.com

Talamore Country Club
Signature Hazard: Bunker on No. 4

Take on glance at the gigantic bunker engulfing the 160-yard par-3 fourth hole at Talamore Country Club and one would think the hole was transported from Talamore’s southern cousin, the Talamore Resort Course in Pinehurst, N.C. The amoeba-like bunker is nearly 160 yards long and 50 yards wide; there is more sand than turf on the fourth, so miss the green off the tee and odds are you’ll be blasting your second shot (and perhaps your third) out of the sand. You’re only bailout is a 12-yard wide section or rough right of the green, although those favoring that side of the hole have out of bounds lurking should they stray too far off line. 723 Talamore Drive, Ambler, 215-641-1300, talamorepa.com

Merion Golf Club
Signature Hazard: Cobbs Creek on Nos. 11, 12 and 13

While Cobbs Creek borders the right edge of the par-3 13th, ducks under Ardmore Avenue and runs across the fairway at the 12th, it does its most damage at the 367-yard par-4 11th where, thanks to a fairway shift in its direction in preparation for the U.S. Open, has become more in play off the tee. The “baffling brook,” however, has become one of the most famous hazards in all of golf due to its impact on the approach shot at the hole where Bobby Jones completed golf’s “grand slam” in 1930. Even from the fairway, the creek, which slices from left to right in front of the green and curls around its right side, corrals its fair share of approach shots. But try to reach the green out of the dense right rough and your chances of succumbing to its seduction rise exponentially. 450 Ardmore Ave., Ardmore, 610-642-5600, meriongolfclub.com

Cobbs Creek Golf Club—Old Course
Signature Hazard: Cobbs Creek on Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 6

After tangling with the upper crust on the Main Line, Cobbs Creek travels southeast before dominating the layout at the city’s first municipal course, most notably at the 304-yard par-4 third, where it catches many tee shots blasted through the dogleg and then all too often gobbles up poorly judged or poorly struck short-iron approaches from its position in front of the green. From there it follows golfers to the par-3 fourth where it travels up the left side before bisecting the 413-yard par-4 fifth and forcing golfers to choose the fairway to the left, a daunting task which in turn leaves a lovely angle in with mid- or short iron over the creek on the second shot, or the fairway to the right. The creek bids farewell at the pleasant 122-yard par-3 sixth, where it widens as it wanders up the right side and then shoots in front of the green to set up another formidable forced carry. 7400 Lansdowne Ave., Philadelphia, 215-877-8707, golfphilly.org/cobbs-creek-golf-club.html

Paxon Hollow Country Club
Signature Hazard: Trout Run on Nos. 10 and 18
There’s nothing like a birdie to buoy your confidence as you begin the back nine of a round, and one is certainly up for grabs at the tempting 277-yard par-4 10th at Paxon Hollow Country Club—that is, if your tee shot avoids Trout Run, a tributary of Crum Creek. With woods acting as out of bounds left, players tend to aim a tad to the right, bringing Trout Run even more into play, especially for those bold enough to go for the green. While this hazard consumes its fair share of golf balls at the 10th, it really wreaks havoc on Paxon Hollow’s home hole: the No. 1 handicap, 535-yard uphill par-5 18th, where it hugs the entire left side of the landing area off the tee and then slices across the fairway, thus forcing long hitters to lay back, before heading west to visit the aforementioned 10th. 850 Paxon Hollow Road, Broomall, 610-353-0220, paxonhollowgolf.com

Jeffersonville Golf Club
Signature Hazard: Pond on No. 8
A tiny tributary of Indian Creek, which pours into the Schuylkill River just south of neighboring Westover Golf Club, runs west to east at Jeffersonville Golf Club, pools at a large pond and, along with a trio of bunkers on the opposite side, pinches the landing area for the second shot at the sinister 545-yard par-5 18th.  But this hazard causes even more peril at the picturesque 195-yard par-3 8th, where it widens into a smaller pond in front of the green and gorges on golf balls all season long. 2400 W. Main Street, Norristown, 610-539-0422, jeffersonvillegolfclub.org

Linfield National Golf Club
Signature Hazards: Pond and bunkers on No. 12
While the recent removal of six pine trees and a fairway bunker on the left side of Linfield’s 492-yard par-5 12th hole opened up an exquisite vista of the green perched in the distance atop a hill with a beautiful assortment of trees as a backdrop, it also provides golfers with a preview of what’s to come: a perilous approach over a pond and a pair of beastly bunkers to a green that is receptive only to the trajectory of a short iron. That’s why many playing the 12th elect to lay up to the fairway short of the pond and bank on getting up and down for birdie. 66 Church Road, Linfield, 610-495-8455, linfieldnational.com

Broad Run Golfer’s Club
Signature Hazards: Bunkers on No. 1
Broad Run Golfer’s Club boasts arguably the most awe-inspiring backdrops of any golf course in the four counties. Although most are purely peaceful, the view from the elevated tee at the first is equally intimidating as it is mesmerizing. That’s due to the duo of stacked, steep-faced bunkers that can be seen stretched out in front of the green at the 498-yard par-5 first hole, staunchly protecting any pin not placed on the very front portion of the putting surface. Their intimidation factor only elevates on the second shot, sending many eager to go for broke (set on going for the green) back to the bag to grab a short iron instead. 1520 Tattersall Way, West Chester, 610-738-4410, broadrungc.com

Bella Vista Golf Course
Signature Hazard: Lake on No. 14
While the other water hazards on this last are undeniably imposing, the architects who incorporated them into the design of the golf course also gave golfers an escape route. And with the ruthlessness of those hazards on this list, a golfer should never feel ashamed for taking the safer route. At the 152-yard par-3 14th island green at Bella Vista GC, there is no safe route so select your club wisely, wait for the wind to die down—then close your eyes, count your blessings and hope to stay dry. Oh, and remember, don’t dare fool with firing at the pin. Play to the middle of the green and hope to hole a long putt. If not, take your par and sprint to the 15th tee. 2901 Fagleysville Road, Gilbertsville, 610- 705-1855

Loch Nairn Golf Club
Signature Hazards: Pond and creek on No. 10
With water hazards, whether in the form of lakes, pond or wetlands, featured in the design of 11 of the 18 holes at Loch Nairn Golf Club, intimidation abounds, thus making it difficult to determine the course’s most taxing obstacle. The inward nine is particularly loaded. There are the wetlands in front of the elevated green at the 12th, the combination of a murky pond a trio of pot bunkers short of the 14th green, and ponds pinching the fairway at the 16th and guarding the green at the 17th. But we’ve selected the combination of the evil smile-shaped pond, which obviously takes great pleasure in gulping down golf balls, and the creek running behind the 156-yard par-3 10th, which together make finding the putting surface paramount in order to start your back nine with a birdie or par. 514 McCue Road, Avondale, 610-268-2234, lochnairn.com

Lederach Golf Club
Signature Hazards: Fairway bunkers and lake on Nos. 9 and 18
The guitar-shaped lake situated between the parallel fairways at holes 9 and 18 at Lederach GC is enough to strike terror into golfers standing on the tees at these splendid par 4s. While those playing the 328-yard ninth can simply aim a little more left and take their chances with the rollercoaster-like left side of the fairway and the severe mounding in the left rough, those tackling the 379-yard 18th are left without a legitimate/sensible escape route. In fact, golfers are often seen standing on the tee here scratching their heads for some time as they try to find a safe play. Only there really isn’t one. At roughly 50 yards wide in the landing area for most and extending close to 230 yards in length, miss the fairway left and it’s a certain splash. Typically the center of the fairway would be the ideal line. But architect Kelly Blake Moran built a very unfriendly fairway bunker that, with areas of rough behind and in front, is nearly 50 yards long and requires a tee shot of 245 yards to clear. It shrinks the section of fairway between its left side and the lake into a mere sliver and certainly sends many bailing out to the right, where another bunker awaits. 900 Clubhouse Drive, Harleysville, 215-513-3034, lederachgolfclub.com

The Golf Course at Glen Mills
Signature Hazard: Creek on Nos. 11 and 18
Although the water basin sitting between the tee and green at the spectacular par-3 13th at The Golf Course at Glen Mills causes its share of distress, the creek that zigzags its way up the entire left side of the both the 376-yard par-4 11th and the 464-yard par-4 18th gets the nod because it’s in play on every single shot from tee to green. In fact, it’s not terribly uncommon for a golfer to donate an entire sleeve of balls to this unnamed tributary of Chester Creek during the round. Because it is not nearly as wide as some of the other waterways on this list, golf balls headed for the creek often hop over or even out, but with rocks and boulders of varying sizes and gnarly rough all around, that’s not necessarily a lucky break. 221 Glen Mills Road, 610-558-2142, glenmillsgolf.com

At Chester County’s Moccasin Run Golf Club (402 Schoff Road, Atglen, 610-593-2600, moccasinrun.com), the hole that most often puts the screws to golfers is, fittingly enough, the final hole they play: No. 18.

“It’s a dogleg right, if you’re looking at it from the tee box,” says Rodney King, PGA professional at this challenging yet enjoyable course. “If you’re back too far, depending on your pin placement, you might not even be able to see the green. You’ve got elevation to deal with there, too. The most important thing with 18 is getting your tee shot on the fairway.”

No. 18, the course’s signature hole, is also its most intimidating. Measuring 350 yards from the white tees, this par-4 presents golfers with an imposing tee shot that combines the challenges of distance, wind (because of its elevation, overlooking the green) and hazards that include a stand of trees and arborvitaes to the right. Assuming a golfer can successfully place the ball on the fairway, he or she then faces a 150-yard carry to the center of the green.

“It’s the most challenging hole simply be because it’s the last hole everyone plays,” says King. “I’ve been in matches with friends, and this is the hole that can change the whole match.” —Bill Donahue