Review: Philadelphia Cricket Club – Wissahickon Course

Course Name: Philadelphia Cricket Club – Wissahickon Course

Designer: A.W. Tillinghast (1922), Keith Foster (2013, renovation)

Location: Flourtown, Pennsylvania

History: Philadelphia Cricket Club was founded in February, 1854 and is the oldest country club in America. After about forty years of primarily cricket, the first golf course opened in 1895 and was designed by Willie Tucker. This course, now known as St. Martins, hosted the U.S. Open in 1907 and 1910 and is currently 9 holes. In 1920, the Club commissioned one of its members, A.W. Tillinghast, to design a championship course (Wissahickon), which was completed in nearby Flourtown in 1922. The name comes from the Lenape word for “catfish stream” and the Wissahickon Creek, which runs through the course. In 1999, Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry designed a third course (Militia Hill) at the Cricket Club, which opened in 2002. In 2013, the Wissahickon Course underwent a massive renovation by Keith Foster. After reopening to rave reviews in 2014, the Wisshickon Course immediately hosted the Philadelphia Open and has since hosted the National PGA Professional Championship (2015), Senior PGA Championship (2016), and is slotted to host the 2020 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball.

The Wissahickon Course hold numerous awards, including:

  • #115 Best Course in America – Golf Digest (2017)
  • #86 Best Course in America – Golf Magazine (2017)
  • #29 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2018)
  • #5 Best Course in Pennsylvania – Golf Digest (2017)

Conditions: 10/10, Just like its sistering courses, the Wissahickon Course is in tremendous shape with lush fairways and teeboxes, well-manicured bunkers, and fast bentgrass greens rolling about a 13. The rough here is particularly long and penal.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                                 Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

I                                      70           7119               74.8              140

I/II                                  70           6906              73.8              135

II                                    70           6680               72.8              134

II/III                               70           6373               71.5              131

III                                   70           6178               70.4              130

III/IV                              70           5692               68.3              129

IV                                   70           5509               72.3              132

Hole Descriptions: A.W. Tillinghast is one of my all-time favorite architects and the Wissahickon Course is one of his finest designs. Not only did Tillinghast design the course, he was also a member of Philadelphia Cricket Club for almost his entire adult life and his ashes were spread in the Wissahickon Creek when he died in 1942. On the patio outside the clubhouse, there’s a monument to Tillinghast, listing his most famous designs with the statement: “A.W. Tillinghast: Builder of golf courses that endure.” There is perhaps no greater compliment to a classic architect, and it is entirely accurate. In a world where modern golf is so obsessed with length and difficulty, Tillinghast was designing courses in the 1920s that hold up as well as any to the modern game. I am convinced that the Wissahickon Course could hold a competitive U.S. Open tomorrow if they sparked up the greens and grew out the rough.

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Tillinghast’s pedigree is nearly unparalleled

The Wissahickon Course is almost entirely treeless, but this a recent development as Keith Foster removed hundreds of trees during his 2013 renovation. Although I never played before the renovation, almost everyone in the golf community agrees that Foster did a tremendous job in restoring the Wissahickon Course to its former glory. I am a firm believer that tree removal is an absolute must for classic courses, and visuals and conditions drastically improve if done correctly. Although much less tight than Quaker Ridge and Bethpage Black, the Wissahickon Course plays similarly with many long par fours, thick rough, wonderful strategic bunkering, and subtle greens that break more than they appear. The Wissahickon Course is clearly one of the best courses in the golf-rich state of Pennsylvania and I expect it to be a staple on Top 100 lists with a few more years post-restoration under its belt.

The opening hole sets the tone early as a long, uphill 424 yard par 4. This is one of the most intimidating teeshots on the course as it plays blind over a plateau and creek with an 140 yard forced carry.  This tight fairway is slightly angled to the right with a bunker on the left at 250 yards and one on the right at 270 yards. A lone tree on the right near the bunker will block many golfers out. This approach plays to a wide back-to-front sloped green guarded on either side by bunkers. A strong start.

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The uphill par 4 1st on a misty morning

The 2nd is one of my favorite holes at the Wissahickon Course as a beautiful downhill 423 yard par 4 running back towards the clubhouse. The creek runs through this fairway about 300 yards from the tee and is in play only for the longest of hitters. This approach plays over the creek to an elevated back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers short on either side. This hole is most notable for the clubhouse’s proximity (only a few yards) to the green, leaving a very intimidating approach shot.

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The downhill par 4 2nd
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Walking up the 2nd green; Look at how close the clubhouse is!

There are many similarities between the Wissahickon Course and my beloved Wannamoisett with one of the most poignant examples being the 122 yard par 3 3rd. Both courses contain a world-class short one-shotter as their 3rd hole sandwiched between long par fours. Like Wannamoisett, this hole features a narrow, undulating green surrounded by deep bunkers short, left, and right and grass bunkers deep. This fantastic hole will yield many birdies, but also many disappointing bogeys.

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The short par 3 3rd is another tremendous hole

Tied for the longest par 4 on the course, the 4th is a brutally long former par 5 playing 487 yards as a slight dogleg left. The fairway here is quite narrow, as a trio of bunkers on the left between 230 and 300 yards constricts the fairway. Many golfers are forced to lay-up here and will have to contend with church-pew bunkering about 80 yards short right of the green. This green is open up front, allowing runners, but is guarded short on either side with bunkers. Par here will feel like a birdie.

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The sleek par 4 4th

At 197 yards, the 5th is my favorite of the world-class par threes at the Wissahickon Course. This incredibly picturesque hole plays slightly uphill to a severely back-to-front sloped two-tiered green guarded by the creek short and a crown of five bunkers. Due to the severe nature of this green, this is a very difficult par even for those on in regulation.

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The beautiful par 3 5th

Continuing an epic stretch of opening holes, the 475 yard par 4 6th is my favorite hole at the Wissahickon Course and is one of the best par fours I’ve played. This lengthy hole sets up wonderfully to the eye with an angled fairway over the creek lined by the abandoned Reading Railroad down the entire right side. The bunkering on this hole is splendid, with bunkers on the right at 250 yards and left at 280 yards constricting the fairway. This approach plays uphill to a long, narrow green lined by numerous deep bunkers on either side. Making a sandy here for par was one of the highlights of my day.

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The world-class par 4 6th
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The fescue-filled railroad is an awesome feature

At 514 yards, the medium-length 7th is the only par 5 on the front and definitely feels short after a barrage of long par fours. This hole features a narrow fairway lined by bunkers on either side at 240 yards. The most notable feature of this hole is a 60 yard “Great Hazard” that completely occludes this fairway beginning at 290 yards. I absolutely loved this Tillinghast feature at Quaker Ridge and Bethpage, and this is another fine example filled with fescue and bunkers. This approach plays to a green guarded short, left, and right by bunkers.

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The par 5 7th
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From just short of the “Great Hazard”

The closing two holes on the front 9 provide some respite as the two shortest par fours on the course. While they don’t quite reach the greatness of the first 7, they are still strong holes beginning with the 365 yard 8th. This straightaway hole plays uphill the entire way with forest left and scattered bunkers down the right. The approach here is fantastic to a very severe back-to-front sloped green guarded by a cavernous bunker short right and two small ones on either side. Putting above a front pin here is nearly impossible.

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The par 4 8th
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The bunker short right is to be avoided at all costs

The 9th is a neat little 373 yard par 4 with one of the more difficult drives of the day. This hole plays as a slight dogleg left off the tee with an angled fairway lined by someone’s backyard on the left, bunkers on the right at 230 and 270 yards, and thick fescue further down the right. This is another great approach to a green tucked on the right guarded by bunkers left, right, and behind. The way this green is angled rewards the aggressive golfer, leaving an inviting pitch over the open front. Those who lay-up off the tee will have an awkward angle over fescue and bunkers.

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The par 4 9th

Interestingly, the back 9 commences with a medium-length par 3 that feels more like an extension of the opening 9. This 172 yarder plays similarly to the 3rd with fescue in front and an elevated green well-protected by surrounding bunkers. The fescue and fact that the clubhouse is directly behind the green obscures your depth perception from the teebox, making the shot much more difficult than it actually is.

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The par 3 10th

While not as sophisticated as the neighboring 6th, the 11th is another beautiful par 4 running alongside the Reading Railroad. At 427 yards, this straightaway hole plays uphill the entire way with an 175 yard forced carry over the creek on the drive. A lone bunker on the left at 275 yards is the only other real danger off the tee. This approach requires at least one club extra to a large green that runs back-to-front.

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The 11th is one of the best driving holes at Wissahickon

At 538 yards, the 12th is the final par 5 on the course. This is a straightforward hole, but appears anything but on the teebox with a semi-blind teeshot partly over a ravine. You can miss left on this drive, but those who miss right have to contend with trees and a bunker at 200 yards. Two additional bunkers flank the left at 250 and 290 yards. Once you reach the fairway, this hole is rather simple with a narrow fairway and no danger until about 100 yards short of this green where bunkers tighten the fairway. While this back-to-front sloped green is large, five bunkers surround it, making it very difficult to get home in two.

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The semi-blind 12th teeshot
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The 12th approach

At 447 yards, the par 4 13th is a sleek dogleg right and the beginning of a very lengthy finishing stretch.  The ideal teeshot is down the left to avoid a bunker on the right elbow of the dogleg at 260 yards. This approach plays towards a large, circular green guarded by bunkers short on either side.

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The par 4 13th

The 14th plays downhill the entire way as a straightaway 411 yard par 4. Featuring a semi-blind teeshot, this hole is wide open except for two hidden bunkers on either side at 240 yards. This hole features one of the best approaches on the course with seven deep bunkers short of a heavily undulating green. Keith Foster added these bunkers during the renovation to match Tillinghast’s original design and did an excellent job.

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The approach at the par 4 14th

The 15th is the final par 3 on the course and what a par 3 it is! At a prodigious 217 yards, this difficult hole plays uphill to a narrow Redan green that slopes right-to-left and back-to-front. There’s a small bunker on the right and a giant deep one down the left that I imagine is a common destination. Apparently pros were laying up on this hole at the 2016 Senior PGA!

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The long par 3 15th

After a short walk, you reach the 16th teebox, which is continuous with the 15th green. This is another tremendous par 4 and one of my favorites on the course. At 408 yards, this hole features an elevated teebox to an angled fairway with a bunker on the right at 200 yards, and three down the left between 240 and 310 yards. OB lines the far right for those who stray well off-line. This approach plays at least one club uphill to a back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers on either side.

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The 16th teeshot is very similar to the 6th with its terrific angles

At 419 yards, the 17th is another long, difficult dogleg par 4. This hole plays uphill and turns sharply to the left around 240 yards with two bunkers on the left and tall trees on either side at this point. This approach continues uphill to an infinity green that’s the smallest on the course. Running hard back-to-front, this green is guarded short by multiple bunkers on either side and offers tremendous vistas of the property.

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The par 4 17th
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The 17th green seems like it’s on the edge of the world

The final hole is one of the best closers in golf as a stout 487 yard par 4. Featuring a blind teeshot, this sweeping dogleg left runs downhill the entire way with a wide fairway lined by two hidden bunkers on the left at 230 and 270 yards. The most notable feature of this hole is the Wissahickon Creek that runs through this fairway about 60 yards short of the green. For those who miss the fairway, this creek poses a real danger on the lay-up. It also poses a risk for those going for the green in two with a long iron or wood from a downhill lie, as I learned the hard way. This green allows you to run it up, but is quite small and lined by bunkers on either side.

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The 18th teeshot offers no real line off the tee
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The 18th approach is one of the best I’ve played with the clubhouse in the backdrop
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Make sure to pay your respects to the great Albert Warren Tillinghast

General Comments: The Wissahickon Course has a small clubhouse and patio and a small practice green near the 1st tee. There’s also an expansive grass range and short game area nearby. Philadelphia Cricket Club’s main clubhouse is in Chestnut Hill with the St. Martins Course and is one of the most expansive I’ve seen, with a full gym, beautiful grass tennis courts, cricket fields (obviously), and pretty much anything else you’d imagine a country club should have.

Pace of play was very strong at the Wissahickon Course, even though the course was packed as it almost always is. This is a walking-only course with few exceptions. The caddie program here is robust and caddies are required at certain times.

Verdict: The Wissahickon Course is the crown jewel of The Philadelphia Cricket Club and is one of the best courses not just in the Philadelphia area, but in the entire U.S. This Tillinghast gem is a classic U.S. Open-style course characterized by thick rough, speedy greens, and numerous long par fours full of character. This is a course I would enjoy playing every day and recommend very highly.


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