Challenging Golf Holes in the Delaware Valley
The Catch 22: Challenging holes you’ll love to play.
You know a tough hole when you’ve played one. You think about it the night before your round, playing it in your head. It’s a hole you know will eat your lunch unless you play every shot perfectly. We talked with area golf pros and compiled 22 of the meanest, nastiest tests in the Delaware Valley. The holes aren’t ranked, and they can be found on both private and public courses. Rest assured, all are a challenge.
Merion Golf Club
Hole 18, 463 yards, par 4
The 18th at Merion is perhaps best-known as the hole where Ben Hogan used his 1-iron to propel him to a 1950 U.S. Open victory. History aside, it’s a great finishing hole and a real challenge. “Sloping fairway; the target area looks smaller than it is because of the severity of the slope; and if you do hit the fairway, you have an awkward, downhill, side-hill lie,” says Merion’s head pro, Scott Nye. “The green is a false front, and it rolls away in a bit of a turtleback. The key to doing well is to hit a good drive—and miss left if you are going to play a bit more conservatively.”
Philadelphia Country Club
(Spring Mill Course)
Hole 17, 440 yards, par 4
Not to be outdone, the Philadelphia Country Club has its own historic 1-iron shot to win a U.S. Open—Byron Nelson’s eagle in 1939—on a hole that’s another scorecard-killer. A medium-sized green is guarded by some pretty nasty bunkers. “It’s a tricky uphill shot, with deep bunkers on the right and heavy rough,” says the club’s head pro, Scott Reilly. “Players are tempted to try and drive a tree that overhangs the fairway, and that gets them into trouble on the right. A left-to-right ball flight off the tee is the key. With a good drive, you still have 200 in, and you don’t not want to miss left—better to miss short on your second shot and run a chip up to the flag.”
The Golf Club at Glen Mills
Glen Mills, Pa.
Hole 11, 376 yards, par 4
The hole known as “Stump’s Wall” is the shortest par 4 on the course. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in visual and physical intimidation. To the left of a sliver of a fairway is a three-foot stone wall dropping into an environmentally protected area around a slow-moving creek. The right side is protected by a steep hill all along the hole. The green is one of the smallest, yet flattest, on the course, and all sides of the green slope away, including the front. “To play this hole smart requires hitting something other than driver off the tee, and shooting for the largest landing area on the fairway,” says Glen Mills’ pro shop manager, Dan Shupard. “A good second shot in will be with a mid-iron. Aim for the middle of the green, and remember every putt breaks to the creek, even though the green looks flat.”
Hole 14, 443 yards, par 4
“Last year, we hosted the Pennsylvania State Open Championship, and No. 14 was ranked the hardest hole, with a scoring average of 4.829 during the week,” says Eric Shillinger, head pro at Moselem Springs. “It plays 378 from the member tees and 443 from the back. Tee shots to the right-center of the fairway allow for its right-to-left slope. The approach to a long, narrow green is complicated by a side-hill lie. The contours will test even an expert putter.”
Bulle rock Golf Club
Havre de Grace, Md.
Hole 13, 438 yards, par 4
This dogleg is nothing but trouble. “With the old foundation of a springhouse serving as your only visual element, and anything right of that is in a quarry,” says club pro Peter Bollman. “Your play is to aim at the top point of the clubhouse. By keeping the ball way left, you’ll get a feed back into the fairway—and your second shot should be played left-center of the green, regardless of where the pin is. If you can hit your second shot on that shelf, you could have a good chance at par.”
Bayside Resort Golf Club
Fenwick Island, Del.
Hole 18, 483 yards, par 4
Water runs down the entire left side of this hole and continues three-quarters of the way around the green. The fairway doglegs to the left, with a bunker on the left corner. The narrow green runs lengthwise left to right, and it has two large pot bunkers greenside right. “You don’t beat it,” says Bayside's head pro, Bob Crowther. “Play for five and be happy.”
Wilmington Country Club (South Course)
Hole 8, 488 yards, par 4
Hartefeld National’s head pro, Jim Matthias, concurs that any of the front nine at Wilmington C.C. could qualify as a tough hole, but the one that stands out is No. 8. “This almost-500-yard monster doglegs around fairway bunkers that only King Kong can hit it over,” Matthias says. “Even if the big dog hit it over the bunkers, he’d still find himself in knee-deep rough, so one has to play it honest and hit left of the bunkers. The second shot, you’ll need a cannon to reach a double-tiered green that slopes from left to right. The green is big enough to land a C-130 cargo plane on, but you’ll need a GPS to find the hole.”
Broad Run Golf Club
West Chester, Pa.
Hole 14, 425 yards, par 4
This one starts with a demanding tee shot over a protected area, with a huge, steep-faced bunker on the right side of the fairway and out-of-bounds to the left. “The 14th hole needs your full attention, from tee box to green,” says Dale Lafferty, Broad Run’s head pro. “When you hit the fairway, your next obstacle is to hit the right club to the green, which is elevated by 25 feet. The green is well-bunkered and protected by a bowl-shaped amphitheater of rough. It’s one of the biggest greens on our course—just don’t be on the wrong side of it, or else it might be awhile before you get to No. 15.”
Lookaway Golf Club
Hole 18, 403 yards, par 4
Yard for yard, this Rees Jones hole may be both the hardest in the area and the most slippery to end a match on. From the clubhouse sitting high atop the hill, post-round members and guests can enjoy the 19th hole while watching the struggles on the 18th. A tee shot must be struck to carry an environmental area and favor the right side of the fairway. “It’s definitely our No. 1 stroke-average hole,” says Chuck Rininger, Lookaway’s head pro. “If you can’t get a good shot into the green, there’s a bailout area left that will enable you to chip on. Usually a player who plays for a five here will win the hole—or at least halve it.”
The Ace Club
Lafayette Hill, Pa.
Hole 3, 571 yards, par 5
This par-5 monster challenges you right off the tee. “It’s best to play your tee shot over the bunker on the right corner of the fairway, so as to allow for an open second shot to the right side of the massive bunker that protects the fairway for the second shot,” says the club’s head pro, Linda Nevatt. “Once you’ve safely negotiated the first two shots—no easy task—and avoided all the bunkers, you now have a deep green to hit your third shot into. This green is well-protected, with bunkers and the added difficulty of sloping front to back.”
Downingtown Country Club
Hole 6, 403 yards, par 4
This hole’s shallow, undulating green is open in the front right. But a series of bunkers on the right, a small water hazard on the front left, and out-of-bounds long and left make a solid approach from any distance a must. “It’s a dogleg left that requires a draw off the tee to a fairway guarded by trees and out-of-bounds on the left and a series of fairway bunkers on the right,” says Downingtown’s head pro, Ken Dixon.
Aronimink Golf Club
Newtown Square, Pa.
Hole 8, 239 yards, par 3
Tour pros have struggled on this hole for the past two years at the AT&T National. It was ranked the hardest in relation to par. “Especially in 2010, the players had a hard time keeping the ball from going over the green,” says Jeff Kiddie, Aronimink’s head pro. “It’s a long par 3 from an elevated tee that usually plays into a headwind or a left-to-right crosswind. The green is situated on a diagonal that not only brings both bunkers into play, but also makes it easy to hit it over the green into a closely mown chipping area. Anything that goes over leaves a very difficult pitch or chip shot to a green that’s running away from them.”
Applebrook Golf Club
Hole 14, 444 yards, par 4
Like many challenging holes on this track, No. 14 is about risk/reward—and it all hinges on how much you want to bite off with your drive across a quarry area. “Most players take the safe route and stay left on the fairway—not trying to cut the corner off the quarry carry,” says Dave McNabb, head pro at Applebrook. “Even with a 230- to 240-yard drive, you’ll have a 180- to 200-yard shot into an uphill green—and this is where the fun starts. Regardless of where the pin is, keep your approach shot on the right side of the green. If you hit the ball on the left side, you can be blocked out by the shelf of the green.”
White Clay Creek Country Club
Hole 10, 557 yards, par 5
No. 10 is a par 5 that plays about 557 yards from the back tees. “You need to decide if you want to hit a driver off the tee, and thread it between the bunkers on the left and the creek on the right,” says Ryan Kidwell, White Clay Creek’s golf director. “You could also choose to hit a 3-wood off the tee, and lay up short of the bunkers. Your second shot needs to be placed short of the fairway bunker to set up a third shot into an elevated green that’s only about eight or nine yards wide and about 28 yards deep.”
Long Neck, Del.
Hole 4, 438 yards, par 4
How you play No. 4 depends on what you do with your tee shot. Hit a good drive, and you’ll have a chance to reach the green in two. Struggle off the tee, and you’ll have to lay up your shot on the right side of the fairway. (With water on the left side and a large bunker protecting the green, you’ll want no parts of the left side.) “The good news is that it has a flat green,” says
Baywood Greens’ head pro, Tony Hollerback. “So when you do reach the green, putts can be made.”
Hole 9, 418 yards, par 4
The 418-yard ninth hole at Deerfield is extremely uphill and turns a slight bit to the right. It’s the most difficult of the par 4’s on the course. You’re faced with a long uphill tee shot that must favor the left side of the narrow fairway to have the best chance for a nice approach to the green. “Due to the dramatic elevation change, the firm surface of the small green calls for an extremely accurate long iron or fairway wood,” says Deerfield’s head pro, Kurt Zolbe. “The bunkers to the right and left of the green are sure to swallow any wayward attempts. Navigating the subtle slopes of the green is a real challenge for all golfers. A par on the ninth hole is an excellent score for any skill level.”
Applecross Country Club
Hole 14, 226 yards, par 3
“There’s not too many secrets on how to beat this one,” says Applecross GM Justin Meyers. “It takes a good shot and, if you’re slightly offline, a better short game. It’s a par 3 that measures up to 226 yards, typically plays into the wind, and is all carry over some scenic marshland. There are some bailout areas short and right of the green, so if you miss it, you can survive. But par is always a great score on this one.”
DuPont Country Club
Hole 15, 460 yards, par 4
A creek runs the entire length of this hole, crossing the fairway right in front of a green surrounded by wetlands and protected with a five-foot rock wall on
the left side. “The best way to beat this hole is to hit a great tee shot favoring the left center of the fairway,” says DuPont’s head pro, Kent Thomas. “Hit it too far left, and it’s well-bunkered and will leave you a much longer approach shot. As the green is quite large, it’s receptive to long irons and hybrids, but make sure you don’t run it through the green into the wetland hazard. And if you get too
aggressive with your tee shot, the creek will come into play.”
Hartefeld National Golf Club
Hole 3, 410 yards, par 4
“The tee shot on this uphill, dogleg left has out-of-bounds on both sides of the fairway,” says course pro Dick Matthias. “The rough is tough, and the tee ball hits into a sloping fairway that stops your ball immediately. The second shot is a blind shot, normally, that’s hit toward a two-tiered green guarded on both sides and rear by yawning bunkers that swallow up misguided shots. Your problems are only beginning when you arrive at this tough two-putt green.”
Back Creek Golf Club
Hole 13, 440 yards, par 4
This hole has everything you need to get you into trouble off the tee, including fairway bunkers and out-of-bounds on the left, and a water hazard on the right. It demands a good, straight drive—and the next shot is no picnic—usually hitting with a crosswind, into a two-tiered green defended by two bunkers. “Keep your ball on the left, since the green goes left to right and back to front,” says James “Chilly” Childs, Back Creek’s PGA pro.
Hole 17, 449 yards, par 4
Head pro Andy Watters calls this treacherous dogleg Inniscrone’s hardest hole. The tee shot is through a chute of trees over a hazard, with a forced carry of 190 yards to reach the fairway. There’s also a second hazard about 100 yards short of the green that must be navigated to reach a small green that slopes from right to left. No bailout on this hole, which is what makes it so difficult. “Keep the ball in play as much as possible and don’t try to bite off too much on either shot,” Watters advises. “If you have to play it as a three-shot hole, do so.”
French Creek Golf Club
Hole 13, 456 yards, par 4
A demanding 456-yard, all-uphill par 4. “There really is no secret to conquering this monster,” says Jeff Haas, French Creek’s head pro. “Your best chance to make par starts by finding the fairway with your tee shot. An excellent tee shot will leave you with less than 200 yards into the green, but the elevation up to the green will make it play more like 220 yards. Once on the green you are not guaranteed a two-putt. The contours on the front, right side and back of the green can only be matched by the likes of Augusta National.”