Golf Course Review - Philadelphia Cricket Club (Wissahickon Course)

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Updated: 7/14 11:02 am

Flourtown, Pennsylvania (SportsNetwork.com) - FACTS & STATS: Course Architect: A.W. Tillinghast (1922), Keith Foster (June 2013-14 - restoration). Year Opened: 1922. Location: Flourtown, Pennsylvania. Slope: 140. Rating: 74.8. Par: 70. Yardage: 7,119.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 424 Yds 10 - Par 3 172 Yds

2 - Par 4 423 Yds 11 - Par 4 427 Yds

3 - Par 3 122 Yds 12 - Par 5 546 Yds

4 - Par 4 517 Yds 13 - Par 4 447 Yds

5 - Par 3 215 Yds 14 - Par 4 435 Yds

6 - Par 4 498 Yds 15 - Par 3 240 Yds

7 - Par 5 553 Yds 16 - Par 4 426 Yds

8 - Par 4 365 Yds 17 - Par 4 449 Yds

9 - Par 4 373 Yds 18 - Par 4 487 Yds

Par 35 3,490 Yds Par 35 3,629 Yds

Key Events Held: Philadelphia Open (1933, 1939, 1960, 1962), Philadelphia Amateur (1940, 46, 56, 63, 71, 76, 2004), Pennsylvania Open (1931, 1969, 1983, 1998), Pennsylvania Amateur (1950, 54, 58, 60, 73), Philadelphia Women's Championship (1932, 1974, 1997), PGA Professional National Championship (2015).

Awards Won: Ranked #23 by Golf Digest - Best in State (PA) (2001), Rated one of the Top 150 Classic Courses by Golfweek (2012-13).

HISTORY: Philadelphia Cricket Club has a rich and deep history dating back to the mid 1800s, when it was incorporated by its English founding members, who played cricket, prior to golf. Led by William Roach Wistar, these men, who graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, continued to enjoy the riches of the game, but without financial backing, while they had to travel around the area to find sufficient playing grounds for matches against other teams in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

After playing all over the region for 30 years, this wandering group finally settled in Chestnut Hill, a small section of the northwest area of Philadelphia, thanks to the generous resources of Henry H. Houston.

In 1895, the club's first golf course of nine holes was built, named St. Martins by Willie Tucker, and two years later, it was replaced by a new 18 holes. At that time, the Golf Association of Philadelphia was organized and along with Merion, Philadelphia Country Club and Aronimink, Philadelphia Cricket Club was one of four founding members of the organization.

Several years later, the club hosted the 1907 and the 1910 U.S. Open Championships, won by Alex Ross and Alex Smith respectively. Ross, the brother of famed golf course architect Donald Ross, posted a score of 302, the second- lowest in championship history at the time. Trailing by two heading into the final round, Ross shot 76 for a two-shot win over Gilbert Nicholls. Brother Donald finished 10 shots behind. It should be noted that third-round leader Jack Hobens recorded the first hole-in-one in U.S. Open history during the second round.

Three years later, when the Open returned to the St. Martins course, Alex Smith defeated John McDermott and brother Macdonald Smith in a playoff. Alex, who had a two-foot birdie putt on the final hole of regulation for the win and missed, carded 71 in the 18-hole playoff compared to 75 for McDermott and brother Macdonald's 77. Four-time U.S. Open champion Willie Anderson finished tied for 11th, which would be his final Open, as he would pass away just a few months later. A word of note, A.W. Tillinghast, who designed the Wissahickon Course, tied for 25th.

At the time, the club did not own the property where the golf course stood, so in 1920, the club purchased a tract of land, where the current Wissahickon course stands today.

Not only did Tillinghast recommend the site, but he designed the Flourtown course, which opened in 1922. The famed architect crafted some of the greatest layouts in the United States, such as San Francisco Golf Club, Baltimore Country Club, Interlachen, Baltusrol, Bethpage Black, Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge and Newport Country Club, all of which are ranked in the top 100 of America's greatest courses.

The name Wissahickon is an old Lenape Indian name that translates to "Catfish Stream." The creek, which borders one side of the property, features a tributary called Lorraine Run, which runs through several holes on the course and eventually flows into the Wissahickon.

Fast forward to 1999, the powers that be at Philadelphia Cricket Club brought in the design team of Hurdzan and Fry to add a new course to its arsenal, and they created the Militia Hill layout.

The course opened to rave reviews in 2002, as it was nominated for "Best New Course" and continually ranks in the top 25 of golf courses in Pennsylvania. In addition, the club renamed the Flourtown venue (that same year) to Wissahickon and dedicated it to former member and Philadelphia native Tillinghast.

With that in mind, Philly Cricket became the only country club in America to have opened a golf course in each of the past three centuries.

The club did not rest on its laurels, as it brought in Keith Foster in 2013 to renovate and restore the Wissahickon Course, in an effort to highlight Tillinghast's contoured green complexes, unique bunkering methods and weaving, fluctuating fairways. Foster is a Tillinghast restoration genius, and his work has returned the venue to its original Tillinghast intent - a process that was not as easy as it might have seemed.

"There were no real blue prints at all," Foster said. "I think that was really the challenge, truthfully. It was Tillinghast's home course and he laid out in theory a skeleton routing, with the belief back then to lay it out and as the golf course matured to go ahead and introduce features that he would want to put in over time. The problem, of course, was that none of the features were ever documented.

"What I basically had was the routing that he had and then I had the green pads that he had placed," added Foster. "But in terms of tee positions, they were all out of kilter and none of the bunkers existed where they were placed or where he would have placed them."

While his work was nearing completion, the PGA of America awarded the Wissahickon course, along with Militia Hill, as the sites for the 2015 PGA PNC.

"It is exciting to have our PGA Professional National Championship coming to Philadelphia Cricket Club, a venue that connects much of the early history of golf in this country with the design excellence of A.W. Tillinghast, who was a key advisor at our founding nearly a century ago," said PGA of America president Ted Bishop. "Our talented field of PGA Professionals will find a great test at Philadelphia Cricket Club and we anticipate that an outstanding Champion will be crowned in 2015."

The courses will certainly challenge these players, as they both present interesting and demanding shot values, such as the strategic placing of bunkers and the slope of the putting surfaces.

"Wissahickon and Militia Hill are two distinctly different courses but complement each other so well," mentioned director of golf Jim Smith Jr. "Militia Hill received rave reviews for its design and conditioning while hosting multiple Section and Golf Association of Philadelphia events. Our membership is confident that the restoration of Wissahickon will have this Tillinghast design mentioned as one of his finest classic courses."

One of Foster's biggest hurdles was to re-establish the massive bunkering in the fairway on the par-5, dogleg seventh.

"I think what's really great about that," Foster said, "is that it's called the Great Hazard and Tillinghast at one time, did have a great hazard in there and a 1938 aerial photo showed it in its glory. This is fantastic Tillinghast golf course with original and historic Tillie features. So the Great Hazard at No. 7 was a historic and original feature and we reintroduced that.

This was not an easy task as golf courses around the country have found out the hard way.

"Many clubs introduce poor imitations of that, and they have to be watered down with blue grass so that if anyone gets around it, it's less penal," Foster said. "We have always built those features to be bold and strong. So to have a club so committed to reintroduce these bold wonderful features, it was great."

For a golf course with such rich history dating back to 1887, it was a critical that Foster re-establish the Wissahickon Course to its original roots.

"The biggest challenge for me is to make sure that I do work that honors the club, that really honors Tillinghast, and that (it) doesn't become about me and what I want to do here," added Foster. "I think that's always a challenge for any golf architect, that he's focusing on executing flawlessly and seamlessly and making sure that the golf course work that is being done feels like it has always been there and that's always my challenge, and that was certainly my challenge at restoring Cricket."

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole on the Wissahickon course is a rock- solid par-4 that stretches to 424 yards from the back markers and plays entirely uphill. Bending slightly to the right, you'll need to favor the right side of the fairway to avoid the bunker on the left. After a successful tee ball, make sure you take enough club to reach the green as you continue your climb to the putting surface. The green itself is 32 paces in depth and runs hard from back to front. Bunkers on either side of the green sit below the surface, making for a difficult up and down. Staying below the hole should be easy enough, but two-putting the two-tiered surface won't be.

Equal in length to the first, No. 2 plays downhill off the tee. The creek, which the course is named after, cuts through the fairway around the 100-yard mark, so the bigger hitters will need to lay up with three-metal. Just a short iron should remain, but remember that your approach is uphill to the smallest green on the front side at 29 paces. Two deep traps guard the entrance to the putting surface, while the stately clubhouse looms closely nearby on the right. Another slick green that runs from the rear toward the front can get away from you if you're not careful.

Just 122 yards in length, the third is a wonderful par-3 that can be birdied and bogeyed just as easily. Bunkers surround the putting surface, sitting well below the green, which is quite long and extremely narrow. A back pin can spell trouble, especially if you miss deep, as the green falls off hard. No shame in taking a three here, especially with what's in store.

At first blush, the fourth seems like a simple par-5 at 517 yards, but then you realize the scorecard has this hole marked as a four. Doglegging to the left and slightly downhill off the tee, the fourth usually plays into the wind, making this one of the most difficult holes at Philly Cricket. Three bunkers guard the left side of the landing area, while a trio of tall oaks protect the right. Even with a big blast, you'll need fairway metal or a long iron to reach the green. The one saving grace is that the putting surface is not as severe as some of the earlier holes, so making a four is possible.

In contrast to No. 3, the fifth is a long par-3 of 215 yards. In addition, your tee ball must cross the creek to reach the green, which features several tiers. Three beautiful bunkers frame the rear of the putting surface, while an additional traps guard either side. A back-right flag is not only one of the hardest to attack, but also quite difficult to two-putt.

If you thought that some of the earlier holes had bite, well, the sixth will most definitely get your attention. One of 10 par-4s over 400 yards in length, the behemoth can be stretched to 498 yards from the back markers. In addition, your tee shot needs to cross the creek and clear a pair of fairway bunkers that pinch the landing area. Offset to the right, your approach will now play directly uphill to a green that is the longest on the course at 36 paces and features a plethora of slope. In addition, bunkers on both sides of the putting surface are quite deep, so good luck making a sand save. It's rated as the most difficult on the course and with good reason.

The seventh hole is now a Pine Valley-esque par-5 that doglegs to the left at 553 yards - the longest hole on the course. From a slightly elevated tee, you'll need to shape your opening shot from right to left, avoiding the tall oaks on the right and the fairway bunkers on either side of the landing area. Now you'll clear the myriad of bunkers, rough and fescue the splits the two sections of fairway, but with a successful tee ball, this should not be an issue. Following a smart layup toward the left-center of the fairway, the player is left with a small wedge to an undulating green that features many slopes. Miss short or right and sand will snare your approach. Long ... well, good luck with that.

Number 8 can be one of the easier holes on the course, as it is only 365 yards from the back markers. Fairly straightaway, this par-4 plays toward an uphill and left-to-right sloping fairway with sand coming into play down the right. Your approach will be uphill to the putting surface as the front bunker, or should we say massive complex, will block the players' view of most of the pin. The putting surface is long and narrow and slopes from back to front, making it very difficult to get close for birdie.

The closing hole on the front side is a wonderful, dogleg left par-4 of just 373 yards. With out-of-bounds left and several fairway bunkers right, you'll need 3-metal or long iron (for those big bombers) to gain entrance to the landing area. Left-center is the best play, as a tall, thick tree guards the right side. A short iron should remain to a well-protected putting surface that slopes from left to right and back to front. The final two holes on this nine can be had, but beware, as the simpler they are, the more difficult they become.

Next up is the medium-length par-3 10th. Reaching as long as 172 yards, this one-shotter needs pinpoint control, as fescue, slope and sand surround the putting surface. More to the point: Short and you'll finish in sand or fescue; right will be thick rough and sand; left will be slope, rough, sand and possibly OB; and deep will be severe slope and sand. Yes, it's rated as the easiest hole on the course, but par will be hard to come by.

At first blush, the 11th would seem to be a bit of a pushover at 427 yards in length. Well, you'd be dead wrong. Playing straight uphill from tee to green, this par-4 ranks as one of the most difficult on the Wissahickon course. Although the fairway is quite accessible, a tee ball off-line will likely result in bogey or worse, as the rough that flanks the landing area is quite deadly. Let's not forget the uphill stance in the fairway with your approach and the fact that the bottom of the flagstick is not in view. Here's another sticking point: the green is 35 paces in length and runs hard from back to front. So if you can escape with bogey, don't worry ... be happy.

The final par-5 on the course, No. 12 is a mid-range three-shotter that features a blind tee shot over the corner of a ravine with out-of-bounds entirely down the right side. With a successful tee ball, it's possible to get home in two, but the opening is quite narrow. A bunker on either side of the layup area, pinches the fairway and the green is guarded by a handful of traps. The putting surface has a moderate amount of slope, so try to stay below the hole for your best shot at birdie.

What a final stretch of holes. Five par-4s over 425 yards in length and a par-3 of 240 yards in length. Wow, buckle up for a rough ride home.

The 13th is a wonderful par-4 that bends slightly to the right. Reaching 447 yards, this hole is all about the angle, as your tee ball must favor the left side to set up the best approach to the circular putting surface. A large, 40- yard bunker down the right will get plenty of attention, so avoid at all costs. Your second shot must now climb ever-so slightly to an elevated surface with a pair of deep fronting traps. When the right-side pin is used, you'll need to shape your approach into this back-to-front and left-to-right sloping surface.

Number 14 is another stout par-4 over 400 yards in length. The key here is the tee ball, which must split the fairway for any chance of making par or better. This hole plays downhill toward the green, but trees on either side, not to mention sand, pinch the landing area, making the corridor to shoot for rather tight. Now it's a downhill approach to a fairly large green guarded impeccably by seven, well-defined bunkers, which is a far cry from the original plain three prior to the renovation. With a tier in the front portion of the green, you can imagine how slick this putting surface can be.

Many courses list their par-3s as the four easiest holes on the course. This is not the case at Philadelphia Cricket Club, as the 15th is rated sixth. High praise that is well-deserved. At 240 yards, you'll need to bust your tee ball, shaping your shot from right to left, as to avoid the massive bunker down the left that sits some 15 feet below the putting surface. At 33 paces, the green is quite long and rises from front to back. This hole will put your short game to the test.

If there ever was a Oakmont-feel at Philly Cricket, the 16th would certainly be my choice. A beautifully transformed par-4 has kept its shape of swinging to the left with a few twists, not to mention sand. For years, two bunkers down the right and one left protected the fairway. Now, this 400-plus hole features three bunkers down the left and a pair of crossing bunkers at the beginning of the fairway for eye candy. A properly placed tee shot from the elevated tee box will leave a mid-to-short iron approach to one of the easier greens on the course ... but you'll still need to stay below the hole.

Building to a great climax, the penultimate hole is a sharp, dogleg left par-4 that plays uphill to the fairway with sand guarding the left side of the landing area. The putting surface sits well above the entire course, offering stellar views of the surrounding venue. Back to business, a medium iron should suffice to the smallest green on the course, just 28 paces in depth. Bunkers pinch the front section of the putting surface and any shot to long will filter well below the green.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a better finishing hole in the Delaware Valley region than the 18th at Philadelphia Cricket Club's Wissahickon Course. At 487 yards, this wonderful par-4 bends to the left as you head toward the clubhouse. Doglegging from right to left and playing downhill, the finale is a true test and a classic finishing hole. A sweeping right-to-left play off the tee, avoiding bunkers down the left will set up a long iron or fairway metal approach to a green that sits well below the fairway and features the course's namesake creek 40 yards before the putting surface. The green is only 29 paces in depth with a bunker on either side and the entire membership in full view of your heroics (hopefully).

FINAL WORD: The Philadelphia region is loaded with great, historic golf courses, such as Aronimink, Merion, Philadelphia Country Club and Huntingdon Valley to name a few, but the Wissahickon Course at Philadelphia Cricket Club does not take a back seat to any in that regard.

But it took the restoration work of Keith Foster in 2013 to rejuvenate this wonderful A.W. Tillinghast masterpiece and not without the support of the membership.

"The membership was so wonderful, gracious and so kind and trusting and very committed to creating a great golf course," Foster said. "I had all of that to work with and, of course, knowing Tillinghast helped. There was a lot of weight on me and I felt that weight as I was working on this project."

Although the course was never a pushover, it now stretches to over 7,100 yards and as a par-70, that is massive. Toss in the 140 slope and the 74.8 rating and you have a venue that will challenge the best players on the planet. That will certainly be the case in 2015, as they host the PGA PNC.

"We are confident this historic course will provide a worthy test for the finest PGA Professionals competing in this prestigious Championship," said Philadelphia Cricket Club 2015 Tournament chair Bob Bauer.

Tillinghast was all about strategy and placement throughout the fairways and his well-contoured greens. It all starts with the first hole and continues throughout all 18 holes, such as a long iron or fairway metal play off the eighth and ninth holes or staying below the hole on the 14th green or favoring the right side of the landing area on the 18th fairway. That's the Tillinghast magic.

The course has a classic elegance about it, rich with history and lore. This was Tillinghast at his best and Foster and his team re-established the Wissahickon Course as one of the top-10 courses in the Philadelphia region.

"It was me taking and honoring Tillie's routing and working off of that and working off historic, great Tillie features," continued Foster. "There were several of his features that were removed, that I could tell were removed. I needed to tread very lightly and make sure that I didn't do anything that I shouldn't do and in anyway be too heavy-handed. I had to make the golf course feel that Tillie did everything and it was all Tillie. My job was simply to execute what Tillie's vision was and I believe I accomplished that."

You can say that again.

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.

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