Feature: Above Par: The Best Courses

Merion and Pine Valley grab all the headlines, but the truth is, there’s a lot of great golf — and folks who teach it — all around Philly. As TY WENGER roams fairways far and wide in search of the top 10 area courses, LUKE SIRINIDES tees up the 25 best local instructors. Fore!

Location: Northfield
Access: Semi-Private
Greens Fees: $65–$225
Opened: 1897
Designer: William S. Flynn
Yardage: 6,577
Par: 70
Slope: 128
Contact: 609-236-4400, accountryclub.com

[sidebar]Atlantic City Country Club was once one of the marquee courses in America, a private club with a rich history. (Trivia time: The term “birdie” was coined here in 1901.) But when Harrah’s purchased it in 2005 and opened it to public play, the detractors began to chirp. Some considered the greens fees excessive for a course of a mere 6,500 yards; when conditions began to suffer this past summer, the chirping turned to a roar.

Still, there are reasons why Golfweek magazine has named this the number one public track in New Jersey the past two years: A renovation in 1999, spearheaded by famed course architect Tom Doak, restored the beauty of its classic Flynn layout, which flirts with the marshes of Lakes Bay and affords phenomenal views of Atlantic City across the water. As for that spotty conditioning, the powers that be promise such mistakes will not be repeated.

Location: Oxford
Access: Semi-Private
Greens Fees: $35–$79
Opened: 1993
Designer: Brian Ault
Yardage: 7,148
Par: 72
Slope: 130
Contact: 610-932-8900, wyncote.com

When Wyncote opened 15 years ago, it was a shot across the bow to the area’s private-course armada. (Golf Digest rated it the third-best new public course in the country that year.) Several first-rate daily-fee tracks have followed — Delaware’s White Clay Creek Country Club and Deerfield Golf & Tennis Club, Avondale’s Inniscrone — but Wyncote, though semi-private now, still earns our nod as the finest of the bunch.

A Heathland course (think “links style,” sans ocean), it challenges the golfer with piercing winds (it occupies the highest terrain in Chester County) and a battlefield’s worth of deep bunkers and gnarly knee-high fescues. Although it requires a commitment (residing, as it does, 30 miles west of the Blue Route), some 40 percent of its golfers travel more than an hour to play here, so it’s clearly worth the trip.

Location: Newtown Square
Opened: 1928
Designer: Donald Ross
Yardage: 7,152
Par: 70
Slope: 128
Contact: 610-356-8000, aronimink.org

It’s common knowledge that Donald Ross, golf’s most prolific designer, considered North Carolina’s Pinehurst Number Two his crown jewel. What, then, to make of Ross’s comment upon seeing Aronimink in 1948, 20 years after he’d designed it? “I intended to make this my masterpiece,” Ross said, “but not until today did I realize that I built better than I knew.” In the early ’90s, some universally reviled changes by Robert Trent Jones Sr. rendered the course something Ross might not have recognized. Thus, at the turn of the century, the club hired Ross aficionado Ron Pritchard to return the layout to its original vision. The work he completed in 2001 was superb, producing a venue that charmed players at the 2003 Senior PGA Championship.