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: Pine Hill
Access: Semi-Private
Greens Fee: $105
Opened: 2001
Designer: Tom Fazio
Yardage: 6,969
Par: 70
Slope: 145
Contact: 877-450-8866, golfpinehill.com

Pine Hill is so often referred to as a “poor man’s Pine Valley” that one half expects to see panhandlers canvassing the tee boxes. But if the club’s owners bristle at the comparison, they have no one to blame but themselves. Located a mere mile from Pine Valley, Pine Hill is a Mini-Me Valley, boasting the famed course’s same oversize waste areas, hairy-lipped bunkers, plummeting terrain and sandy soil, albeit in a decidedly less sadistic form.

The bad news for area golfers: Pine Hill, which has allowed public play since its opening, is on its way to turning private; as of press time, only a handful of open memberships remained. The good news: Until those are sold (likely within months, not years), Pine Hill will still allow public play on weekdays. Strongly consider burning a sick day — soon.

Location: Glen Mills
Greens Access: Public
Greens Fees: $55–$95
Opened: 2000
Designer: Bobby Weed
Yardage: 6,646
Par: 71
Slope: 138
Contact: 610-558-2142, glenmillsgolf.com

How can a 6,600-yard daily-fee track — on the grounds of a reform school, no less — possibly be the area’s third-best course? Easy: Because the owners of Glen Mills have, admirably, broken the unofficial rules of golf.

The rules say you can’t construct a course with a couple blind tee shots to tumbling, slanting, sprawling fairways. (Too unfair!) Or one with a 60-yard-long, four-tiered green. (Too hard!) And you certainly can’t pamper your golfers by spacing tee times 12 minutes apart. (You’ll lose too much money!) But what all that rule-breaking adds up to is a uniquely fanciful golf experience, one that meanders drunkenly down uneven hillsides, through chutes of trees and a precipitous quarry that demand a series of triple-dog-dare shots. It’s a round you’ll want to repeat again and again—which, at $79 a pop, should hardly be a problem.

Location: Ardmore
Access: Private
Opened: 1912
Designer: Hugh Wilson
Yardage: 6,868
Par: 70
Slope: 142
Contact: 610-642-5600, meriongolfclub.com

Unlike Pine Valley, it looks like Merion might opt for the heretical step of putting itself under the knife. Like a nonagenarian who wakes up one morning and decides to get hair extensions and a tummy tuck, the course may be undergoing a controversial face-lift in advance of the 2013 U.S. Open.

Still, they’re hardly putting a mustache on their Mona Lisa. Indeed, golfing at Merion is something akin to taking a tour through a museum: Here’s the green on which Bobby Jones Jr. completed his grand slam; there’s a plaque at the 18th marking the spot from which Ben Hogan hit his famous one-iron during the 1950 U.S. Open. But don’t get too distracted, or you might lose sight of the subtle brilliance of this tidy Hugh Wilson design, which Jack Nicklaus called the best test of golf in the world “acre for acre.” Presumably, he knows.