Merion Hole 13

2016 Philadelphia Golf Trip: A Recap

For a long time now I’ve been hearing that Philadelphia is the second best golf city in the country (behind New York).

I know what you’re thinking right now: Philly? Golf? Huh?

It’s totally a sleeper city with dozens of good golf courses. The reason the general public has little knowledge of the city as a golf destination is for two reasons in my mind.

1) Most of the good stuff is private. Philadelphia is one of those super old school cities with lots of private clubs, so access is difficult there.

2) Aside from the US Open at Merion in 2013, and a handful of other events there hasn’t been a huge Tour presence.

That said, recently my buddy Patrick had a friend who was a member at Merion that invited him out – and he was kind enough to extend an invitation to me.

See his recap of the trip here.

What transpired was a phenomenal golf trip where we got to play some of the city’s best courses and meet some incredible people along the way.

Here was the itinerary:

  • Merion (East)  – Top 5 in the country, top 15 in the world depending on the list
  • Gulph Mills –  The toughest tee time in Pennsylvania
  • Philadelphia Cricket Club – Host of the 2016 Senior Players
  • Rolling Green – A fantastic William Flynn design, and host of 2016 US Women’s Amateur
  • Aronimink  – Donald Ross course ranked #100 in America

While officially, Merion was the only major course I crossed off my quest to play the Top 100 in the world, this is a lineup I’d gladly fly across the country for, list or no list.

The goal of this post is to give you a bit of an overview of the courses, share some photos, and let you kmow some of my favorites from the trip.

At some point I’ll probably do more in depth write-ups of some of these courses, but you know, after taking a week off from work to golf…I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

Merion Golf Club (East Course)

Merion Hole 11

The approach on #11. This is the hole where Bobby Jones won is grand slam.

This was the primary reason for the trip, to go play one of the greatest courses on Earth.

It was the first round we played, and by a pretty wide margin – the best.

If you’ve followed this site, you know that I have a love for “fun” holes – and the vast majority of the holes on this course are a blast.

Short par 4s, risk/reward on nearly every hole, and history that’s tough to match.

Merion Hole 7

The approach on hole #7 at Merion

Merion Hole 8

The approach on #8 at Merion.

It’s safe to say Merion lived up to it’s expectations and then some. As I was going through my favorite holes, it was tough to not just make it one giant list of Merion holes.

Some of the most memorable moments from Merion were:

  • The peanut butter, jelly, and bacon sandwiches at the turn. Yes, you read that right. They stole the idea from Friar’s Head, and they are amazing. 
  • Getting a tour of the archive room. Inside we saw Ben Hogan’s practice clubs from the 1950 US Open, Justin Rose’s driver from the 2013 open, original blueprints of the holes, pins and memrobilia from every major tournament ever hosted and more.
  • Puring my 3 wood on the first tee, which sits right next to where all of the members dine.
  • Shooting a respectable 84 on what’s known as the toughest short(ish) course in the world.
  • Merion may have the best showers in the world. It’s like being under an Amazonian waterfall. I’ve now adopted Graylyn’s concept of also testing out the showers on some of the world’s finest courses 🙂

Merion lived up to extremely high expectations, and quite possibly even exceeded them. It will easily make the top 5 courses I’ve played, and I just hope I have the opportunity to play it again in the future.

Merion Hole 11

The approach on number 11 at Merion

Merion Hole 4

The nervewracking appraoch on the par 5 4th at Merion. This is one of only two par 5s on the course, and the last on you’ll see.

Merion Patrick Hole 2

PJK himself teeing off on #2 at Merion.

Gulph Mills Golf Club

The par 3, 6th at Gulph Mills

The par 3, 6th at Gulph Mills

Gulph Mills is a course that most of you have probably never heard of – before this trip, I hadn’t either.

However when asking for feedback from people in the area on what courses we should try and play – Gulph Mills was one that routinely came up.

When you’re not familiar with a city, you don’t necessarily know much about the courses or club’s reputations.

Well, it turns out Gulph Mills is widely recognized as one of the most private courses, and toughest tee times to get – we were made further aware of this, when Golf Magazine said it was the most exclusive course in Pennsylvania.

So we felt pretty fortunate to have had a round setup through our host at Merion.

There was hardly anyone else out on the course while we were there, and everything was in perfect shape (as were all the courses we played).

Gulph Mills was interesting in that you could see the mix of design styles. It was originally a Donald Ross design, and later had some holes and greens redone by Perry Maxwell, and even Gil Hanse.

There was a pretty significant difference between the greens on the first 6 holes, compared to the wavey style of Maxwell over the next 6.

Gulph Mills-5

The 5th at Gulph Mills

Gulph Mills Hole 4

The short par 3, 4th at Gulph Mills was one of the best par 3s on the trip.

Gulph Mills-28

The love it or hate it par 5 closer at Gulph Mills. Personally? I think it’s quirky, but I like it!

Gulph Mills-9

The 7th at Gulph Mills. You can’t see a crazy ravine guarding the green.

Philly Cricket Club

The third at Philly Cricket Club

The third at Philly Cricket Club

This is one of those courses that has just shot up the scale in terms of notoriety and recognition over the last few years. They recently did a giant renovation and tried to bring the Wissahickon Course back to it’s former glory.

And man, did they do it.

We played with two people from the Golf Association of Philadelphia, so it was pretty cool to hear their thoughts on golf in the region, as well as the history of the course.

The par 5, 7th was one of my favorite holes I played on the trip – and the course has an excellent variety of holes to keep things interesting.

The par 4, 18th was one of the best finishing holes I’ve played.

Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on your priorities we played it on a very grey day right before they closed the course for the Senior Players.

Literally, we had one of the last tee times.

So the course was in fantastic condition, but due to the weather and plethora of sponsor’s tents, the photos from the day left something to be desired.

The short par 4 8th at Philly Cricket.

The short par 4 8th at Philly Cricket.

Rolling Green

The second at Rolling Green

The second at Rolling Green

I didn’t know much about Rolling Green prior to this trip, either.

But after talking to some guys about golf in the area on Golf Club Atlas, Mike reached out and offered to have us out for a round.

We were joined by his friend Bill, and between the two of them I don’t think I’ve ever played with a more opinionated tandem of people when it comes to golf course design.

I mean this in the best way possible, as they knew much more than I did – and it was great to hear their thoughts on the topic.

Rolling Green is unique in that it is very up, and then very down throughout the whole course.

However, surprisingly, it never felt like an overly difficult walk; the holes each felt unique and different, even with many of the approaches being uphill.

After we finished 18, we grabbed a cart and went back around for a selective 9 during sunset. It’s always fun to get to play some of your favorite holes a second time around!

Rolling Green had some great par 3s. This is the 3rd.

Rolling Green had some great par 3s. This is the 3rd.

A photo posted by Sean Ogle (@breakingeighty) on

Aronimink Golf Club

The 18th at Aronimink

The 18th at Aronimink

Aronimink is known as the “old money” club, in what felt like a city full of old money clubs.

The club features a nice long drive way, and of all the clubs we played at, this surprisingly seemed the most family oriented.

They had a beautiful old clubhouse, tennis facilities, and a fantastic looking pool.

The weather report had said we were supposed to get completely washed out the day we were going to play.

Because of it, we showed up and a few of the members said there was no one one the course.

This was perfect considering we had a 12pm tee time, and I had a 6pm flight.

Aronimink used to host Tiger Wood’s annual event, and will most likely host another major in the near future.

It’s definitely a championship style course, but we still found it to be playable and enjoyable from the middle tees (about 6500 yards).

That said, it stretches to 7200, and with some wind, I’d be afraid of this course.

We got out half an hour early, and had time to change and enjoy a shower before heading to the airport.

Not quite the showers at Merion, but definitely above average!

The par 3, 8th at Aronimink

The par 3, 8th at Aronimink

Favorites from the Trip

I should preface this by saying, there was nothing bad on this trip. All of the courses we played were first rate, and Philly lived up to it’s billing as a city with phenomenal golf.

But I get asked a lot about my favorites, so I figured I’d put together a little list for your enjoyment.

Again, this isn’t necessarily a list of what I think is actually architecturally better, but rather what I personally enjoyed the most.

Favorite Courses:

The 16th at Merion

The 16th at Merion

  1. Merion
  2. Philly Cricket
  3. Rolling Green
  4. Aronimink
  5. Gulph Mills

Best Par 3s:

The par 3 9th at Merion

The par 3 9th at Merion

  1. Merion
  2. Aronimink
  3. Rolling Green
  4. Gulph Mills
  5. Philly Cricket

Best Set of Par 4s

Exactly where you don't want to be after your approach on the all world 16th at Merion.

Exactly where you don’t want to be after your approach on the all world 16th at Merion.

  1. Merion
  2. Philly Cricket
  3. Rolling Green
  4. Aronimink
  5. Gulph Mills

Best Set of Par 5s

The 4th at Philadelphia Cricket Club

The 4th at Philadelphia Cricket Club

  1. Philly Cricket Club
  2. Merion
  3. Rolling Green
  4. Gulph Mills
  5. Aronimink

Best Caddies: Merion

Favorite Par 3s

Merion Hole 13

#13 Philadelphia had some of the very best par 3s I’ve ever played. Choosing favorites was pretty tough 🙂

  1. #13 at Merion
  2. #14 at Rolling Green
  3. #17 Aronimink
  4. #9 at Merion
  5. #4 at Gulph Mills
  6. #3 at Philly Cricket Club

Favorite Par 4s

The par 4, 15th at Merion

The par 4, 15th at Merion

Merion probably had the best collection of par 4s I’ve ever played. It had such a good variety between short/strategic, and long/challenging it kept the round really interesting.

  1. #16 Merion
  2. #11 Merion
  3. #12 Rolling Green
  4. #8 Philly Cricket
  5. #16 Gulph Mills

Favorite Par 5s

The 7th at Philly Cricket

The 7th at Philly Cricket

It’s worth noting that we didn’t play a single par 72 course, so there were fewer par 5s to choose from, as compared to your typical golf trip.

  1. #7 Philly Cricket
  2. #7 Gulph Mills
  3. #4 Merion
  4. #7 Rolling Green
  5. #2 Merion

Best Showers:

  1. Merion
  2. Aronimink

As much as I’d love to post a photo of them, the last thing I want to do is make enemies at any of these clubs for posting photos of the inside of the clubhouses or locker rooms 🙂

Best Opening Hole:

The beastly first hole at Aronimink

The beastly first hole at Aronimink

The opening hole at Aronimink was a total beast.

  1. Aronimink
  2. Merion
  3. Philly Cricket
  4. Gulph Mills
  5. Rolling Green


Best Closing Hole:

The fantastic 18th at Philly Cricket Club.

The fantastic 18th at Philly Cricket Club.

There were a lot of good closing holes on this trip. But I’ve gotta give Philly Cricket the nod.

  1. Philly Cricket Club
  2. Merion
  3. Aronimink
  4. Gulph Mills (Really cool hole though)
  5. Rolling Green

Most Unique Experience: Touring the Archives at Merion

By the Numbers

# of holes played: 99 (9 Extra at Rolling Green)
# of birdies: 1 🙁
# of pars: 46
# of photos taken: 863
# of super touristy things done: 3 (Rocky statue, cheesesteaks, Phillies game)

So that’s it in a nutshell! That was our Philadelphia golf trip, and what a trip it was.

I’d like to give a special thanks to all of the people who helped make my time in Philadelphia so special: Patrick, Deb, Mary, Jill, Mark, John, Jeff, Mike, and Bill.

The foursome at Merion.

The foursome at Merion.

There are 12 comments

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  1. Graylyn Loomis

    Really enjoyed the photos – awesome recap of the trip! Keep taking those showers at the great spots… it’s how the real connoisseurs judge golf courses. #PowerShowerRankings

  2. Brady

    Very cool trip! My girlfriend lives about 10 miles from the Wissahickon and I’m going up to play the U.S. Mid-Am qualifier there in August. Still working on getting on Merion and Gulph Mills but I have some contacts. Love the write up and hearing what you thought about these great classic courses!

  3. Ed

    Sean, I’m a caddy at a top 100 us golf course in south jersey and also a high school golf coach. Sorry you didn’t make it over to some of our top courses. I read your optishot review. I have a few questions. Please reach out.

  4. Mike

    Sean, I’ve been enjoying your reviews for a couple of years now and have planned a few trips based on your write-ups! I had an opportunity to play Merion last summer with my father and your course review is spot on. You are also absolutely correct about the caddies – I’ve had caddies at a number of big courses around the country and our caddy at Merion was by far the best I’ve ever had.

    Definitely like how you highlighted the showers too, they are spectacular!

  5. Jack

    Great review. I live in the area and play them all at least annually. I would rank them as:

    1. Merion
    2. Gulph Mills
    3. Aronimink
    4. Cricket
    5. Rolling Green

    Exclusivity of membership is basically Gulph Mills at the top followed by Merion and then the same order.

    I’m curious as to what your scores were at each of the venues.

    • Sean Ogle

      I vaguely recall having two 84s on that trip and two 81s. Cant remember the 5th round or which one was associated to which course. For some reason I didnt have Arccos going on that trip.

  6. Jeff

    Gulph Mills has the same showers as Merion, but the best showers IN THE WORLD are at the Racquet Club of Philadelphia. They make Merion’s seem like a trickle.

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