Pennsylvania is a state rich in American history, home to the Liberty Bell and the signing of the Declaration of Independence; it is also a state rich in golf history, with Jack Nicklaus winning his first professional golf tournament at the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, as well as being home to the oldest country club in the United States at the Philadelphia Cricket Club.
With over 700 tracks to choose from, a lifetime could be spent on the links of PA. Many courses take advantage of the state’s diverse topography, featuring wonderful views ranging from the Poconos in the northeast to the rolling plains of Piedmont to the southeast.
Here are the five golf courses in Pennsylvania that need to be on your bucket list.
Best Private Course: Merion Golf Club (East Course)
The East Course at Merion Golf Club has been the host to more USGA sanctioned Championships than any other course in the United States. Merion has many accolades including being the site where Bobby Jones completed the “Grand Slam” of his era, winning the US Amateur in 1930.
Opening with a 361-yard par-4, the dog leg right is smattered with bunkers, one of which is dramatically positioned to entice the longest of hitters to aim, more or less, directly at the green in order to gain an advantage early in the round.
The remainder of the front nine, however, allows for little of the same aggressive lines off the tee as the opening hole. Quite uniquely, the final par-5 of the day is encountered on hole #4. While this does speak to the challenge of the course, it does not necessarily mean the end of birdies to come.
The back nine opens with a par-4 worthy of everyone’s best swing. At only 310 yards, mouths water at the long-awaited birdie opportunity.
Totaling just about 7000 yards from the back tees at an overall par 70, Merion Golf Club is one of golf’s greatest stages. Jack Nicklaus is quoted to have said, “Acre for acre, [Merion] may be the best test of golf in the world.”
Best Public Course: Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort
While the private clubs are seemingly endless and bursting with prestige and history, the raw beauty of the Pennsylvania geography cannot be contained within the exclusivity of the member-only facilities. Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort entwines challenging golf, exhilarating landscape, and a comfortable environment that brings the feel of belonging to the public and resort-goers alike. At $169 for 18 holes in-season, there is no golf available to the public better than what is found here.
In the Alleghany Mountains, this Pete Dye designed masterpiece opens with a 409-yard par-4 that dog-legs to the right, hugged tightly on the lesser curvature by a pair of bunkers challenging players to take on only as much as they can handle. The second hole closely models the first, though a near 70 additional yards must be covered from tee to green.
Like other Pete Dye designs, the signature hole embodies the unique attributes of the layout. The par-5 fifth hole is 598 yards long with a split fairway providing the player with two options for an attack angle if the decision is to lay up. If going for the green in two, the water snuggling the left side of the green will undoubtedly find its way into even the most composed golfer’s swing thoughts.
At just over 7500 yards from the championship tees, this par-72 is a challenge open to any golfer whether they play the back tees or are solely interested in enjoying the Pennsylvania countryside.
Most Challenging: Oakmont Country Club
Second only to Augusta National, Oakmont Country Club has hosted more of golf’s major championships than any other course in the United States and is known as one of the most difficult courses in the world. With a reputation like that among the game’s best players, Oakmont Country Club is sure to challenge any golfer.
With 210 bunkers playing defense, Oakmont is home to the famous Church Pews that divide holes 3 and 4 and line hole 15. There is no water in play on the course, but there is plenty of long grass to make up for it, capturing just as many balls as if there were. Hole #1 is a straight-away par-4 at 482 yards and bunkers lining the landing zone off the tee. The longest on the course is an impressive 667-yard par-5 hole #12, causing even the professionals to lay up more often than not.
From the Green (back) tees, this course covers 7255 yards for a par 71, with a rating of 76.9.
Most Scenic: The Golf Course at Glen Mills
Another brilliant option for the general public is The Golf Course at Glen Mills, just under 45 minutes from downtown Philadelphia. Located in the historic Thornbury Township, Glen Mills provides unprecedented views in tandem to wonderful championship golf.
With breathtaking scenery and a layout that will leave the foursome wanting the early tee time not just tomorrow but every day, the par-71 tips out at just over 6600 yards. But don’t let this and the picturesque ambience lull you into a daze because the course is not afraid to eat wayward golf balls for breakfast.
At around $100, it is possible to experience the epitome of great Pennsylvania golf without breaking the bank.
Best Deal: Skytop Mountain Golf Club
Most premium golf comes with a matching price tag, but Skytop Mountain Golf Club is one of the top-rated public golf courses in Pennsylvania and can be played for as little as $19 for 18 holes.
Yet another challenging round to add to the Pennsylvania resume, this course measures 7000 yards from the tips, and at a par-72 is rated 75.1.
The front nine is gently guided by the Bald Eagle Creek and provides a distinctive feel when compared to the back. After making the turn, altitude is slowly gained, and views of the valley below lead up the mountainside. Finally, hole #18 finishes off the exquisite design with a challenging 531-yard par-4, turning left the whole way through a tree-lined alley, sloping back down the terrain that was gained earlier in the nine.
Oh, and they offer cool scooters (called golfboards) to rent for $14-20, depending on if you are playing 9 or 18 holes. Definitely worth doing at least once!
While the historical significance of Pennsylvania may be rooted less in the game of golf than other aspects of American life, the conclusion is no different. To miss the historical significance of Pennsylvania to the development of golf would be analogous to missing the historical significance of Pennsylvania to the development of United States. In addition, the history of golf in Pennsylvania is still being written by pristine public courses and historical country clubs alike, making it a great place to pick up the sticks and get outside. Happy golfing.
Did we miss a course? Share your Pennsylvania golf experiences in the comments section below.