Reporting on the best 18 golf holes in the area is tough. After all, the most poorly designed and poorly maintained par 3 can be tops if that’s where you scored your first hole-in-one. Likewise, the course where you recorded your best round suddenly becomes the greatest course ever.
So why rank them? For the same reason we play the game: for the fun of it. The discussion of which holes are best never ends, and it changes with every new character who enters the fray.
We asked a wide variety of golf course professionals which holes they thought were the best in the area. In sum, nine of the holes are on Delaware courses, seven are in Pennsylvania, and two are in New Jersey. (The duo is at the same very private club. Care to guess?) They represent a mix of public and private courses.
So let’s tee up for a tour of the best 18. In alphabetical order…
Bayside Resort No. 2
Bayside gets the ball rolling on its difficult par-5 second hole. “It’s the toughest par 5 I ever played,” says pro Steve Farrell of Maple Dale Country Club in Dover, Delaware. Farrell says both the tee shot and second shots are tough, mainly because of a lake that runs along the hole’s right side, which pinches your second shot into a tight landing area framed by a lake on one side and marshland on the left.
Bidermann Golf Club No. 14
Lori Van Sickle of Inniscrone Golf Club in Avondale, Pennsylvania, says the challenge of Bidermann’s signature 14th makes it her “all-time favorite hole in the area.” The terrain overall is hilly, with water hazards in play on many holes. Trees and, sometimes, wind come into play as well. The hole demands an accurate shot from an elevated tee to a severely undulating green.
DuPont Country Club No. 15
Head pro John Rudolph of White Clay Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, cites a First State grand dame of private clubs, DuPont, for its 15th—a “very, very challenging par 4. It is a good-looking hole, with bunkers down one side and a stream that bisects the fairway.”
Downingtown Golf Club No. 13
Downingtown pro Peter Lovenguth cited his own par-5 13th as a great hole. Play for accuracy, not distance, on this George Fazio-designed 497-yarder (from the black tees). If you keep the ball in the short grass, you can reach the green in two.
Fieldstone Golf Club No. 5
Kyle Mullin of Frog Hollow in Middletown, Delaware, goes for a little eye candy in choosing Fieldstone’s No. 5. The 530-yard par 5 represents the “overall layout with a lot of elevation change,” Mullin says. “It’s a very scenic, great hole.” The difficult hole plays up to a plateau green with a steep drop-off and deep-faced bunkers that guard the left side of the green.
Huntingdon Valley Country Club No. 11
Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania
The 11th hole at Huntingdon Valley is actually the second hole on the private club’s Flynn Nine. (Huntingdon features 27 holes that include additional nines named Toomey and Centennial.) Michael Moses of Concord Country Club in Concordville, Pennsylvania, likes the “short but demanding tee shot placement” of this little gem.
Lookaway Golf Club No. 18
Home hole honors go to Lookaway Golf Club in Bucks County, a 1999 Rees Jones design that made Golf Digest’s Top 25 Pennsylvania courses in 2001. Dale Lafferty of Honeybrook Golf Club in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania, especially likes the course’s finishing hole, a 434-yard par 4 with a creek bisecting the fairway, a large bunker right, then a classic six-bunker complex awaiting you on the right side of the green. There’s a large collection area to the left and back to give shaky players a chance to get up and down.
Merion Golf Club East Course No. 16
One of the area’s most venerated clubs, Merion (which hosted the 1981 U.S. Open and will host the Open again in 2013), joins the discussion with Nick Wolfe of Waynesborough Country Club in Paoli, Pennsylvania, and former PGA Tour pro Stu Ingraham, now head pro at Overbrook Country Club in Radnor, both citing the famed East Course’s 16th hole. “It’s one of the most challenging par 3s, demanding both distance control and accuracy from the back tees,” Wolfe says.
Peninsula Golf and Country Club No. 11
When Jack Nicklaus unveiled his Peninsula Golf and Country Club, there was suddenly a new kid on the block of private clubs offering the best of the best. Ron Barrows of the Rehoboth Beach Country Club in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, says Peninsula’s par-4 11th is his top choice. It’s a hole with “good length, a dogleg to the left, with water running all down the left side,” Barrows says. But no matter where you are on this course, views of Indian River are spectacular.
Philadelphia Cricket Club No. 18
Wissahickon Course, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A finishing hole that made the cut is the 18th on the old Flourtown course, called Wissahickon since 2002, at the Philadelphia Cricket Club, cited by pro Dan Malley of Paxon Hollow Country Club in Media. The course is renowned for its difficult par 4s, especially No. 18, which stretches over 450 yards from the championship tees. History is the hallmark here. This is the oldest cricket club in the nation.
Pine Valley Golf Club No. 2
Camden County, New Jersey
Robert Crowther, head golf professional at Bayside Resort in Selbyville, Delaware, says that the second hole at the famed George Crump design is a “long, demanding par 4 with a green that looks like they buried an elephant under it.” (In golf parlance, a “buried elephant” refers to a surface that is uneven, lumpy and undulating.)
Pine Valley Golf Club No. 5
Camden County, New Jersey
Jay Horton of Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, offers the perennially No. 1-ranked Pine Valley Golf Club in Camden County, New Jersey. The historic track’s fifth hole is a “very unique, demanding hole.” Also one of the area’s most beautiful, the par 3 requires a 230-yard tee shot over a stream and up a narrow, elevated, tree-lined fairway. Well guarded by waste bunkers in front, the plateau green falls off sharply to the right, which puts a premium on both distance and accuracy.
Rehoboth Beach Country Club No. 13
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware
Here’s a hole that’s not even ready for play yet. The Rehoboth Beach Country Club is renovating its 13th, but pro Butch Holtzclaw of The Rookery in Milton, Delaware, can already see enough to spot a glittering gem. “They have taken a mediocre hole and made it into what could be their signature hole,” says Holtzclaw. “They’ve made it more accessible, but now have brought the water that guards the front of the green more into play. With a back bunker, the only safe place to be is on the green. It will be a true challenge, and a key to making or breaking your round.”
Stonewall Links No. 9
Stonewall is one of the shortest tracks on the list: only 6,653 yards from the back tees. But Jay Horton of the Philadelphia Country Club in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, likes the 1993 Tom Doak design’s ninth hole. “From the back tee, it plays 225 yards, guarded by water along the entire left side,” Horton says. “There are bunkers tight, but with a green sloping away for the too timid who try to steer too far away from the water. Par is a very good score here.”
White Clay Creek Country Club No. 17
The stunning new Arthur Hills White Clay Creek Country Club is part of the Delaware Park entertainment complex. White Clay’s head golf pro John Rudolph cites his own 17th as a “pretty par 3 with a lake down the left and a stadium-like view” surrounding the green. Play for the center of the green.
Whitford Country Club No. 4
The fourth hole at private Whitford is singled out for the difficulty of traversing its 575-yard par-5 length under regulation. “I think very few players have ever reached this hole in two shots,” says George Forster of Radnor Valley Country Club. A difficult tee shot to an extremely tight fairway and an accurately positioned second shot offers a clear approach to the green. But take care to avoid landing in a creek along the left side. “I have played this hole about 60 times over my career, and have never made a birdie until last year,” Forster says.
Wilmington Country Club South Course No. 3
Pro Robert Mancill of Delaware National Country Club in Wilmington, Delaware, says the 592-yard par-5 third hole at Wilmington’s South Course is a “beautiful hole, but with water fronting the green, it is most importantly a hard hole.” And there’s some legend to go with it: The longest final played in U.S. Junior history happened there 30 years ago.
Wilmington Country Club South Course No. 16
Doug Frazier, head pro at Newark Country Club in Newark, Delaware, says the 16th at Wilmington Country Club’s South Course—a Robert Trent Jones design—will not “yield a birdie without hitting two great shots.” It’s also the hole that Arnold Palmer had bet his caddie he could reach in two. Arnie lost when his approach to this 612-yard par 5 died in the fringe.
Research assistance by Deanna Candeloro