7th hole, Wissahickon Course (Photo: Evan Schiller Golfshots.com)
7th hole, Wissahickon Course (Photo: Evan Schiller Golfshots.com)

Philadelphia Cricket Club

After a complete restoration, it features an expanded course layout that testifies to the genius of designer A.W. Tillinghast.

If you like old school, Philadelphia Cricket Club is the place for you. The club dates from 1854 and has grown to the point where it now sports 45 holes of golf on two parcels that are five miles apart. The original St. Martins layout, in the upscale, leafy neighborhood of Chestnut Hill, was home to the U.S. Open in 1907 and 1910. Today, golf there comes in the form of a charming little nine-hole layout (par-35, measuring 2,617 yards) that’s part of a campus with tennis and a gourmet dining facility.

The club’s main golf facility is a 365-acre tract in Flourtown, 15 miles north of downtown Philadelphia. There, the Wissahickon Course is a 1922 design that was the home turf of its architect, the flamboyant A.W. Tillinghast, whose ashes were scattered on the grounds. An adjoining parcel remained unused until 2002, when Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry debuted the Militia Hill Course (par-72, back tees at 7,380 yards).

Tillie’s Wissahickon Course (par-70, stretching to 7,119 yards) was always intended as a championship fairway in terms of length, quality of greens shaping and his characteristically wild bunkering scheme. One legendary hazard was a scattershot diagonal bunkering array—a “hell’s half-acre” of sand—across the middle of the course on the par-5 seventh hole. Sadly, that got covered up over the years, as did many other bunkers. Trees grew in, in some cases closeting hole corridors down and shutting off views (and air movement). Greens shrank. Lines of play got straightened.

Now, after a complete restoration by architect Keith Foster, the newly reopened layout emerges as a stirring example of Tillinghast’s genius. Greens have been expanded and trees taken down to reveal long views across the property; bunkers have been deepened and restored, and large tracts of wavy fescue have been established.

Most clubs lose members during a prolonged closure for restoration. Philly Cricket membership, however, grew from 660 to 770. It helped having other golf available next door at Militia Hill and over at St. Martin’s. It also helped having an expansive practice facility, meticulously maintained golf course turf (courtesy of superintendent Dan Meersman) and a gracious golf operation run by the PGA’s Jim Smith, Jr.

And then there’s the rambling farmhouse of a clubhouse—looks creaky, feels comfortable—that literally brushes up against the back of the first tee and 18th green at Wissahickon. Now that’s old school.

COURSE: The Philadelphia Cricket Club, Flourtown, Pennsylvania. For information, call (215) 247-6113 or visit philacricket.com.

AIRPORTS: Northeast Philadelphia Airport (PNE) has a 7,000-foot runway and is 17 miles east of the club. Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) has a 10,506-foot runway and is 30 miles south of the club.

Brad Klein is the architecture editor of Golfweek. His latest book is Wide Open Fairways.