took a recent email from an out-of-towner to make me realize just how much I’ve
come to like the Golf Course at Glen
email was from an avid golfer who was coming to Philadelphia on a business trip
for several days. He expected to
have some downtime and he wanted a recommendation on the three best daily fee
courses in the area.
even having to think about it, I put Glen Mills at the top of the list. With Hartefeld
National and Pine Hill both more
private than semi-private these days, it’s hard to imagine that Glen Mills
wouldn’t make anybody’s list of Top 3 local courses you can play. (Update: As
of Jan. 1, 2010, Pine Hill is Trump National- Philadelphia, and it’s completely
2001, the year after Glen Mills opened, Golf
Digest ranked it seventh on its annual national list of best "New Upscale
Courses." The following year Golf
magazine ranked it fifth in the nation on its list of "Top Ten You Can Play." Not to be outdone, Golfweek soon
followed by ranking Glen Mills as the No. 1 daily-fee course in Pennsylvania
(it’s currently ranked No. 2, behind the Mystic Rock course at Nemacolin
Woodlands resort in western Pennsylvania.)
as good as the Golf Course at Glen Mills is, the story behind it is even
better. The course is, after all, owned and operated as part of the Glen Mills Schools, the oldest
reform school in the nation, dating back to 1826. (Bausch
Collection photo gallery)
the bag drop, in the pro shop, out on the mowers, golfers are likely to
encounter students who’ve had a brush with the law and are there to learn the
rewards of walking the straight and narrow, as well as life and job skills. Besides the job training the golf
course provides about 40 kids at any one time, proceeds from the 33,000-plus
rounds go to fund college scholarships for Glen Mills graduates.
kids have never had a chance in life," Ron Pilot, the retired businessman and
Glen Mills board member who conceived the course, told me not long after it
opened. "We give them a chance."
chance and, often, a dream. During
a recent round at Glen Mills, I struck up a conversation with the young man
ferrying me out to the range to meet my playing partner. It turned out he was from one of the
toughest neighborhoods in Philadelphia and had 18 months to go at Glen
Mills. After that, he had his
sights set on college, then law school.
he gets in, he can count on a full scholarship," said Pilot, father of seven
and grandfather of two dozen, for whom Glen Mills is a labor of love.
without the compelling back story, Glen Mills would crack my Top 3 daily-fee
courses around town.
since 2000, the 6,646-yard,
par 71 Bobby Weed design is a delight from start to finish, rolling across
235 picturesque acres of Chester County countryside. On several holes, the stately red stone buildings of Glen
Mills School, which looks more like a cozy college campus than a reform school,
come into view in the distance.
Weed, a Florida architect who was recommended to Pilot by his old boss and
mentor, Pete Dye, Glen Mills was his first big project in the Northeast. He did not waste the opportunity.
a opening hole that seems easy enough but is a bogey waiting to happen, Glen
Mills quickly becomes a three-ticket thrill ride.
second hole, a 431-yarder with an uphill fairway that swerves left, culminates
with a flat, seemingly benign green that will give you fits. Even a perfectly struck putt slides
past the hole like it never had a chance.
beast of the front nine is the par 5 fourth, a 571-yard double dogleg that’s
uphill, then downhill as it wends its way around an abyss that is a 235-yard
carry for daredevils.
outward nine also includes the most maddening green within a 100-mile drive, on
the long uphill par 3 seventh. Not
only is the green four clubs deep, it’s got more mounds than an almond joy and
more shelves than a grocery store.
toughest par on the front nine, however might just be the deceivingly
difficult, almost-driveable eighth. Only 325 yards from the back tees, the
trick to the eighth is negotiating a green that is elevated, shallow and sloped
and rejects all but the most delicate approach shots.
back nine starts out with a dramatic downhill par 3 that feels like you’re
playing from the roof of a skyscraper, to a huge tiered green below. You can hit the green and be two zip
codes away from the hole.
far the most controversial hole is the 11th, a short (376 yards) par
four with a daunting-looking ribbon-thin fairway that is squeezed from the
right by weed-filled mounds up the right side and on the left by a craggy
creek. The play, it turns out, is
to hit a 3-wood or long-iron off the tee, hoping to find the landing area that
is not easily visible from the tee.
grabs your attention again with the two closing holes -- a par 5 that plays longer than its 484 yards and a long
par 4, both of which require long carries off the tee. Together, they are a one-two punch in
the gut you won’t soon forget.