For years, whenever the conversation
turned to municipal courses in the region that were worth trying, somebody
would invariably mention Ed
Oliver GC in Wilmington. But it was usually late in the
Which is to say that "Porky" Oliver’s, as I had always heard
it referred to, didn’t seem to be on many people’s must-play list. That’s why I never quite got around to
making it down there -- until recently.
Why now? Because in the 15 months since the City
of Wilmington brought in Billy
Casper Golf to manage the facility, Ed
Oliver GC (any reference to "Porky’s" has scrubbed from the website
and the new marketing campaign) has been undergoing a general sprucing up and
renovation, thanks to Casper’s committment
of more than $1 million in capital improvements.
In the 4,000-square-foot
clubhouse, there is fresh paint and new carpet throughout, and the kitchen has
refurbished. Interior walls have
been knocked down to open up the place, creating two banquet/wedding rooms and
a spacious grill room called the Greenhill
Pub, which leads out to a new wrap-around deck overlooking the golf course.
On the golf course, a bunker
renovation project was about halfway completed before the winter-from-hell
brought that to a temporary halt. A
tree-pruning project is also ongoing, and there is new tee and yardage markers
and new ball washers on every hole. There’s also fleet of 75 new golf carts.
Most noticable, overall course
conditions have been improved under superintendent JC Clevenger, who was imported from Cobbs
Creek GC in Philadelphia, another Casper–managed property.
"We are incredibly proud of
the changes to Ed Oliver Golf Club," Karen Duncan, general
manager, said a few weeks ago when Casper
showd off the upgrades during an open house.
Even with the facelift, Ed
Oliver has the unmistakable look and
feel of a working man’s muny – unpretentious and proud of it, proof that
golf in this country has not been totally ceded to the private clubs with their
parking lots full of BMWs and Mercedes.
And busy. Did I mention
busy? When a golf course is teeming
with golfers on a hot, muggy weekday morning, as Ed
Oliver’s was the day I was there, they
must be doing something right.
While it’s a muny these
days, Ed Oliver’s
pedigree is pure private upper crust, Wilmington-style. Opened in 1901, and said to have been
designed by Englishman Wilfred Reid,
the facility was the original Wilmington Country Club, built by the DuPont family as a haven for company
executives. That explains why Ed
Oliver’s is in the heart of Westover
Hills, one of Wilmington’s oldest and swankiest nieghborhoods.
In 1958, after Wilmington CC moved to its current
location on Kennett Pike, the DuPont family donated most of the original
property – 15 holes worth -- to the City of Wilmington as a park. The next year, the DuPonts donated 15
adjacent acres, enough to create three more golf holes.
In 1960, the course opened
as Green Hill GC, only to be
reconfigured two years later by architect Alfred
H. Tull (Brandywine CC, DuPont CC,
Radley Run CC), followed by more changes in 1971 by Ed Ault. In 1983, it was renamed Ed
Oliver GC, after the late Wilmington
native who won eight times on the PGA Tour in the 1940s an‘50s. (He earned his nickname
"Porky," packing 240 pounds onto a
Much like Philadelphia munys,
Ed Oliver went
through good times and bad over the years, until the lease expired in 2008 and
the course was closed. Soon after,
Billy Casper Golf was called into the rescue.
Also much like the
Philadelphia munys, Ed Oliver
has its moments as a golf course, with some fun and challenging holes. But ultimately it belongs in the category
of "basic golf."
In 2009, Golf Digest readers voted it in "Best Municipal Course" Delaware, awarding it an absurdly generous 4½
out of a possible 5 stars, ranking it ahead of the nearby and clearly superior Deerfield
Golf & Tennis Club, another
former country club now owned by the state.
None of this is meant to
denigrate Ed Oliver’s,
because it does a fine job of being what it aspires to be, and it offers an
enjoyable round of golf at a reasonable price. Primetime weekend green fees rates top out at $44 with cart, and there are plenty of special rates for
twilight, juniors and seniors.
At 6,115 yards from the tips, with a rating/slope of 68.8/124,
it is a par 69 layout that is not overly
difficult. (Here’s a hole-by-hole description.) Ed
Oliver is plenty of course for the
mid- to high-handicapper, juniors, seniors and many women, which constitutes a
huge swath of the golfing public; but only occassionally will it get the low
A parkland layout, with
mostly tree-lined fairways and a minimum of hills, it is ideal for the golfer
who prefers to sling their bag over their shoulder and get a little
There is only one par 5 on
the course, rather than the more conventional four, which accounts for the
relative short overall length of the course. For the most part, the par 4s aren’t long, either; only three measure 400 yards or
more. The best holes tend to be
the short, dogleg par 4s.
opens with a couple of benign par 4s, but they are followed by two of the
strongest and longest par 4s on the course: the 447-yard No. 3, with its
sloping fairway and elevated green, and No. 4, 452-yard a slight dogleg, where
I hit driver and hybrid and was still 20 yards short of the green.
No. 5, the first par 3 on
the course and the longest at 210 yards, has been accorded praise, or at least
respect, in other reviews I’ve read, but it didn’t do much for me: long,
straight, flat fairway, slightly tiered green flanked by two shallow bunkers.
The other par 4 of note on
the front nine is the 8th, a 388-yard dogleg that flows slightly
downhill to a smallish green, also flanked by bunkers.
The back nine has more
personality and panache, beginning with No. 11, a 380-yard dogleg with an
angled tee shot over a pond, and a
green that is tucked into the side of a small hill.
The 12th is a
short (290 yards) uphill dogleg left, with trees in play on the right and left
off the tee, and a green that is protected by a nasty, yawning bunker on the
left. What makes the 143-yard par
3 13th interesting is that the front of the green is obscured from
the tee, and getting up-and-down from greenside is no easy feat.
The course concludes with
another notable par 4: a sweeping, 400-yard dogleg right that eases its way to
a slightly elevated green tucked behind two bunkers.
It is also in the elbow of the
dogleg on the 18th that you will find the ancient stone chimney
featured in the Ed Oliver GC
logo, a remnant from an old homestead.