A hundred and twenty nine golfers were listed as members at the inaugural AGM of Lancaster Country Club in 1901 and they played back then on some rented fields that were fashioned into a rudimentary 9-hole layout. In fact, so basic was the course, original scorecards display hole names but no yardages or par figures for each hole.
By 1920, the club had moved to its present location, employing William Flynn to lay out a new 18-hole course. Flynn, who would later redesign the magnificent Shinnecock Hills course in 1937, had been the green keeper at Merion Cricket Club (as the golf club was known then) and his ten months at Lancaster would hold him in good stead for future designs that are compared favourably nowadays with the likes of Colt and MacKenzie courses.
In the modern era, Lancaster Country Club now has three 9-hole circuits (each with a par of 35) plus a 6-hole “Sunset Six” short course, designed by William and David Gordon in 1959.
The original Meadow Creek and Dogwood nines (known as the Old or Flynn course) combine to form the foremost 18-hole combination here at Lancaster Country Club. However, all three loops having been constructed on rolling terrain with a river flowing through the middle of the landscape, allowing water to come into play at no fewer than fifteen of the holes on the property. The third 9-hole circuit, called Highlands, is a standalone course.
William Flynn left us with many wonderful masterpieces in the state of Pennsylvania, and due praise needs to be given with the layout at Lancaster Country Club. Once a regular resident on the USA Top 100 ranking list, its lofty recognition is certainly justified.
This course has a number of distinct characteristics which struck me while analyzing the property. Firstly, Flynn created fabulous angles off the tee. You’ll then have to contend with the camber of the land through the dogleg. Many holes have the fabulous design of the land pitching from right to left, but the hole moves from left to right. Exciting stuff! There is an absolute premium on accuracy off the tee, and it really gets you thinking about the line you take and your overall strategy of how to get on the green in regulation. This course is blessed with fabulous, sometimes thrilling, changes in elevation as the 18 holes roll across the wonderful topology.
There are a few straight holes, but each of them presents dramatic changes in elevation which adds to the challenge of club selection. Just because you can see the green off the tee doesn’t mean you can take a breather. No matter whether you’re playing downhill, uphill or into a swooping dogleg, the architecture is a feast for your eyes. I can only imagine Flynn’s satisfaction when he completed the project.
With the pitch of the land being so demanding in many places, this lends itself to green complexes that often run back to front or right to left with sometimes brutal false-fronts. The championship caliber of the course keeps you on your toes from the moment you put the peg in the ground. The routing of the main course has gone through a few revisions over the decades due to land-swap deals and the development of housing. Many changes were welcome and even added improvements; however the current par 5 13th hole is the weakest hole on the course architecturally. When standing in the middle of the fairway, you’re faced with an uphill shot into a wall of trees, and have no perspective on where the green is or where you’re supposed to hit the ball. In the coming years, I expect the club to take down overhanging or unnecessary trees as the focus shifts to opening corridors and removing undesirable clutter on the rolling property.
With the exception of the 16th hole, the bunkering doesn’t offer much in terms of inspiration, but I anticipate bunkers being moved or added based on how far the ball is travelling to ensure they don’t become obsolete. I quickly concluded that the membership is blessed with a course which doesn’t get enough praise. It’s of no surprise that the venue was selected for the 2015 US Women’s Open, and I offer full support for future tournaments to be played at this Keystone State gem. Any champion at Lancaster CC earned their money! While the Philadelphia area is highly populated with top-class private clubs, the extra effort to get out to Lancaster is time well spent.