A.W. Tillinghast crafted the Flourtown golf course at The Philadelphia Cricket Club in 1922. In the new millennium, the layout was renamed Wissahickon, after the creek which borders the property.
In 2013, architect Keith Foster lovingly restored the Wissahickon course to a standard that Tillinghast would approve of.
“There were no real blue prints at all,” Foster said. “I think that was really the challenge, truthfully. It was Tillinghast’s home course and he laid out in theory a skeleton routing, with the belief back then to lay it out and as the golf course matured to go ahead and introduce features that he would want to put in over time. The problem, of course, was that none of the features were ever documented.
What I basically had was the routing that he had and then I had the green pads that he had placed, but in terms of tee positions, they were all out of kilter and none of the bunkers existed where they were placed or where he would have placed them.”
The PGA of America awarded Philadelphia Cricket Club the honour of hosting the 2015 PGA Professional National Championship on both the Wissahickon and Militia Hill courses. Take a bow please Mr Foster.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses Tom Doak commented as follows: “'The Tillie in Philly' was sometimes elevated in local rankings because the Flynn courses tend to split the vote, but a recent restoration by Keith Foster has the locals drooling. Perhaps I was too embarrassed to notice its finer qualities after playing my approach to the par-4 2nd off the roof of the locker room."
There’s no cricket at Philly Cricket’s Wissahickon course (It’s at their St. Martin’s course a few miles away.) but there is thrilling golf. The club is fortunate that Keith Foster’s work preceded his jail term. The green complexes are lovely, with only three (12, 13, and 16) devoid of the contours that make for fun putting. And unlike a number of other Tillinghast courses, there are many holes (over half) wher the golfer may play an aerial or ground approach. Similar strategic options also abound elsewhere. Half the holes and both second shots on the par 5s offer risk/reward opportunities. Conditioning was excellent in October 2019. The walking requirement also enhances the experience…..and both caddies in my group were excellent: not afraid to touch a divot and willing to run when necessary to keep up.
There is a debate as to which is the third best golf course in the greater Philadelphia area after Pine Valley and Merion East. This debate is between Aronimink and Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissachickon course. You have one course designed by Donald Ross and the other by A. W. Tillinghast, whose ashes were scattered into the creek on the other side of the road of the eighteenth fairway.
There are no other contenders for third or fourth place, although there are many good courses nearby such as Rolling Green, Gulph Mills, and if you want to extend north, the three courses at Saucon Valley.
The Wissahickon course is a gem particularly since the membership have done such an outstanding job of making the course so much better due to tree removal and the freshening/addition of bunkers. Much of this work was done by a talented architect, Keith Foster. Site lines have been exposed across the somewhat hilly golf course by the removal of hundreds of trees. The land is as hilly as Aronimink but in a different way, although not as hilly as Pine Valley or Merion East. Tees have been added that lengthened holes. Bunkers have been added that have strengthened the defense of holes. New bunker complexes have also been added that are not just “eye candy,” they very much come into play.
The course is always presented in very good condition and the greens are fast and true. Many greens are severely tilted or mounded such as the first two holes, five, six, eight, eleven, thirteen, fourteen and the magnificent finishing green on the eighteenth where sometimes a three putt is not a given. They are generally among the very best greens in the area, and perhaps the tri-state area which says something given the quality of the other courses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and into New York.
The course has a very fine routing with one exception for me as it is pinched a bit in the corner of the golf course near and behind the building housing the pro shop and men’s locker room. There is a lot of room between most of the golf holes while the rough is equivalent to the rough at Aronimink, although not nearly as penal as at Merion East.
The first hole is a gentle dogleg right framed by bunkers left and right to a green perched up a hill. The hill is not quite as steep as Aronimink’s first hole, but the hole plays just as long. The green has more of a vertical ridge, almost a small punchbowl on the left side and sits within a small depression. It is a difficult green to start.
The second hole is a short downhill straight par 4 that the long hitters will be forced to lay up due to the Wissahickon creek intersecting the fairway about 250 yards off the tee. The green sits above with a very deep bunker on the left with the outer wall of the men’s locker room on the right side. I have seen balls hit the wall and bounce back onto the green. Personally, I don’t like the wall being this close, but others love it for its uniqueness.
The next hole is a very short par 3 with a long skinny green fronted by a bunker. It can play as little as 85 yards and as much as 120 based on tee and pin position. The wind is the important variable here. Downwind you can’t get close to a front pin, while into the wind the hole plays a lot longer. Many love this hole and compare it somewhat to the postage stamp at Royal Troon but for me it is a forgettable hole as it plays too easy the majority of the time. The green has a few undulations in it but is not difficult to two putt.
The next hole, a long par 4 is one of the four most difficult holes on the golf course because it used to play as a par five. From an elevated tee this 450-485 yard par four has a big bunker complex on the left side of the fairway and the rough seems to be deeper and thicker on this hole. The green is slightly raised.
The fifth hole is a 160-200 yard par 3 depending on pin and tee location. The creek should not come into play. It is well bunkered and the green is very tilted back to front. It is a hole easy to overlook and bogey is a common score.
The sixth hole is likely the second hardest on the golf course, a long uphill par 4 where you are required to clear the creek, keep left of the old, now unused railway line, either fly or go right of the fairway bunkers on the right side as well as stay out of the fairway bunkers on the left side. The opening between these bunkers is narrow. The hole then rises to a well defended and multi-tier green that can be lightening quick. This hole is perfectly conceived for the land from tee to green.
The seventh hole, a long par 5 was once one of the easier holes, but with the addition of a fairly long waste and bunker complex that you must carry on your second shot, it has become more difficult. There is another bunker complex short of the green that can catch the approach shots so the play is to aim the second shot to the left side of the fairway. Much like the fourth hole, there are some trees on either side of the fairway that can block your recovery shot if you are in the rough. The green, although large, is elevated and has many slopes to it. Getting a par here is a good accomplishment.
The eighth hole is a short par 4 with bunkers down the left side and a massive bunker fronting a green perched on a hill. The green runs steeply left to right and requires a blind shot into it. Go long or right of the green and you have a difficult recovery shot. This is another hole placed beautifully on the land.
Much like Aronimink’s thirteen hole, the ninth hole on the Wissahickon course is the short par 4. A slight draw is favored off the tee to avoid the bunkers on the right side. The green is surrounded by bunkers but with the removal of the tree that used to front the approach shot and basically stop any shot coming in from the right, the hole has now become a bit too easy. Unlike Aronimink’s short hole, this green is fairly flat.
The tenth is a mid-length par 3 heading back to the men’s locker room building. This is another hole I do not care for as I think it lacks definition. Others found it to be their favorite par 3 on the golf course because of the building adding perspective.
The eleventh is a short par 4 with a tilted green. The hole is uphill and is the second easiest hole on the golf course.
The twelfth is a lovely slight dogleg right on the tee shot long par 5 to the corner of the property. The view behind the green has been greatly diminished by the building of really ugly townhomes (all of us shared the same opinion). The townhomes look large and have nice terraces but they definitely take away from the beauty of this hole and the fifteenth. The tee shot requires staying left of a fall off area on the right side and the raised green is once again well bunkered. It is a very good par five much like the seventh hole.
The thirteenth is a mid- length par 4 slight dogleg left with expansive views and a nice green. It is a good hole but not nearly in the same class as the fourteenth, another slightly longer par 4. For those who can drive over the ridge they will gain a big advantage, much like those who can drive over the ridge at Aronimink on the tenth hole. If you can’t drive over the ridge you can be left with an approach shot of 190-210 yards. If you can make the ridge you will likely have 150-175 yards. The green is surrounded on both sides and fronted by bunkers. The green is tilted back to front with a spine running through it. It is one of the four best greens on the golf course.
The long par 3 fifteenth comes next and unfortunately those horrific new townhomes/condos some with it. Trees have been planted to block the views but they will take some time to grow. There are deep bunkers on both sides of this green which is tilted right to left as the hill falls that way as well as back to front. It is another difficult green.
The sixteenth has a downhill tee shot that must avoid the bunkers on the left side. The green is raised but has an adequate opening.
The seventeenth is a dogleg left with another raised green and deep bunkers fronting the green. The green is tilted two ways but not as difficult as some other greens to read and putt.
Finally you are at one of the most famous holes in the Philadelphia area, the dogleg left, then slightly right downhill long par 4 where the shorter hitter will likely lay up short of the creek rather than take it on. The hill is steeply banked in front of the creek so even a lay up short must be expertly judged. Typically lay up shots end up in the rough in front of the creek or even in heavier rough on the left side. If your lay up shot goes to the right side your approach will be blocked by trees. There are bunkers left and right on this green which is very tilted in different directions with two bowls on it. If you are in the rough left or behind the green you will have to hit a very well judged chip to get within six feet of the pin. It is a fabulous risk/reward golf hole involving strategy and requiring well executed shots to make par. It is one of the best holes one can ever play.
Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Wissahickon golf course confirms the genius of A. W. Tillinghast. It is beautifully routed on the land to take advantage of the hills. The green sites are perfectly placed on many of those hills. It has blind shots, heroic shots, wonderful views, terrific greens, and a good mixture of long and short par 4’s and par 3’s. This is a course that has returned to many top 100 lists in the USA and after playing it, you can see why.
I have been very fortunate to have played a number of very good courses in the Philadelphia area over the years but Philadelphia Cricket Club has always been high on my list. After some rooting around to find a sponsor to propose us we finally managed to book a time. The Head Professional was delight to deal with and this welcome was consistent throughout our day.
One of the first things you see as you walk through the clubhouse is the first tee which is situated on the putting green this is both nerve racking as it is unusual! The course appears quite open when standing on the tees (apparently circa 1300 trees were removed during renovations) with wide fairways framed by playable rough on both sides. The greens and surrounds were in fantastic order as were the run off areas. The bunkering is excellent in both positioning and presentation, they were also very consistent to play from. The topography of the course is very well utilised with a number of uphill and downhill holes of varying lengths plus a couple of awkward side hill approach shots which keeps the players focus. The par three holes are excellent ranging in yardage from 115 - 217 yards.
Philly Cricket is blessed with a number of really good holes. Hole number two which plays downhill over a brook to a raised green is a belter….if you slice your approach there is a good chance you’ll hit the proshop! Three is nice little par 3 playing just over 100 yards with rough style bunkers framing the green. Hole Seven, a par 5 with an elevated tee has a mini Hells Half Acre at around 280 yards which makes the player think before pulling out the driver. The green is protected by front bunkers although there is a sliver of short grass on the front right portion to run your ball up onto the putting surface. As you enter the back nine the only slight blemish is hole twelve which is a decent hole that is unfortunately framed by a new housing development…this though is only a minor issue. The finish is very strong with a long par 3 that requires a well struck accurate tee shot followed by two cracking par 4s. The finishing hole is one of the best I have played. The tee shot requires a slight draw which if negotiated successfully leaves the player a mid too long iron to a green situated below them. The brook which runs through the course will catch any miss hit shots whilst the green with its many ledges and plateaus will only accept the very best of approach shots. In my opinion a very good course for me is one that you get to hit every club in the bag and one that you have to move your ball both ways….Philly Cricket ticked both those boxes.
I have been fortunate to have played about 30% of The US Top 100 and I personally feel it should be considered.
The analysis of the course by the previous reviewer is spot on with the several observations made. Credit has to go the club for the wise choice in bringing on board architect Keith Foster to bring back to life the many aspects Tillinghast originally provided. Anyone venturing to play the Wissahickon Course had best be ready right from the outset with two consecutive long par-4's that yield nothing save for high level execution play.
The inward half of holes only ups the ante in terms of the demands players face. The ending quartet of holes caps the round in grand fashion. The long par-3 15th is a Redan-like hole and it's very good in flushing out the quality approach from an ordinary effort. The last three holes are all strong par-4's -- giving no quarter or respite. The ending hole is on par with another stellar Tillinghast notable closer with the likes of the 18th at Winged Foot / West. Miss the fairway at the 18th and getting over a stream that cuts across the hole near to the green is no automatic situation. For many the closing hole at Merion's famed East Course may get more recognition because of the stature earned when hosting various IUSGA Championships, however, the 18th at Wissahickon can easily claim the silver medal in the greater Philadelphia area.
The City of Brotherly love metro area is stacked with quality layouts -- all on the private side. Only the immediate New York City area surpasses it for overall depth of courses in America.
Overall, it amazes me how the Wissahickon layout is not included among the top 100 courses in America. I'd have the course comfortably in the top three in the Center City area because of how the blending of old and new elements were done with the utmost care and attention. Merion / East and Aronimink get plenty of attention but those coming to the Philadelphia vicinity should plan to wiggle some sort of invitation to play the Wissahickon Course. When you think your game is at the "A" level -- you'll find out if that's the case after playing 18 here.
by M. James Ward
A few greens were moved during the renovation, with the 2nd and 10th greens being the perfect example. The 2nd green was no less than 5 yards from the wall of the clubhouse, so they lazered the green (capturing it’s exact contours) and moved it 15 yards further away from the house. Right behind the 2nd green is the 10th green, which was also lazered and moved 30 yards away from the car park. It was unbelievable to think that an entire green was moved (and perfectly replicated) without a trace of evidence that it was touched since Tillinghast packed his bags and left. I much preferred the back nine primarily due to the routing becoming more imaginative and you started to consider angles off the tee. When we reached the back end of the property, highlights for me included to approach shot to the 14th hole displaying no less than nine bunkers sitting in front of the turtle back green. This was followed by the 240 yard 15th ‘redan’ hole which emphasized the dramatic changes resulting from the renovation. Along the right-side of the 15th hole, hundreds of trees were removed exposing huge mounds never seen before. The most exciting factor of the Wissachickon course is the location of the first tee and the 18th green. The first tee is on the putting green within arm’s reach of members enjoying their lunch on the patio, which is right next to the 18th green that sits 10 yards adjacent. The sound of knives and forks scraping off lunch plates only fuels the nerves of a golfer trying to impress the observant onlookers.
The ashes of A.W Tillinghast were scattered in the Wissahickon Creek in 1942.