Pine Valley Golf Club was the dream of a Philadelphian hotelier, George Crump, who sadly died before its completion. The legacy he left behind is universally considered to be the perfect example of penal golf course architecture.
The course is located on the New Jersey side of Philadelphia and it’s impossible to believe that one of the world’s best golf courses is set in such featureless countryside. Crump started work on this desolate piece of land in 1912 and, after receiving Harry Colt’s seal of approval on the routing, 14 holes were ready for play in 1916. Crump died in 1918 and his dream 18-hole course was one year away from completion.
Pine Valley officially opened in 1919 but it took three years for anybody to get round in 70 strokes and it quickly became renowned the world over as the ultimate test of golf. The members were quick to realise their was an opportunity for a quick buck and offered a standing bet to anyone playing for the first time that they won’t break 80. In 1954, Arnold Palmer took all bets going and cleaned up, shooting a 68. “I was desperate for money at the time,” he explained. “I was about to be married. So I collected all the bets I could find. I don’t know what I would have done If I had lost – it was far more money than I could afford.”
“Pine Valley fills you with dread and delight… it takes your breath away… it’s a monster, but it’s beautiful.” Wrote Robert Trent Jones in the Complete Golfer. “It is frequently alluded to as the most difficult course in the world, and this reputation is justified. To my way of thinking, it also possesses more classic holes than any other course in the world – ten of the eighteen. Of the remaining holes, five are outstanding, two are good, and one, the 12th, is ordinary, which, at Pine Valley, is tantamount to being a misfit.
I remember playing a round at Pine Valley not so long ago with Lowell Thomas, who as you know, has travelled the world as widely as any man. On this 15th, after we had driven across the lake that separates the tee from the start of the fairway, Thomas turned and looked back across the water, then quietly gazed at the rest of the scene around us. ‘In all my travels,’ he said, ‘I do not think I’ve seen a more beautiful landscape. This is as thrilling as Versailles or Fontainebleau.’”
Had the pleasure to play here once. The course is just delightful. I don't think there are 18 fabulous holes but there are 18 great holes. And of those 18 great holes 15 are fabulous. Conditioning is the best. The combinations of holes is special. Utilization of two greens on two holes offers different looks. I'm hopeful to make a return but.......I'm not going to spell out the holes. Each hole could be the best hole at most any other course. Sit at a table and discuss your favorite and each will speak of a different hole. When you arrive or at least when I did, You don't get to pick a tee box. The course is set up for the day and you play it. One tee box. Maybe that has changed. My favorite hole was the 5th. I made a double but what a double. My caddie found my ball after I blew it out to the woods. Actually, 8 with it's two greens and we played the tiny left green, but 18 is just a fabulous finisher which delivers my most feared shot...a downhill lie to a raised green with water in between. but 7 is just perfection in design of a beast par 5 or maybe 9 with it's two greens and darn, what to do with a GIR but the pin is on the other green? Well, Best course in the world. Maybe CP is a contender but haven't had that pleasure.
To not give Pine Valley a perfect score is nothing short of preposterous. Simply put, there is no course that offers a greater variety of 18 unique and fabulous holes with this level of continuity. Each hole is its own chapter of a book and then the book ends with one of the most spectacular finishing holes ever created. The attention to every little architectural detail of the course is unparalled. The balance of holes, use of the terrain, and green complexes is incredible. Little difference exists between the least memorable hole and most memorable hole; that's how good each and every one of them are. An invitation to Pine Valley should be viewed as one of the great gifts one could receive and you truly should drop everything to graciously accept. I have yet to see the course since Tom Fazio and team removed all the encrouching trees, but can only imagine the course has gotten even better.
Without question the finest collection of 18 golf holes anywhere. Ranking each hole from 1 to 10, there are two 8’s and the rest are 9’s and 10’s. The variety of holes, the amazing walk through the pine barrens and the challenge of placing ones shot in the right location to be able to score requires intense focus the entire round. This course has no “let up” and for that it is alone at the top.
The golf course is unique, and all attempted copies pale into insignicance. It is 'in your face'- it is very intimidating. I thought it was also extremely fair, but you need to be good enough to hit straight and carry the ball a good distance. If there is any repitition at Pine Valley, it is the course asking you to commit to long carries over sand and water. Having said that- there are no two holes alike. There is variation in direction, length and the type of holes, but each hole is a stringent test of your golfing ability. Poor shots are punished horribly- this is not the place to play stroke rounds...
But good shots are rewarded. The greens have plenty to command your attention, but are not overdone, and rolled well. Some of the bunkering surrounding the greens, however is diabolical. There is one devilishly small, deep, pot bunker at the front of the short par 3 tenth hole that sets the standard. It is called 'The Devil's Arsehole'. But is it one of many. Even on the same hole there would be a handful of bunkers that many would never get out of!!
If there is a theme at Pine Valley, it is islands. Each tee, fairway, and green is inevitably an island in a sea of sand, trees and undergrowth. Each shot requires a controlled carry to the target island!
There are many famous holes at Pine Valley, and no weak ones. The course runs out at only 6540 yards for a par 70 course off the regular tee (compared to 7101 from the tips), but it is all carry and plays significantly longer. The course rating off the regular tees was an amazing 153! Each hole has it's own distinct personality.
Favourite holes include:
- hole 2- a 355 yard par with island fairway. The shot to the elevated green over the sand is intimidating. Welcome to Pine Valley! Ten out of ten!
- hole 3- a 181 yard par 3- all carry..
- hole 4- a 438 yard par 4 requiring a carry over sand to the top of the ridge, and then a long shot down the hill to the green
- hole 5- an uphill all carry par 3 measuring 219 yards over water and sand- hit the front half of the green and it rolls back off! One of my favourite holes ever!
- hole 7- par 5, 573 yards. Perhaps the truest par 5 I have ever seen. The tee shot is extremely tight, with fairway framed by pine trees both sides, and sand to carry to hit the fairway. The second shot needs to carry more sand than the Sahara desert! This area is called Hell's half acre, and unless you hit a very good tee shot, you will have no chance of reaching the second island of fairway in two. But if you do, you need to carry more sand..
Hole 7 requires three very decent shots to hit the green in regulation. I've never seen anything like it. Loved it!
- hole 8 is a short par 4 at 314 yards, but it has a very small, very well protected green. It's a fascinating hole, but it gets better- there are two greens!
- hole 9 is a strong par 4 with another enforced carry off the tee. It measures 422 yards, and also has alternative greens. Very cool!
- hole 10 is a short par 3 with teeth. Measuring only 142 yards the green is surrounded by some nasty bunkers, including the crudely named 'Devil's Arsehole'. This is one of the best par 3's I have seen.
- hole 13 is known as one of the best par 4's in the game. It is long at 442 yards, and requires a long strong tee shot, to gain a position where it is practical to consider the downhill sliding approach over sandy waste to a right to left, almost redan like green.
- hole 14 is a change up. It is sharply downhill- a 187 yard par 3 over water. It is a gorgeous looking hole, and my only birdie of the day.
- hole 15 is a long uphill par 5 which narrows the further you progress up the hill to the green. The tee shot is an uncomfortably long carry over water, but the real question is whether you can hit 3 long very straight balls uphill 574 yards. And is you nearly succeed the front of the green has a false front and will send the seemingly good back to try again...
- hole 17 is only 339 yards and is a par 4. It asks for an decent tee shot over the sandy waste to set up a short approach to a green which is tucked up in the sandhill to the right. It is only a short iron, but it needs to be accurate. Great hole!
- hole 18 is the appropriate closing hole to the best course in the world. At 425 yards it is long- but it plays longer. The tee shot must carry the obligatory sandy waste, but the approach must carry water and hit an elevated green with 5 yawning bunkers set in the bank in the front of the green. And pine trees each side of the fairway 'pinch' the airspace just short of the green. It takes two very healthy strikes to hit this green in regulation.
Pine Valley has been regarded as the best course in the world ever since ratings began. Nothing else compares. Pine Valley is a private members club and not generally accessible by the general public
Peter Wood is the founder of The Travelling Golfer – click the link to read his full review.
Pine Valley is one of those rare things you do in your life that you have heard so much about before doing it and it still blows your expectations out of the water. Golf in its purest form!
Pretty much the best set of Par 3s and short Par 4s on the planet. Not a repetitive hole and to split this and Shinny is hard. But PV doesn’t give in to bad golfers (unashamedly so) and if you aren’t playing well or aren’t good enough then look out. An amazing experience to stay over if you can, as well as taking in the replica short course. So far on the tally of greatness it’s PV 5, me zero..... the course just continually tempts you from the first shot. You want to play conservative but even then need to execute perfectly - all day long. A true testament to low handicapper golf. Well done Crump.
My hope is a member has read this and has submitted your name on the Can't play list. What moron gives this anything but 6 balls.
He’s already played it Doug
Boys there’s only one 6 ball Golf Course on the planet. And it’s not in the rankings. Mackenzie’s finest by a mile. Best single plot of land & topography you will get, and 100 times harder to play the 18 in the correct order, as one round, than anywhere globally. A true delight.
Sorry Steven; combining the Royal Melbournes can’t be considered a singular course...their combination for tournament play is convenient, but unfair to hold against truly standalone routes. I might as well take Winged Foot East’s best holes to patch up the few shortfalls at West. Perfectly fine to not give any single real course a six-ball rating, but providing examples of shortfalls would go a long way to diverting comment critics (don’t cite the Lido as the only six-ball either, ha!)
After dreaming of playing Pine Valley for 15 years, I finally got the chance to play this great course in October 2019. A close friend extended me an invitation to join him to play Merion East Course and Pine Valley on consecutive days. He was invited to play these courses.
I was given less than a week’s notice to travel to Philadelphia. After re-arranging all my work schedule and client meetings, I was on my way to Philadelphia. We stayed in downtown Philadelphia. The following day our wonderful host played with us at Merion. The weather was glorious and I understood why Merion is ranked 12 in the World and has held numerous US Opens.
The following day, our Merion host and a Pine Valley member had arranged for us to play Pine Valley at 2.30 pm. We were due to meet for a leisurely lunch and use the range facilities before tee off. The weather forecast for the day was dreadful and there was a chance that our round was going to be cancelled. Our thoughtful host, changed our tee off time to 11am to try and beat the afternoon thunder storms. At 7.45 am on the morning we got a call from the host to say that there was still a risk of us not being able to finish the round with the newly arranged 11 am start. We were asked to make our way to Pine Valley for a 9 am tee off time. I had one of the quickest showers, no breakfast and had to get ready and leave our down town hotel within 20 minutes. The uber journey took us 50 minutes and we arrived at Pine Valley at 8.55m. Due to the expected bad weather in the afternoon the course was very busy that morning. The host and the course superintendent managed to squeeze us in for a 9.10 am tee off from the 10th,. No time to warm-up at the range nor hit a few practice putts. We changed into our golf shoes and were driven straight to the 10th tee. It certainly not the way I had planned to play Pine Valley.
The 10th is a short par three. Miraculously, my tee shot just rolled off the back of the green and I managed to two put from the fringe for a par. That kind of settled my nerves. But it never was easy from then on. I have played just over 30 of the World’s Top 100 courses. I would say, Pine Valley along with Beth Page Black must be the hardest courses I have played. The fairways were like carpets and the green complexes were magnificent and scary at the same time. The course is full of waste bunkers everywhere. As many writers have claimed before, Pine Valley does not have a weak hole.
The course is in the middle of a large expanse of wooded land. The whole place is tranquil and you rarely see two greens from any spot. One of the quirks of Pine Valley is that you never rake the bunkers. You just brush the sand with your feet once you have played your shot. Another point worth mentioning is the concept of caddies double bagging. This seems to be a common practice in the US whereby one caddy carries two bags. Though it seemed an odd way to play, it certainly was a unique experience.
My friend and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Merion and Pine Valley members for hosting us. It truly was a memorable experience for us.
Pine Valley has had many reviews which explain the holes, the history and the club. For me as a professional its the challenge of Pine Valley that I look forward to. We have been fortunate to play here the past four years staying in the rooms situated upstairs in the clubhouse which are old school comfortable which is a blessing after 36 holes a day. The course itself is a test of nerve and shotmaking. The fairways are actually relatively wide but if you miss the one piece of advice I received on my first day is to take your medicine and pitch out otherwise you run the risk of racking up a cricket score! Club selection for your approach shots is pivotal to scoring well, the greens except 8 and 17 are large and the ball tends to run away from the flag than towards it. There are many great holes but my favourites are hole 2 a shortish par 4 that requires a straight drive before a second shot to an elevated green set about 50 yards above the player. The green itself is incredibly undulating and it’s easy to find yourself on the wrong side of the slope. The 8th which has two green complexes (The left green is the day to day green) starts with a blind tee shot which aims the player towards the left side of the fairway which is actually the best line in to the green. The safe tee shot is down the right but this leaves the player having to hit the approach shot across this narrow green from a hanging lie. A deep bunker protects the right side of this green which is virtually impossible to recover from. Another bunker short of the green swallows the under hit approach and left of the green are a couple of narrow traps that you can barely stand in! The green itself is set over three levels with a narrow back shelf….8 is a truly brilliant hole! Onto the back 9, 13 is one of the best par 4 holes in the world a long hole that pushes the golfer away from the green from the tee (This is an ongoing feature of PV the tiger line taken from the tee will leave you a shorter and easier approach shot) leaving a long approach shot to the large green set below the player. My nemesis though is hole 15 a long uphill par 5 that really has no room to land a second shot…you would be better laying back with your second shot leaving a short iron to the green. The green has a huge tier in the front third section that hinders any kind of running shot and if you do fly it all the way beware of going long as its dead! I have played this hole 21 times now and made one par on my 15th attempt! Finally hole 17 which now has a new back tee is cracking short uphill par 4 to a green set above the player. Anything short will find sand (No rakes at PV so you need a decent sand game to extricate yourself from the traps) Anything long will result in a bogey or worse! The green slopes from right to left and from back to front so club selection is vital. All in all Pine Valley keeps you concentrated from hole 1 to 18 and although its a demanding course it rewards patience, accuracy and shotmaking which is not a bad thing. I agree with other reviewers that rankings are subjective but for me it would be hard to find anywhere better than Pine Valley.
What more can be said about PV? It is one-of-a-kind and truly deserving of its label as the #1 course in the world.
PV has not been the #1 course in the world on this site for some time and having played it for the first time last summer I completely agree and suggest #2 is too high. The course is tunnelled visioned and claustrophobic with too many trees and shrub clutter. The club seems to be obsessed with confining every hole to its own linear corridor. It must be the only top ranked course in America that hasn't properly managed its arboreal inventory and opened up sight lines. PV may have a stronger cumulative collection of holes than any other course in the world, but too many leaves cloak the playing corridors.
Pine Valley was created by George Crump, who purchased the property in 1912. Crump had never designed a golf course before, but collaborated with several of the Golden Age architects (Colt, MacKenzie, Wilson, Thomas, Travis, MacDonald, Flynn to name a few), who most likely recognized the sandy soil, rolling terrain, windswept native grass and pines as ideal for a golf course that could play year long. Tragically, Crump's health and finances declined during the years the course was built, ultimately dying before it was completed.
Nothing really prepares you for when you get through the gate and make your way to the clubhouse. There's a sense of surrealism that seizes upon you as you enter those gates. Realizing where you are, and how fortunate you are to be there, was very poignant to me, which added to the wonder and splendor of the place. The clubhouse and staff are all friendly and down to earth, making you feel as welcome as if you were at your own home course. It's about the golf here, not about pomp, prestige or anything else. Caddies refer to the members by first name and the members know the names of their kids, cracking jokes about this and that throughout the round. I instantly felt comfortable, all while staying in awe the whole time.
On to the course. While I was determined to stay objective in my thoughts, I quickly realized there was no need; it's as good as they say. The collaboration, and what Crump incorporated from it, resulted in the finest test in golf that calls upon the depths of all your golfing acumen and fortitude to manage it. The course blends the penal, strategic and heroic design philosophies very well, and all can be seen throughout. There simply is not a weak hole and in fact, every hole is all-world. The terrain, variety, visuals, are ideal. While difficult, it's fair and great shots are rewarded. Great shots are also demanded and I can say I hit some of the best shots of my life during that round. I also hit some of the worst, either from fatigue, intimidation, difficulty of the shot, or a combination thereof. The course's capacity to draw these shots out of you is one of several ways in which the rounds, holes and shots here become immortalized in your memory. The visuals, and how they're revealed as you advance towards the green, are outstanding, which evoke inspiration, intimidation and temptation, yet provide strategic options and reward course knowledge. One of the more surprising aspects is how difficult it was to lose a ball. Most wayward shots were found and there was a realistic chance for recovery. It's also great for match play because of the distinct challenges and the different ways each hole can be played depending on how your tee shot ends up and how hazards are handled. Finally, the routing is impeccable, accommodating the diverse terrain, which in turn produces a diversity of holes and play.