Formed by a group of Springhaven Country Club members in 1924, Rolling Green Golf Club engaged the highly regarded architectural partnership of William Flynn and Howard Toomey to lay out a course over a 157-acre site and their 18-hole design duly opened for play in 1926.
Interestingly, most of the founding members of Rolling Green Golf Club were followers of the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers, from the nearby town of Swarthmore and their aim was to “omit all social frills that enter into the life of a country club, and make it a shrine where the skill and ingenuity of the lover of the game could have full play”.
With social drinking frowned upon, it wasn’t until 1970 that anyone could purchase alcohol from the bar – now how many clubs could have survived almost 50 years without such an important source of income? And when the club was honoured with hosting the US Women’ Open in 1976, most of the competitors would surely have been happy to drown their sorrows in the clubhouse after returning four round scores of +8 or more!
It’s easy to see why anyone will struggle to put together a score at Rolling Green when you examine the undulating landscape and the way the greens are designed to repel all but the most accurate approach shots to the pin. In fact, with a good number of holes played uphill, many of the putting surfaces will reward a running shot easier than an a ball arriving from a more aerial route.
The balance and variety of holes on this old classic makes it an absolute joy to play with the natural use of the topography by the architects so easy on the eye. Many regard the 12th as one of the finest short par fours in the game. From an elevated tee, a long iron played left of centre will set up an approach shot to a small green that lies on an upslope at right angles to the fairway. The putting surface is protected by one bunker to the right and four to the left, with a severe drop off to the rear - yet another brilliant example of a hole not having to be long to be difficult.
In July 2010, we received the following update from one of Rolling Green’s members: “In the Fall of 2008 the course underwent a $1 million restoration where all bunkers were restored to their original shape and size and more than 1,000 trees were removed from the course. While I may have some bias I strongly believe that Rolling Green is the 3rd best course in the greater Philadelphia area: Merion and Aronomink still rank ahead. We are currently in discussions with the USGA to host an upcoming Women’s US Amateur Championship.
Clearly the members felt the 2008 restoration did not go far enough. The club announced a decade later in 2018 that Keith Rhebb and Riley Johns have been hired to prepare a master plan and lead an "evidence based restoration". The duo is currently studying aerial photographs as part of the detailed research phase of the restoration.
The immediate Philadelphia area is stacked with an array of top tier designs and much of that stems from the handiwork of the efforts from William Flynn. In my travels -- only the metro New York City area is deeper in terms of architectural gems created and located so near to one another.
Rolling Green is blessed with land that provides plenty of movement although early on that's not the case. The opening hole appears rather benign but you find out as soon as walk onto the green it's anything but easy.
One of the real challenges presented at Rolling Green is the constant need to hit stellar approaches. When the greens are moving at a quick pace heaven help those who far too often leave themselves lengthy approach putts. The targets are also located in different setting -- some above and some below. Being able to marry the length and trajectory for the shots needed is no small task and it is Flynn's way of weeding out the golf pretenders from the serious contenders.
Like most Flynn courses the collection of par-3 holes is extremely well done. The five holes vary in length and are rigorous in only rewarding execution at the highest of levels. It is especially noteworthy to see a club having long par-3s playing a prominent factor with the uphill 10that 258 yards and the equally brilliant uphill 14th at 235 yards providing a thorough examination.
To score well at Rolling Green one needs to get off to a fast start because when you reach the long par-4 5th the intensity meter ratchets up considerably. The constant changes in terms of elevation make fine tuning of club selection absolutely imperative. Flynn's craftiness is clearly evident because the wherewithal to low scoring can only be achieved with a high degree of quality shotmaking.
When you reach the par-4 8th the design moves into warp speed with one hole following another where you are riveted with what you're facing. The concluding long par-4 18th -- played as a par-5 for the members -- is a grand climax as you need to work the ball properly off the tee on this dog-leg right hole and then follow-up with a laser-like approach to the uphill target.
Kudos to Flynn for a dynamic routing. You are constantly having to make adjustments -- the ultimate sign of greatness in course design. One cannot allow one's guard to drop -- for nothing is given at Rolling Green -- you earn it all.
Those coming to The City of Brotherly Love will undoubtedly want to play Merion East and Aronimink given the considerable pedigrees each has. Yet, Rolling Green is easily among the finest in the Philadelphia area and for those who are Flynn devotees your portfolio will not be complete until you sample this exquisite layout.
On the private side of courses, the Keystone State is one of America's best for the sheer depth of courses it provides. In my mind, Rolling Green is a clear contender for top ten placement and if someone wishes to name ten other courses that would keep it from being in such high company I am more than eager to debate the merits.
M. James Ward
Played Rolling Green for the first time this summer. Has a great variety of holes and is one of the most fun golf courses I have ever played. The greenside bunkering, however, should not be messed with. From the tee or approach they appear to be pretty benign bunkers, but once closer to them, you can notice how deep and difficult they would be to get out of. If in the philly area, this is certainly a course you should try to play.
I played Rolling Green last September for the first time and there is no doubt in my mind that this is one of William Flynn’s best designs. The greensites are among the most formidable I’ve ever seen and the greenside bunkering is terrifying. The start is gentle and the course ups its game from the 5th and simply gets better and better with the ravine drama and greens that are as tough as any I’ve ever played. Sadly the course condition was not a patch on the architecture and somewhat detracted from the experience. I’d say its ranking is about right, but if the conditioning can be improved it should be well inside the PA top ten.