Wyncote Golf Club would offer competition for those looking for the finest public-access layouts in Philadelphia, but its location in Oxford, PA — nearly an hour-and-a-half from the crowded city center — helps it stand out with an idyllic atmosphere. This condition is fed by the agricultural surrounds of the club, about as close to the quiet “dunes” that a Pennsylvanian could hope for.
Brain Ault laid out the course during 1993, citing a “heathland” inspiration for the inland offering. That said, the countryside offered a significant amount of wetland to be considered, and Ault incorporates it to serve in heroic fashion where unavoidable. Examples include No. 2, a par three that skirts the wetland, and No. 12, a short par four where survival banks on a forced carry across the marsh.
Numerous American courses have jumped on a trend of ending both nines with holes that share both a green and a defending pond in between them. Wyncote defies this formula slightly, instead opening both nines with par fives (of different lengths) that end up at a shared green, with the pond to keep players honest.
In the greater Philadelphia area, there are a handful of public courses that one should seek out to play if they do not have access to private clubs. One of those clubs is Wyncote, designed by Brian Ault & Associates. I do not think it is the best of the public courses as that honor likely goes to Atlantic City CC or Bulle Rock. Wyncote certainly fits into the discussion with the Course at Glen Mills, the Bay course at Seaview, Architects, or Heron Glen. (Note: Only Glen Mills is in Pennsylvania while the others are in New Jersey and Maryland but an easy drive from Philadelphia). I do not include Inniscrone or Broad Run as Inniscrone has very few good holes and Broad Run is a slog around the course, even in a cart. Should Cobbs Creek get the restoration it deserves, or Galen Hall is able to improve the tee boxes and bunkering, they would likely surpass it as well. Many publications have Wyncote in the top ten of public courses in the state of Pennsylvania. This ranking is justified as it combines length, an “open” feel to most of the course, sometimes tall fescue, the likelihood of strong wind (there is usually wind here), and many clever holes due to a good routing. It is a lot of fun to play as it works its way down from the clubhouse and back up to the clubhouse.
Despite its length, at times the course feels a bit constrained due to protected wetlands but mostly caused by the building of houses between ten/eleven – fifteen through eighteen which takes up a large piece of land that could have been used for a better routing. The houses make holes fifteen through eighteen feel disconnected from the rest of the course. While one can appreciate the need to build houses that offer a view of the golf courses in order to recoup an investment, one notices the housing, particularly on sixteen where you are squeezed between houses on both sides. One questions whether the loss of this land made for a less optimal routing. For example, the par 5’s are at the beginning and the ending of both nines.
As mentioned in other reviews, there is nothing architecturally interesting here. Many recall the double green of #1 and #10 but I did not find it overly memorable. Of these two holes, I favored the first because the bunkering near the green is better due to the placement of the small bunker at the front of the green. At times I felt the course tried a bit too hard such as the nine bunkers on the par five ninth hole, of which all of the bunkers are essentially at the green and none off the tee. The holes I favored are four and twelve.
There are too many holes where there are no fairway bunkers. The greens lack interesting interior contours. There is no meaningful contouring, false fronts or fall-offs near most of the greens. Finally, the bunkers are relatively shallow and basically level with the greens. With the right changes, this course could become one of the top five public options in Pennsylvania although unlikely to ever catch the top two.
The course is plenty long, with the Black tees at 7148 yards, par 72, rated 74.3/140. The Blue tees are 6690 yards, rated 72.3/135. The White tees are 6074 yards, rated 70.4/125. There is a set of Gold tees as well for seniors and juniors. The par 5’s are long with the shortest being 557 yards. The par 3’s lack a bit of variety as they range between 187-222 so my recommendation is to move forward on a few of the par 3’s to get more variety. The par 4’s are decently varied. The ratings are appropriate for the summer months where the rough is higher.
1. Par 5 – 577/521/480. This hole gently goes to the left down a slight decline. The right side of the fairway pinches in a bit but it is not too much of a worry given the width of the fairway. There is decent mounding down both sides of the fairway, although not so difficult as to cause trouble on a second shot. Even if one misses slightly left there is a good chance to significantly advance one’s ball down the fairway. There is a pond on the left about 100 yards from the green which sits mainly behind it with the fairway narrowing before the green. A good plays is to lay back of the pond but one must avoid the two bunkers on the right side. Go in either of those bunkers and par becomes more difficult given the five bunkers surrounding the green. The green is shared with the tenth hole. I like this hole.
2. Par 3 – 196/185/159. This is another nice hole with two bunkers on the left short of the green and one on the back side as the green is angled right to left. It plays slightly downhill to a green that has a vertical spine with the right side being higher.
3. Par 4 – 385/361/323. This hole is a “miss” for the longer/better players. It is a dogleg right with a sizeable wetlands area/a winding stream about 110 yards from the green and about 50 yards wide. There is really no reason for the better player to try to hit driver, although they will be tempted given some of them can carry the right side of the hazard. Still, I do not think you gain much advantage given the fronting bunker on the right. There is also a bunker left about 10 yards short of the green. The green is narrow at its opening and wider at the rear. This is one of the holes that feels constrained to me by the trees coming in from the left side after the hazard which likely could not have been removed due to environmental reasons. I do like how the land rises a bit towards the green.
4. Par 4 – 456/444/416. The fairway has no bunkers but there is a hill down the right that creates some distortion to the drive even if it is not in play and not a penalty if one lands on it. However, it gives the appearance that the hole is a dogleg although it is straight. There is a large bunker about 80 short of the green on the left that narrows the fairway for those lacking the length on this longer par 4. Much like the third, the flanking bunkers at the front of the green narrow the green and creating a tough back left pin position to a nicely sloped green.
5. Par 4 – 393/363/340. This is a nice hole that although it plays uphill the longer hitters will hit over the two bunkers on the left in reach off the tee and try to avoid the right bunker placed another 50 yards up the fairway. I like that the green is angled right to left with the left side bunker becoming a front bunker and the right side bunker becoming a rear bunker. Off the tee there is ample room to miss either left or right and still be able to have a chance at the green. There is a slight false front to the green and a nice tilt back to front and right to left. The big miss on the hole is the greenside bunkering is too shallow.
6. Par 3 – 187/172/157. This hole also plays uphill to a green where one cannot see the bottom of the flag. The hole has a bunker front and to the rear of this odd-shaped green that has a back-to-front tilt. It is an okay hole.
7. Par 4 – 424/391/374. This hole plays as a dogleg right for shorter hitters who want to avoid the bunker right off the tee. Longer hitters will fly it and stay left of the bunker on the left spaced another 50 yards ahead. This is one of the heavily bunkered greens on the course with five at the green, four of them on the left. This hole plays downhill making the distance more manageable. The bunkers near the green are somewhat shallow. This green has a bit of interior contouring.
8. Par 4 – 407/379/334. The eighth plays straight with no fairway bunkers and a generous fairway. There are flanking side bunkers and one at the rear to a green that tilts left. I did not find the hole to be interesting.
9. Par 5 – 580/566/534. This fairway is a bit thinner but if one goes into the rough they have a good chance at recovery. This hole plays uphill and is a gentle fish-hook with the hook starting about 120 yards from the green. As previously mentioned there are no fairway bunkers but there are eight on the right short of the green beginning about 50 yards out. A final bunker is behind the green. The fairway has a tilt to the right leaving a shot from those bunkers likely a bit blind to the green. The green is a larger one and has several tiers to it as well as a tilt left.
10. Par 5 – 568/517/477. This hole plays downhill and is essentially straight. There are no fairway bunkers. The first bunker is to the left of the pond that sits to the right of the green and begins about 80 yards out from the green. I do not understand why the bunker is there other than for pace of play. There is a bunker short left, one at the left rear and one front right that is too far right to be a consideration unless the pin is placed in the very thin middle of the double green which would be unfair. The only aspect I found interesting to the hole is the mounding to the left of the fairway as one works their way down to the green. The green is not very interesting.
11. Par 4 – 460/426/407. Another hole with no fairway bunkers, there are four placed short right of the green and one at the rear. The bunkers are all shallow. The green has a higher back right portion on this essentially straight hole.
12. Par 4 – 356/342/306. This hole offers wetlands and a stream snaking down the left side. The fairway runs out due to a pond at its end. The fairway continues well to the left although it is very narrow as the stream has bisected the fairway and now continues down the right side beyond the green. The green is long and placed between a bunker on the front left and one on the right side. If one hits out to the right off the tee the hole will play longer due to the severity of the dogleg. However, due to the length of the hole it should not be an issue. The green is smaller and has a tilt to the right although there is a fall-off on the middle left.
13. Par 4 – 427/401/334. This is a straight hole with the difficulty on the tee shot being the out-of-bounds on the right where Street Road parallels the fairway. This is the only use of a center-line bunker on the course although more on the right side of the fairway for the tee shot. There is another bunker on the left about 90 yards short of the green. A final bunker fronts the left side of the green as the green is angled right to left. The ground does tilt away from the road providing an opportunity for a wayward shot to stay inbounds. The bunker near the green is one of the better ones on the course as it sits lower to the green than the rest.
14. Par 3 – 188/163/147. Probably the best par 3 on the course due to the bunkering where there are two right with the one on the left front having the green wrap itself around it creating a narrow front to the green as well as a small back left pin position. There are wetlands and pond to the right off the tee but should not be in play.
15. Par 4 – 348/342/309. Probably the most boring hole on the course as it has no fairway bunkers and only a single long bunker right of the green on this straight hole. The hole plays uphill with Union School Road on the right as out-of-bounds but it is a way off.
16. Par 4 – 417/408/378. Off the tee there is a bunker to the right and two to the left. This hole likely demands the most exacting tee shot to a hole that plays slightly right then left to the green. There is higher ground going down the left side of the fairway. The hole rises all the way to the green where there is a bunker right about 25 yards short and then flanking bunkers. The hole would merit more mention if it had a more interesting green.
17. Par 3 – 222/180/147. For some reason this hole has a very long bunker going down the right side ending in three fingers. The green is set more to the left of this bunker which is a pity. There is substantial room to the left of this bunker for a safe shot as well. The fingers of these bunkers sit below the green. There is a bit of mounding behind the green to protect against going too far over on this slight uphill par 3.
18. Par 5 – 557/529/452. This hole plays uphill and plays as a dogleg left but then back to the right. Bigger hitters can cut the second corner to reach the green in two. There is a single bunker left off the tee where the hole calls for two bunkers. The second bunker is on the right about 60 yards short of the green and one can easily decide to play well short of it. The green has three bunkers on the left side like toes to a green that is small on the right side. There should be at least one bunker on the right or one fronting the green. I do not know why the White tee marker is so much closer as it makes no sense. This is a disappointing finish to an otherwise very nice golf course.
Wyncote achieves its objective as being a very nice public option in the greater Philadelphia area. It is a good choice for the player who wants to hit it as hard as they can off the tee and not be too heavily penalized. It is in good condition. It is also a good venue for outings.
It would be easy to improve this course to raise its profile without adding much to the maintenance budget nor slowing down the pace of play. The course lacks strategy and decision-making which could be easily done with more interesting contouring on the greens, the addition of eight bunkers on the course, making several of the bunkers much deeper, and putting in better contouring near the greens to create false fronts or fall-offs.
Wyncote is an excellent daily fee course that boasts some of the best turf conditions you will get at a public course in the region. When you add in weather conditions that tend to vary from windy to extremely windy, this course is a great challenge for a very skilled player from the tips at just over 7000 yards. It's also a course where with the right conditions, a good player can have a low day due to the rather straight holing of the course.
The 1/10 dualing par 5s are commonly mentioned as the signature holes. My favorite holes are the par 4 4th, which has a tall hill of thick rough along the majority of the right side. A well placed tee ball in the fairway will still leave you a mid to low iron into a small (especially by course standards) green guarded by bunkering. I also enjoy the number one handicap 13th. A left side hazard marred by an aggressive right to left slope in the fairway gives a great tee ball a good chance of a healthy shot into a slightly elevated green guarded by bunkering.
Other than that, the majority of the holes are unmemorable and if nothing, at least in good shape for a course that undoubtedly gets a ton of play. If you are in the philly area and can't get on a private course, I would look to Glen Mills first (especially because it is a bit closer), however Wyncote is a solid track where you will feel like you got your moneys worth for the course.
There's no question that anyone heading to play Wyncote will get the best of service from an attentive staff and an equal element on the course conditioning side which is very well presented. The main lacking issue is an architectural style up to the task in matching the other two aforementioned areas.
That's not say there's nothing worth remembering. The shared green with the two par-5's at the 1st and 10th is a good touch. But for the most part the holes are simply sprawled out over a large canvass with large houses occupying most of the other available ground.
The general lament for public course players is the inability to have quality turf. That's not the case with Wyncote. While the chassis looks grand there's nothing really under the hood to really hold one's attention.
by M. James Ward