Originally chartered in May 1902 as the Delaware County Country Club, Llanerch can proudly claim to be one of the oldest golf clubs in the United States. The first 18-hole course opened in 1903, followed by several metamorphoses and merges. As the Delaware County Field Club, its mission was “to encourage all athletic endeavors.” In 1911, it joined with the Athletic Club of Philadelphia.
When that merger ended in 1914, the name changed to the Bon Air Country Club. One of the first duties of the membership was to replace the sand greens with grass. A massive fire destroyed the clubhouse in 1918, resulting in a change to its current name, the Llanerch Country Club. The ownership brought in noted golf architect Alexander H. Findlay to design the championship 27 holes. The new course opened in 1928 to much fanfare and excitement.
In 1938, ownership shifted once again, and after World War II the course was almost sold to create much-needed housing in the Philadelphia area. Thankfully, a group of investors rescued 119 acres and reconstructed an 18-hole course layout following much of Findlay’s design. In the 1940s and 1950s, Llanerch hosted many championship tournaments, including the 1958 PGA Championship.
The club undertook long-range plans in 1995, starting several initiatives including a design tweaking of the 18-hole course by Stephen Kay. Kay has extensive experience bringing back to life the classic courses designed by greats like Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, Devereux Emmet and Charles Banks. This long-range plan included a major renovation and enlargement of the clubhouse and the facilities.
I teed off with Gerry Patrick, Lucky Bob Hancock and John Kelly (a member of Llanerch) for a fun-filled, hot August day. Gerry, Bob and their childhood friends grew up close to the course; their mischief included taking tee markers, flags and a 25-foot aiming pole from Llanerch in the late 1960s and early ’70s, all while eluding the Upper Darby Police Department as they crossed township lines with these treasured items. John Kelly was on guard during our round for any suspicious behavior from the two hooligans!
Hole 1 | 403 yards, par 4
When you par the first hole out of the gate, it makes you think you’re going to have an incredible round. My tee shot landed to the right side of the fairway and bounced to the left, as the entire fairway runs from right to left. The rest of the team sprayed their drives in various directions: Gerry and Bob shot left, but John headed into the trees. He took the tree route — or should I say “root” — all the way to the green. My second shot landed pin high but on the right side of the right trap. A lucky lob wedge to the green allowed me a putt for par. Bogeys and double bogeys for the rest.
Hole 2 | 432 yards, par 4
Leave it to Findlay to design the No. 1 ranked hole in the first batch. What makes this hole difficult is the length required to land in two strokes, plus a fairway that’s elevated and surrounded with pines. Lucky Bob, not in his regular form, hit a painful-looking drive, slamming into a brown patch at the beginning of the fairway. I commented, “That’s why the grass is brown there” to laughs from the others. To make matters worse, the green is two-tiered with four bunkers around the circumference. Lots of high, disappointing scores.
Hole 15 | 321 yards, par 4
This should not be a difficult hole, but I was lured into the fairway traps on the left side and went from trap to trap to a trap by the green. The smart move is to lay up short of the moguls and traps on the left side. John followed my lead but with more zest, landing left and squarely behind a tree. We seldom saw Gerry and Lucky Bob on 15; some say they fell off the edge of the world on the right side. Llanerch is a course that needs to be played a few times — course knowledge is key.
Hole 17 | 150 yards, par 3
Here’s a nice par 3 with an elevated green as you pass a tranquil babbling brook. Not so tranquil as Bob took a cellphone call from his son, who had just jumped in the Atlantic Ocean with his electronic BMW key in his pocket! I kept my composure, hitting an over-aggressive 8-iron just over the green into Llanerch’s signature high rough. A little chip let me walk away with one of my few pars of the day, while Bob continued to babble like the brook to BMW, trying to gain access to the vehicle.
Hole 18 | 296 yards, par 4
Start with a par and end with a par, that’s my motto — with a lot of junk in between. This signature hole at Llanerch features an imposing pond to clear and the beautiful, recently renovated clubhouse in the foreground. I shot a drive too far left (at least that’s what I thought), but after searching near the creek, I saw that a lucky tree had caught me, and John found me safely in play in the rough. An easy iron shot got me to the green, where I two-putted for par. This is a wonderful closing hole — you feel like you’re practically in the Men’s Grill when you are putting on this tricky surface. It was a lot of fun to play Llanerch, a childhood memory we finally experienced as adults — well, sort of adults!
Llanerch Country Club
950 West Chester Pike
Havertown, PA 19083
tel 610 446 2232
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