Philadelphia has long been home to some of the best golf courses in the world, including Merion, Aronimink and Pine Valley. There is a sleeper course, not known to many, that is just as good as these courses, if not better: Rolling Green Golf Club.
The course, founded by a group made up primarily of local Quakers, was built during the Roaring Twenties when many Philadelphia courses were constructed. William Flynn, the course architect, started construction in 1925 on a rugged and hilly parcel just outside Philadelphia. A year later, Howard Toomey finalized the course with holes that are considered long by today’s standards. Flynn used elevated greens rather than an abundance of water hazards; he felt the recovery shot was the best part of the game, and the long holes and uphill nature of the course appealed to his athleticism.
In 2008, the course went through a massive renovation headed by Forse Design Inc., renowned for their work on classic courses. Painstaking research, which included finding archived photographs, and a little detective work helped bring the course back to the original Flynn philosophy. An archaeological dig revealed that the original bunkers were often two to three feet deeper, changing the dynamics of the course.
Rolling Green helped put me through college and introduced me to the sport. I worked at the course during the summer, which afforded me the luxury of playing on Mondays with the caddies. When I married after college, there was no doubt we would hold the reception at the clubhouse. Revisiting Rolling Green was a real homecoming.
Hole 6 (205 yards, par 3)
This is a classic Flynn hole. Only a near-perfect tee shot will land the green, and it will take more club than it appears from the box. Many shots come up short and right, leaving a difficult chip up to the green. Others find the traps which line both forward positions and protect the green on the right and left.
Hole 2 (449 yards, par 4)
On this dogleg left, you must drive from the elevated tee over a swale to the elevated fairway. There is ample room on the right at the turn to place your drive, but most players attempt to cut this corner and get caught in the three fairway traps on the left corner. Your approach is tricky, as two traps left and right of the green often catch decent shots. The green slopes left to right and back to front.
Hole 8 (442 yards, par 4)
This is another killer, from an elevated tee box to the island fairway below. You must land your drive to this island position; a creek runs across the fairway and then turns back to run along the right side. A driver might be too much club, and you will probably want to select a fairway wood. I usually end up with a horrific lie on the side of the creek, offering me a punch-out to the fairway. Your second shot is extremely difficult to an elevated green — many balls land on the front of the green and roll back down the hill, leaving a long chip back. I have also seen excellent green placement, only to see the players putt the ball to the forward pin placement and off the green and down the hill. Members chuckle as their guests struggle; experience is the only way to master this hole.
Hole 9 (615 yards, par 5)
Who knows what Flynn was thinking when he designed this monster of a hole! It is the talk of every Philadelphia golfer who has played Rolling Green. From the tee box, you need to muster all your strength and control and land a ball as far as possible favoring the left side of the fairway. The hole has a large slope, so as balls land they will roll right. Aiming too far left gets you caught in the rough, with a very uncomfortable lie and second shot. For the best shot to the green you need another near-perfect fairway wood landing far right center. The entire hole is uphill to an elevated green which slopes back to front. Stop at the halfway house snack bar (one of my summer jobs) for a well-deserved refreshment.
Hole 10 (258 yards, par 3)
Bring out the big guns for this par 3, which Jim Nagle of Forse Design calls “the best short par 4 in Philadelphia.” It will take all the carry you can muster to reach the green. I have seen many balls come up short or land in the traps, two on the left and one on the right.
Hole 12 (362 yards, par 4)
This is a fun hole but can become very difficult depending on your drive as you tee off from an elevated green to a valley below. Beware of the three fairway traps on the right side. Further complicating your landing position is a lone bunker left, so you need an accurate and straight drive. The hole then turns slightly right to an elevated green with the fieldstone greenskeeper’s house as a backdrop. Several traps along the left side of the green catch those who under- and over-club.
Hole 13 (445 yards, par 4)
This is a great hole that really gives you the feel for the Flynn design. It requires a very well-placed and long drive to bring home a comfortable regulation landing of your approach shot. Drive your ball left center; too far right will block you from your shot to the green. A creek traverses in front of the green about 100 yards out; your approach is from the elevated fairway to the plateaued green.
Hole 18 (491 yards, par 4)
Listed on the card as a par 4/5, this is a long and difficult dogleg right. Trees lining both sides of the fairway make any errant shot unrecoverable. Drive your ball left center, but not too far left or branches will affect your next shot. Your next placement is toward the green, which rises up to its elevated placement. Three traps guard the right side where the hole turns right, and two more line the right side as you approach. A lone trap stands to the left of the green, which slopes severely from back to front.
Rolling Green Golf Club
280 N. State Road
Springfield, PA 19064
tel 610 544 4500
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