The tee is mildly elevated. The green is markedly elevated. The 459-yard par 4 is mightily intimidating. The drive must carry a stream about 175 yards out, as well as a long slit of sand edging more than halfway across the fairway from the right. Majestic hardwoods frame the landing area. There is no room to bail out.
The uphill second shot is constricted on both sides by more of these handsome trees and, for good measure, on the right by a perilously close boundary signaled by a steep, old railway embankment. The slippery two-tiered green is, mercifully, open across the front but defended by sand right and left. There are no tricks, no quirks, no surprises. The hole is all in full view from the start, all very straightforward—and unnervingly difficult.
The 9th hole at Philadelphia Cricket Club’s Flourtown course is one of the world’s classic two-shotters, and, along with the other 17 holes here, it is the handiwork of a man who was a member of the club for many years: Albert Warren Tillinghast.
Founded in 1854, the Cricket Club was just that and no more for its first 30 years. In 1895 England’s Willie Tucker, who would design the initial nine holes at Long Island’s Maidstone a year later, laid out a nine. The new game was so enthusiastically embraced that a second nine was added two years later, giving the club what was then considered championship golf: 6,123 yards, par 73. It was on this 18 that Tillinghast learned the game—and competed in the 1907 U.S. Open.
Half the original course had been laid out on leased land, which was sold by the owner in 1925. On the remaining nine, holes 1, 2, 3, 6 (the green complex only), 7, 8 and 9 remain just as they were played in the 1910 Open. Alhough respectful of this historic 18, Tillinghast was keenly aware of the course’s shortcomings.
In 1920, following his direction, the Cricket Club bought 315 rolling acres in the Whitemarsh Valley near Flourtown. Of such character and variety, such challenge and charm is this 18 that 80 years later it remains essentially unchanged. Oh, the trees have matured, some fairway bunkers on the fourth and sixth have been eliminated, and the third green has been rebuilt. But the Flourtown course we play today is the one Tillinghast laid out—make no mistake about that. It is perhaps the least tinkered-with of all his outstanding designs.
The last three holes are par 4s, all doglegging subtly right to left. The doglegs are the only thing gentle about this trio. The 16th, 422 yards, plays from a high tee across a valley to a landing area corseted by trees and sand on the opposite slope. The second shot, which must avoid bunkers left and right of the green, is rarely less than a 4-iron. At the 410-yard 17th, the knobby green, full of ripples both subtle and pronounced, is even harder to hit than its predecessor. As for the 18th, a man-eating 477 yards, it is one of the glories of the game. Its broad fairway drifts almost imperceptibly downhill through the trees. A drive of less than 240 yards simply will not do, for the hole now falls thrillingly to a two-level green far below, flanked by sand, embowered by trees and backdropped by the beautiful 19th-century farmhouse.
Members and their fortunate guests continue to relish their rounds at the club where Tillinghast—the master at the top of his redoubtable form—created a course fully worthy of mention in the same breath with Winged Foot and Baltusrol and San Francisco Golf and Quaker Ridge.