It is hard to name another golf club that compares to Gulph Mills Golf Club. The understated elegance and quiet atmosphere make it the ultimate members golf club. This was my second time playing Gulph Mills Golf Club, I really got the feel for how quiet and low-key the Club is. There have never been tee times nor is there a need to, as the average round is probably about three hours and the average group is a 2 or 3 some. In the locker room a member joked “there’s a long wait on the first tee this morning,” as one foursome was teeing off when we arrived. I’d consider yesterday (probably the nicest weather day of the year) a busy day for the Club and we barely saw another group throughout the round.
The course is up there with the best of them, and is by all means a championship layout. The length may not seem all that intimidating at roughly 6,600 yards from the back tees, but there is a lot of work to be done on approaches and around the greens. Donald Ross did a terrific job of using the land to his advantage, utilizing the natural elevation changes to challenge golfers in every aspect of their game. The tee shots require careful accuracy and the approaches are to elevated greens sloping mostly from back to front.
Having played Chicago Golf Club last summer I noticed quite a few similarities despite different architects (Raynor designed CGC). The green complexes are quite a bit bigger at Chicago Golf, but the greens at Gulph Mills are not exactly small by any means. The greens were actually redesigned by William Flynn but the layout remained the original Donald Ross design. So it’s the ultimate hybrid between two of the best Golden Age architects. The main similarity I felt between Gulph Mills Golf Club and Chicago Golf is that the majority of the par-4’s have elevated tees shots downhill into the fairway and then back up to elevated greens. This makes shorter holes feel much longer than they look on paper and also makes club selection very difficult.
The pins were in difficult spots and I found myself grinding for pars after hitting the majority of the greens in regulation. The undulating greens make even short putts difficult. My strategy of aiming for the middle of every green which was safe because I had many birdie putts, none of which felt like birdie opportunities!
The key to scoring well is to take advantage of the short par-5’s. They aren’t long holes but don’t take that for granted because they still present plenty of challenges especially off of the tee. If in position off of the tee, birdie is a definate posibility.
The number one handicap hole and easily one of the best holes I’ve ever played is the par-4 third. The tee shot is from an elevated tee into a fairway sloping away from you to a stream that runs through the hole about 300 yards out. The approach is back up to a massive right to left sloping green that can be nearly impossible if out of position. After hitting a decent drive I was left with 180 yards to a right pin position up on the top tier which is a tough pin placement as the top tier isn’t very big.
While the third is easily the hardest hole on the course, the thirteenth hole was likely my favorite. It is a straight away par-4 that is all uphill to a massive punchbowl green. If the greens were any faster, my putt from the middle of the green to a left pin would have rolled all the way off of the green back into the fairway – another example of why many of by “birdie” putts didn’t feel like birdie chances at all.
The par threes are excellent, the best likely being the fourteenth hole which plays about 200 yards to another undulating green that well protected and easy to get out of position on.
The finishing stretch features some tough doglegs on fifteen and sixteen, the tough downhill par-3 seventeenth and a unique par-5 to finish that goes straight back uphill to the clubhouse. Finishing the last six even par is tough task and requires some great tee shots. Fifteen and sixteen are both severe doglegs that can be very difficult if you hit a bad tee shot. Seventeen is a long downhill par three to a green sloping away from you making a long iron tough to stop. Again the green has some severe slopes making a 2-putt challenging. Eighteen is a short par-5 that can be scoreable if in good position off of the tee. The approach is straight uphill to a really difficult green that slopes from back to front. Get above the hole and you could be looking at a 50 yard pitch coming back.
After finishing a round at Gulph Mills Golf Club you realize just how impressive the course is. It makes you work for a good score, especially around the greens. Everything about our round was enjoyable, especially the fact that we didn’t wait on a single shot or even see another group ahead of us. The laid-back, low-key style of the Club makes for a one of a kind experience that you won’t find too many places.