Founded in 1854, the Philadelphia Cricket Club holds the unique distinction of being the oldest country club in America. As the name suggests, the club was founded by a group of students from the University of Pennsylvania with the intent of continuing their cricket pursuits post-graduation. While cricket remained a focus of the club through the beginning of the 20th century, the game of golf was taking center stage at the club during the original boom in the late 1800s. In addition to being the oldest country club in America, the Cricket Club also remains the only club to have three golf courses established in three different centuries: St Martins (1895 / 1897), Wissahickon (1922) and Militia Hill (2002).
With the lease of the St Martins property in Chestnut Hill coming to an end in 1920, the club settled on a more spacious property in nearby Flourtown to be home to their new championship course. With the new property secured, the club commissioned member A.W. Tillinghast to lay out the 18-hole course, with plans for a second course on the current Militia Hill site that never came to fruition under Tillinghast’s watchful eye. A student of the Philadelphia School of Golf Architecture, Tillinghast was at the peak of his career with previous designs including notable courses such as: Somerset Hills (1917), San Francisco Golf Club (1918), Quaker Ridge (1918) and Baltusrol Lower and Upper (1922).
Hole 7: Philadelphia Cricket Club (Wissahickon); Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
Among the many unique features of this parkland design, Tillinghast implemented his famous “Hell’s Half Acre” bunker on the 7th hole. Known more commonly as the “Great Hazard” this design feature has been used by Tillinghast commonly throughout his career with other great examples featured at Pine Valley, Bethpage Black and Baltimore Country Club (East) among others. Additional template features such as the “Hell’s Quarter Acre” bunkering on the Par 4 14th and Redan green on the long Par 3 15th make the course both memorable and engaging.
Hole 14 and 15: Philadelphia Cricket Club (Wissahickon); Photo Credit: Jon Cavalier @linksgems
As with many great golf courses from the Golden Age of Golf Course Architecture, while the Cricket Club had fantastic Tillinghast bones years of over-planting trees led to a design that left the course a shell of its former self. Under the guidance of Tillinghast restoration expert Keith Foster, the club was able to re-implement these lost features to create a golf course that is exciting and playable for all skill levels. While there have been many articles highlighting Keith Foster’s remarkable transformation of the Wissahickon course, one cannot begin to appreciate the tremendous work his team has done without visiting the club.
With recent tournaments such as the Senior Players Championship and PGA of America National Championship, the club is looking forward to hosting the 2020 USGA Men’s Four-Ball, its first USGA championship since the 1910 US Open held at the St. Martins course in Chestnut Hill. Overall, few courses in the United States can rival the rich history, golf course and fantastic staff at the Philadelphia Cricket Club. A round on the Wissahickon course is a timeless experience filled with excitement, intrigue and beauty at every corner!