Glen Mills

6,314 yards, 138 slope from the Blues, designed by Bobby Weed.

Course:  Located in Glen Mills, PA, The Golf Course at Glenn Mills is generally regarded as one of, if not the best, public courses in the area and is ranked as one of the top in the state as well.  Courses with such a lofty reputation typically either disappoint and are overvalued; shine in one area (conditions, design, etc.), but fall woefully short in others; or, in the rarest of cases, live up to the hype in all aspects and go above and beyond expectations.  Glen Mills falls in to the latter category for me.  I have played here for years now and have always loved this course for many reasons.  And each year, as I play more and more quality courses, I start to wonder whether my memory of GM is too lofty.  Then I return and I feel more than justified in praising this place as much as I do.  
Even before I golfed or moved to the East Coast, this is what I would think of when I thought of the ideal east coast course.  It’s best described as a parkland course that creatively uses its terrain while using trees efficiently yet effectively.  The natural environment consists of hills, brooks, forest and ponds with no intrusion of residences or roads (although it looks like a single house is being built near the Fourth green).  The design, particularly the routing, is very well done, providing variety, the right amount of challenge and reward, and emphasizes precision on the second and third shots.  The greens are also some of the fastest and toughest on a public course I know of.  There are different ways to play each hole, which caters to different playing styles and allows you to get creative. You also always get new and refreshing experiences as you move from hole to hole.  Just when uphill gets too much, you go downhill. Grueling par 5? You get a little knock down par 3.  What I really enjoy is that the course is embedded in the environment. There are no trees needed to create obstacles, or forced carries, or silly pin placements. The course uses the area’s hills, ridges and streams to give you a fulfilling round, no matter what you score.  
Beyond the design, conditions are terrific and service is always friendly.  Glen Mills is also nationally known for its program assisting troubled juveniles by employing them as groundsmen and bag boys. That makes me feel good, but the course makes me feel best. Simply put, I love this course. 
The First is a 357 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  You tee off to a pretty generously wide fairway, that drops down to a green you can’t see from the tee area.  A couple bunkers are on the right side of the tee landing area and surround the green while the fairway spills around the green.  Just like most of the holes, off fairway has some decent sized rough to contend with.  It’s a nice opening hole that starts the balance of the course just right.  

The First
Approach shot territory
The First green, where we all are introduced to the challenging putting

The Second is a 416 yard par 4.  It’s one of my favorite holes of the course.  The tee shot is angled with severe bunkers running up the left side of the fairway to the well sized green, slightly uphill.  A coffin bunker guards the green and must be carried unless you’re over on the left side of the fairway, near the bunkers on that side.  
The Second
Approach shot territory, with the coffin bunker guarding the green on the other side
The Second green
The Third is a 376 yard par 4.  The first three holes are par 4’s of similar distance, but each couldn’t be more different.  That is the type of variety and routing this course does well.  The Third features another the shot that favors a fade or a draw based on its angle to the fairway, with the green set on the left side protected by cross bunkers and anything too long OB.  As can be seen on this hole that holds true throughout the round are the greens are fairly large, but include so many terraces, ridges and undulations that placing the ball on the correct area of the green is paramount to scoring well here.  
The Third
Approach shot territory
The Fourth is a 548 yard par 5 that is a double dog leg and runs downhill for the most part.  Again, a draw or fade is preferred off the tee because of the angle of the fairway.  

The fairway then turns left and downhill before turning right, around a lower area full of rough and bunkers.  It’s a Cape style hole, tempting you to carry the second dog leg and try to stick the green, yet anything in that goes in the lower rough makes for a pretty difficult recovery shot.  The second shot is one of the tougher in the area, as even trying to lay up in the area is a risky proposition because of the narrow and winding fairway.

The Fourth
Second shot territory.  The fairway is off to the left and slants down and diagonally right.  The green is straight ahead.
Approach shot territory

The Fifth is a 171 yard par 3.  It’s a blind shot to a large green that hides itself from the tee area.  Bunkers flash in front of the green, trying to get you to club up, but trust your distance and keep in mind there is a lot of green you can’t see.

The Fifth.  The green is one the far side of those bunkers.  

The Sixth is a 528 yard par 5.  It’s a dog leg right that creates a longer second and third shot, but you must get your tee shot past the dog leg to think about scoring well.  This is one of the fee holes where the trees tighten up and frame the hole and the fairway has a hill slope along the left side and a slope that goes down hill OB along the right side.  It’s easy to enjoy the solitude you get playing this hole.

The Sixth

Second shot territory, with the green straight ahead

The Seventh is a 208 yard par 3.  The tees are usually set further up, making the hole shorter, but the green is uphill from the tee and has three tiers, an upper, middle and lower, all which runs from back to the front.  Putting downhill, or from tier to tier, is always difficult, so pin placement is vital to this hole.  Anything too far right either ends in deep bunkers or OB, while anything too far left either lands on a hillside towards the green or ends up losing their ball in the woods.  It’s usually the easiest or toughest par 3 on the course.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 313 par 4.  It’s a great short par 4, with the tee shot semi blind and the fairway set downhill from the tee area and a hill side on the right hiding a lot of the hole, with the Glen Mill school int he background.  Just like the Fifth, there is a lot more room than can be seen from the tee.  The green is visually intimidating, as it is very shallow and wide, yet the entire front of the green is closely shaved and runs off a steep hill, so anything hit too short will roll off the green and back to the fairway another 50 yards.  Suffice to say, your approach shot must be precise.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 376 yard par 4.  Like the Eighth, the Ninth is set on a hill side, running right to left. The hillside blocks an entire view of the fairway, but not as much as the Eighth.  The fairway then descends sharply downhill before jutting up to the green, creating a significant valley you need to carry to the green, which is horse shoe shaped and has an effective bunker set short and left at the base of the hill upon which the green sits.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory, with the clubhouse in the background

Generally, the front nine loops around the south side of the property, using the hills, woods and selective bunkering to create different angles and visuals, providing a great range of holes in terms of distance and difficulty.  I’d rank them 2, 9, 4, 6, 8, 1, 7, 5, 3.

The back nine starts with the 195 yard Tenth.  It’s a drop shot to a large green that has an upper tier and lower tier, with the lower tier being on the right.  There are bunkers towards the front of the green, which is fairly large, and putting uphill is preferred, so aim to the right side of the green.

The Tenth

The Eleventh is a 364 yard par 4 and is the number 1 handicapped hole.  It’s some what controversial because of rumblings that the fairway is way too narrow and demanding.  Possibly, but you’re able to take many clubs off the tee in place of driver and the approach shot is pretty straight forward.  There is a stream on the left and hillside on the right that forms the boundaries of the hole, while the green can be accessed from the fairway on the front while bunkers are to the left of the green.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a 329 yard par 4.  The tee shot is pretty much blind to the raised fairway, that rises, then falls to the green that sits below the fairway.  It’s yet another short par 4 that is adequately defended with bunkers and rough on the right side and woods on the left to require an accurate tee shot, which is rewarded with a straight forward down hill approach shot.  With a lake on the right, the Twelfth takes you deep into the property and it gets rather serene with nothing around other than the golf and natural setting.

The Twelfth

The Twelfth green

The Thirteenth is a 421 yard par 4.  The fairway runs at a 5:00 to 11:00 angle from the fairway, so a draw off the tee is the best shot.  There is a wet lands area that you must carry from the tee area and the green is similar to the Twelfth in that the approach shot is relatively straight forward.  Bunkers are strategically placed to penalize errant tee shots, which could make this hole tough in a hurry.

The Thirteenth
Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 154 yard par 3.  It’s a Redan par 3, with the green angled and sloping left to right, a larger bunker on the short and left of the green, and the green itself raised from the tee.  There are a lot of variations of the Redan, but this set up is similar to original, which can be found on the Fifteenth hole of the West Links of North Berwick in Scotland.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 513 yard par 5.  Yet another partially blind tee shot to a fairway that runs from 7:00 to 2:00, but either a fade or draw is fine here.  The hole then runs downhill to a long multi tiered green surrounded by bunkers.  You get a nice view of the area as you descend on the fairway to the green and to me, the second shot here is the most important for scoring well, as you have a ton of options on how to attack the hole.

The Fifteenth

Second shot territory

Further down the fairway, with the green in the distance

The Sixteenth is a 146 yard par 3.  The lake you initially saw on the Twelfth cuts in on the right side, forcing you to carry it to get to the green.  There is a small yet nasty trench bunker long and left of the green to collect those that have too much club, giving them a downhill pitch shot.  It’s a scenic hole and there really is no room for mis hits.

The Sixteenth

The lake, off to the right of the Sixteenth
Another shot of the lake, with the Sixteenth tee on the right

The Seventeenth is a 472 yard par 5.  I’ve always felt that the last two holes are one of the toughest closing holes I’ve seen, as both have relatively narrow tee landing areas and require tricky approach shots.  The Seventeenth is a forced carry tee shot over I’d characterize as a boulder field to a narrow fairway that splits into two, with the right side going uphill towards the green and the left side running into a collection area downhill from the green.  I don’t think I’ve ever scored well on this hole.

The Seventeenth
Going down the fairway, sun shining down pretty brightly

The Eighteenth is a 427 yard par 4.  The tee shot is another forced carry over a creek to a fairway that runs at a 5:00 to 11:00 angle to the green.  The fairway also splits then comes back together just before the green to make way for a bunker complex.  The green is blind for most approach shots because it sits below the fairway and there are mounds that jut up just in front of the green.

The Eighteenth
Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth green

Generally, the back nine ranges nicely as to width of hole and going further out in the gorgeous property makes for great scenery amidst shorter holes that require more precise approach shots (the back nine is 272 yards shorter than the front).  Ranking them, I’d go 18, 16, 12, 14, 17, 11, 13, 15, 10.

Glen Mills has remained my favorite course for years.  It has a terrific combination of spectacular scenery, an interesting design, outstanding routing, friendly service and near perfect conditions.  The course remains challenging while being accessible to golfers of all skill levels, and can be played a number of different ways.  Considering all it’s able to do really well, I consider it the best public course in the Philadelphia area.

Gripes: No alcohol. Green fees steep, although worth it. Just wish they were lower so I could play here more. Very tough greens to putt.

Bar/grill: Um, no bar. A decent area to sit and eat something small, no tv. Great outdoor area though.

Clubhouse: Very nice. Actually nicer than grill area. Stocked with great equipment and also a lounge area at the entrance to relax pre or post round.

Nearby: Duffer’s Pub or a higher end strip mall where you could grab a few at PF Chang’s or whatever place it might be now.

Getting there: A little tough. On Route 1 probably 30 -45 minutes from 76.

Update:  Played there late in the season 2011.  Probably my 10th time playing there and after every time, I like the course even more.  What stuck with me this time was the routing.  I know I mentioned it before, but the routing really meshes with the course well and makes the experience enjoyable, even if you’re not playing as well as you’re used to.  I also think a lot of the tee shots lended themselves to draws or fades, depending on what trouble was left or right.  A striped tee shot didn’t seem to be the right play most of the time, with mounds in the fairways and the tees angled towards trouble.  The par 3’s demanded great ball striking more than power, as each was between 130 – 150.  It’s been said before but worth repeating; this course is enjoyable for every type of golfer ranging from scratch to hacker.  The green fees are probably too steep for the hacker, but it’s certainly accessible to such a diversity of golfer, which I find is rare.  Finally, the practice area is much better than I remember, so I may need to adjust for that in my rankings.  This course continues to be on my short list not just locally, but overall.  As promised, I took photos.

The first hole, then the second further up



Second hole green, looking back at the hole

Green of the 4th, the first par 3.  The mounds make it seem like the green is half the size it actually is.
Tee shot of 5th hole, almost begging for a fade off the tee

Tee shot on 8 with Glen Mills school in the background

Closer look at 8.  The green sits up on a narrow ridge.

Tee shot at 11.  Hill on right, creek on left.
Tee shot at 12.  Blind shot that is asking for the old fade.

Looking at 12th fairway, then across to the par 3 16th.

Update, August 2012:  Another banner day at the Glen.  This time around, I used my 3 wood off the tee except for 2, 4, 15, 17 and 18.  This decision off the tee wasn’t because you have to hit it relatively straight, but rather I noticed that hitting it too close to the green left you with tougher approach shots than from 150 out.  Some examples.  On the Sixth, hitting it straight off the tee too far will put you in the woods.  You could cut it, but even the longest hitters could reach the cart path and rough surrounds the area.  As it’s a par 5, your second shot is now in the rough, putting you at a disadvantage.  Instead, I like to hit it to the dog leg, keep it up on the short stuff, then knock it close for a nice lob to the green.  On the Ninth, hitting it too far down the fairway gives you a severe downhill lie for your second shot to an uphill green.  On the Thirteenth, too far a drive puts you in the bunkers on the left.  You need a severe draw to make it come back.  The Seventeenth narrows a lot after the tee shot, making it imperative to hit it straight and some what left to leave yourself a good look at the green, but I hit driver here anyways because you need to get it far enough down the hole to get par or better.  At any rate, 3 wood worked out well for me.

Three complaints this time.  The tee areas were beat up.  Some of the greens had too many divot marks.  Not that hard to fix those, guys.  But more generally, there was a lot of cart path only (CPO) areas that drove me nuts.  No more so than the Seventeenth and Eighteenth.  You can’t see where your ball is from the cart path and the path is no where near the fairway, so you basically lug 7 of your clubs half a mile to your ball and hit.  Then you have to trek back to the cart and try to find your ball and do it all over again.  I may walk next time to take care of this issue.  Other holes where this is jump off a cliff annoying: Sixth, Eleventh, Twelfth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth.  Finally, there were a ton of deer.  That could be good or bad, depending on the situation.

This continues to be a special place.  It remains interesting and challenging while providing a peaceful and serene surroundings for a refreshing round.  No matter my score, I also come away in a relaxed and reinvigorated mood after my round here, remembering my good shots, how I could have scored better and played holes differently and inevitably, when I can get back.

More photos:

The approach at the Second.  It’s a large green, so make sure you club up to carry those nasty bunkers.

200 yard shot at the Fourth.  It’s a double dog leg and the green is off to the right.

The Seventh.  I wanted to show the bunkers along the entire side of the hole.

The Eighth.  A shorter hole, with the green about 2:00 of the 150 pin.

Forward tees of the Ninth.
The approach at the Ninth

The Twelfth.  The green is downhill right in front of those trees straight ahead.

The Fourteenth “Redan” Tees were up today.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth tee.  Be sure to clear the rock field.

The approach at the Seventeenth.  The green is tucked in to the hillside on the right.

Tee shot at the Eighteenth.  There were a bunch here and the doe kept coming over to me , which made me nervous they’d decide to jump me.

Approach at the Eighteenth.  Very large green.

Update Update Update

October 2013:  A gorgeous fall day and was finally able to update this review with photos of every hole.  As happens pretty much every year, I don’t get here at all and then I start wondering whether the course will hold up to all the new ones I’ve played it.  Yet it does hold up and then some.  I think the slope rating went up a few points and the greens seemed particularly difficult, but the natural surroundings and the weather were perfect.  It’s a special place and for me, crystallizes why I enjoy this game so much.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

August 2014:  I met a few friends for a round to finally play here this year.  Conditions were great.  The greens were tougher than I remember them and even more than Jeffersonville, I realized that this course emphasizes a good tee game or strokes can add up quickly.  The setting, routing and design are first rate.  And it’s tough to figure out which factor out of those I like the most.  The setting is almost perfect for a park land course, with only Yale coming to mind as better.  The routing is well done.  Stepping up to each tee, I’m almost glad to play the hole, as each begins and ends a new chapter of the round.  And the design; I suppose it’s possible that the course could be poor in such a setting, but fortunately that’s not the case.  I like Weed’s clever use of terrain, especially the par 5’s and short par 4’s.  Each is unique and along with the routing, placed in great order.  But above all, I enjoy myself here a lot, each time I play, even if my score is not worth repeating.  Some say that a course fits their eye, but I would say me and this course get along very well.  I see this place as one of the premiere public courses to play in the area.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

June 2017: Another spectacular round and shot my best score of the course ever!  It’s just consistently terrific and for that reason, stays right where it is in my rankings.  Take anyone from out of town visiting here to showcase what Philadelphia’s public course scene consists of.

I include the biarritz green of the Fifteenth because with the pin on the deep side, it certainly makes the hole a lot more challenging.  Even with hitting the green in 3, I ended up fourth putting!

The Biarritz green at the Fifteenth

A slightly closer look

     

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