Course: Pilgrim’s Oak is one of the further courses that I include as “Philly area,” as it’s way down Route 1 South, then another 15 – 20 minutes through sprawling farm countryside until you reach Peach Bottom, PA, which is almost a stone’s throw from Maryland. Regardless, the drive is pleasant and the course is worth it. Pilgrim’s is set on lush rolling farmland terrain with a good amount of trees. The course was designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan. That may not ring the same bells as Pete Dye, Tom Doak or Coore & Crenshaw, but it should. Hurdzan has an impressive portfolio, including Philadelphia Cricket Club (Militia Hill), Jericho National, Nehsanic Valley, Eagles Landing, Sand Barrens, the recent Erin Hills and renovation work at Scioto. Like Donald Ross, I enjoyed playing many of Hurdzan’s courses before realizing that he was behind their design, which made me like him that much more.
Simply put, Pilgrim’s is the standard when it comes to farmland courses. Hurdzan maximized the landscape he had to work with, sculpted fairways and greens to make things more sophisticated and utilized the hills and trees to create a lot of interesting shots. It all adds up to an interesting layout that’s challenging, scenic and magnifies your tee to green game. Spectacular conditioning and the quiet rural setting make it that much more special. Mix all of that in to insanely low green fees and I have no qualms with proclaiming Pilgrim’s as one of the best values in Pennsylvania.
The drive is the one thing keeps me from being a regular here. I finally decided it was time to dedicate a day to get down to Peach Bottom and play one of my favorite courses. With one of my buddies in tow that plays all the good golf for the both of us, we took the voyage down to Pilgrim’s and had a blast.
Even though the clubhouse is understated, service is fantastic. A gentleman met us at the car with a cart, greeted us, then walked off, leaving us the cart. I paid for a dozen balls that was pretty much the price of the green fee as well and after warming up at the range (it didn’t take much because it was extremely hot, even at 8:00 in the morning), we were able to tee off as a twosome.
The problem was, for me, my swing decided not to show up with me at the tee and I was a mess for most of the round. It was pretty disappointing, as I had visions of besting my PB here by 7 or 8 strokes, but after swearing off the game, convincing myself my clubs were all defective and blaming devious pin positions, I was able to salvage a few good holes and certainly was able to have a good time, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
At any rate, you start off at the 378 yard par 4 First. The tee shot is blind, as the fairway shoots downhill to the green. A very well hit tee shot will get pretty close to the green. Anything mis hit will be tough to find, so try to go straight above all else.
Looking back at the fairway from the green
The Second is a 393 par 4. The tee shot must reach an elevated fairway that is partially blind and some what narrow. The hole itself is set on the the side of a hill, which runs from right to left. It snakes a little to the right with a large bunker carved into the hillside to a larger green where anything long or left can run off the green. One of the tougher second holes I can think of.
Coming down the fairway
The Third is a 367 yard par 4. The tee shot is elevated and you hit down to a fairway that descends to a creek that bisects the hole. It’s all woods along the entire left side of the hole and anything from a mid to long iron is usually good enough to get close to the end of the fairway. The green looks subtle, from slopes severely from right to left. Another tough hole to finish a pretty tough opening trio.
At the creek that bisects the fairway
The Fourth lets up as a short par 3 at 117 yards. It’s one of the easiest holes on the course and is pretty straightforward with a larger green.
The Fifth is a 329 yard par 4. The entire hole is right in front of you, as the elevated tee shot is to the fairway below that climbs up to an elevated green. The rough is punishing and the hole plays longer than the stated yardage, so you need two solid shots to get to the green. If you’re going to miss, miss right.
Approach shot territory
The Sixth is a 470 yard par 5. The tee shot is to a fairway that’s slightly uphill, which then dog legs right around a group of bunkers. The fairway is wide and it’s pretty manageable for a nice chance at birdie.
Going down the fairway
A look at the green
The Seventh is a 396 yard par 4. The tee shot is over water to a fairway that rolls over a hill crest to a deep but narrow green. The green runs off in pretty much every direction. Clubbing down on the approach is probably a good idea. It’s tough to hold the green and you’re actually hitting downhill to the green, which is tough to realize when you’re there.
Approach shot territory
The Eighth is a 185 yard par 3. The tee shot is quite elevated while the green is some what tucked under a group of trees. There is a creek that fronts the green. The green itself is interesting, as it’s multi tiered and wide yet shallow. It reminds me a lot of the Eighth at Jeffersonville.
The Ninth is a bear of a hole, as a 516 yard par 5. It’s all uphill and the second shot is blind, with bunkers along the left side of the fairway and to the right just short of the green. It obviously plays much longer than its stated yardage. It was probably this hole that I realized just how tough the greens were playing. Putting them was tough, but they were so slick that sticking your approach shots was particularly tough. The fringe collar surrounding the greens was also all against grain, so if you tried putting from the rough, the collar would either catch the ball and if you tried putting over it, most of the time it would be too hard and the ball goes flying off the other side. Very tricky stuff. This is the number one handicapped hole.
Looking back at the tee from the fairway
Second shot territory. Yup, just looking at a big hill.
The front nine starts off very tough, eases off for a few holes, then toughens up again all the way up an entire hill side to the Ninth green. The par 4’s really shine, the par 3’s show good range and the par 5’s give you tough and easy. Ranking them, I’d go 3, 1, 7, 2, 8, 6, 5, 9, 4.
The Tenth is a 380 yard par 4. It’s a fairly easy hole, as the fairway is pretty wide. The green is tucked in to the left of the fairway and slopes from left to right. It’s a good recovery hole after the beastly Ninth.
Further down the fairway
The Eleventh starts a good series of holes that are some of the best of the course. It’s a 370 yard par 4. The tee shot is elevated to an uphill fairway that turns right to a small elevated green that slopes severely from back to front. The pin was in the front of the green last time I played here and we checked the depression area of the green that would be receptive to approach shots. It was probably 5 yards. It’s a scenic hole that gives you the opportunity for a rewarding tee shot and difficult approach shot.
Approach shot territory of the Eleventh
The Twelfth is a very good par 3 at 183 yards. Just like the Eleventh, the green is not very receptive to anything other than very well executed shots. The tee shot must carry water, then a creek, to a green that is carved into a hill side and runs right to left. You must get the ball in the air so it drops on the green, since anything else will run off and anything off green is big trouble.
The Thirteenth is a 349 yard par 4. The fairway is essentially a hill side that runs from right to left. Left of the fairway are trees, which run the entire length of the hole up to the green. The fairway is also somewhat narrow, so it’s another tough hole that emphasizes a precise tee shot. Again, maximizing the natural setting to create some fantastic holes.
A look at the fairway
The Thirteenth green
The Fourteenth is a 505 yard par 5. It’s essentially a double dog leg that immediately legs left for the tee shot, making a draw a pretty good idea. After legging around a few bunkers, the fairway climbs a little uphill, turning left to a green tucked into a little nook of a hill side. The hole would have been fine if it simply dog legged right to the green, leaving an ample tee landing area, but I like how instead the fairway sweeps left and a bunker makes obstructs simply marching straight forward, which raises all kinds of strategy issues. That type of attention to design really sets it apart from other farmland courses.
The Fourteenth. The fairway almost immediately dashing left is a great design feature.
The green is ahead where the golfers are, but a little left of them
The Fifteenth is a 392 yard par 4. The fairway is wider than it looks from the tee area. The hole is straight to the elevated green surrounded by bunkers. You can tell the course is pumping its brakes a little after a challenging Eleventh through Fourteenth.
The Sixteenth is a 352 yard par 4. The tee shot is blind, as the fairway crests, then goes downhill to the green, which is on a ledge with anything long in trouble. Another nice breather hole.
The Seventeenth is the last par 3 at 158 yards. You must carry a biarritz to the wide multi tiered green. Getting on the green is considerably simple, but putting is another story, as you’re likely facing both an uphill/downhill and sidehill putt most of the time.
The Eighteenth is a 480 yard par 5. There is a lot of water on this hole, but you don’t see any of it from the tee. The water on the left is reachable from the tee, so stay right or straight off the tee. The second water hazard fronts the right and right center of the green, so pay attention to that. The fairway is uphill, so these water hazards are tough to judge, yet the one near the green is obviously in a good place to collect approach shots that come up short. After a few breather holes, the Eighteenth makes you work for a good finishing score with a very well designed challenge.
Going up the fairway. The hazards attempt to steer your shots towards the (hidden) water
Looking back to the fairway from the green, where the water is visible.
The back nine ebbs and flows in difficulty. There aren’t many weak holes, but the weak ones are almost welcome after battling the tougher, more interesting ones. I’d rank them 12, 18, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 15, 10.
Generally, Pilgrim’s Oak is one of the better courses in the area. You get a lot of different looks, great conditioning and a very well done design that pays particular attention to routing, resulting in a round that is well balanced between interesting and challenging, all while in a bucolic setting. Design wise, Hurdzan had some very good land for a course, yet he maximized the benefits of that land to ensure the course had character. Primarily, it seems he avoided at all costs any hole switch backing to another, but instead ran the holes in two clockwise circles, similar to what you see with many links courses. I’ve never encountered any type of adverse weather here and think that the course would be very tough if it ever gets too windy. There’s too many holes where the high ball is required and the greens seem way too fast for that. Maybe a trip in the fall is in order to check things out. With the pleasant setting, terrific course and down to earth/friendly service, this is easily in my top 10.
Gripes: It was sweltering, but there were no water coolers. There were bins with water bottles that cost $1 on the honor system, but do I really need to pay money to basically survive in this heat? It felt a little exploitative. It’s a dry course, so plan accordingly. The clubhouse is a little too understated for me, as in no where to hang out if you’re not golfing.
Bar/grill: See gripes.
Clubhouse: Just the pro shop basically. Has a good selection of apparel.
Practice area: A nice shipping area reflective of what you’ll see on the course and a natural grass range. Very nice and I always show up early to take full advantage.
Getting there: Route 1 South for a while, then back roads through farmlands for about 15 minutes. It’s actually a nice drive.