Cedarbrook Country Club

6,650 yards, 132 slope from the Blues

Course:  Cedarbrook Country Club is in Blue Bell, a Philadelphia suburb about 30-40 minutes from downtown.  It’s a club with a rich history, with original dating back to the late 1890’s, but opened with its namesake in 1921.  Its first course was designed by A.W. Tillinghast and for the decades it existed, hosted a number of high profile tournaments and exhibitions, including Bobby Locke edging Ben Hogan in the 1947 Philadelphia Inquirer Invitational.  Unfortunately, the City of Philadelphia declared eminent domain over a portion of the property during construction of the Route 309 Expressway and instead of trying to change the course with the loss of property, the club sold it altogether in 1958.  In 1962, Cedarbrook moved to its current location, where William Mitchell designed the course in consultation with William Gordon.  While Gordon is well known and publicized, Mitchell is not as well known, even though he designed and worked on a number of courses.  One of the appealing aspects of Mitchell’s design philosophy was that he was a major advocate of public golf and the “average” golfer.  As a result, several of his courses remain today as municipal and/or public courses.  Mitchell was adamant that public courses should be just as interesting and memorable as any private course, as financial standing shouldn’t really have any bearing on the appreciation a golfer has for its design, or the game in general.  Mitchell also advocated Executive courses and 27-hole facilities as a way to stay versatile and accommodate an array of different types of golfers.  He was apparently in the process of designing a female oriented course just before his death in the early 1970’s.  Perhaps a fitting side note for Mitchell is the the golf course featured in “Caddyshack” is one of his (Rolling Hills CC in Florida).

Aside from Mitchell’s strong sense of egalitarianism, some of the design traits he strove to adhere to included smaller greens, shallow visible bunkers of moderate size, non-symmetrical tee areas (meaning each tee is staggered and on a different line to the hole than the others).  More generally, Mitchell believed that well-hit shots should be rewarded, without any randomness or quirk interfering.  It’s a straight-forward approach based on providing options to the golfer and at times tempting the him to get out of their comfort zone.  By unquestionably rewarding the golfer who performs well under pressure, the course ensures that golfer walks away more confident, his passion in the game emboldened as a result.  With Gordon consulting, who worked under Flynn and among other accomplishments oversaw the reconstruction of Shinnecock in the early 1930’s, likely was involved to try and insert some of the principles of the older course (although I am guessing).  His style is reminiscent of Flynn, which broadly focused on strategy amongst natural features, adequately rewarding the golfer and shying away from too much quirk.  

In 2001, Cedarbrook underwent major renovations, which included rebuilding tees, making some routing changes and bunker work.

There seems to be an array of architectural styles and influences today at Cedarbrook.  The straightforward style of Mitchell remains in part, but the course now includes more elaborate green complexes, blind shots and elevated tees that may or may not have been in the original design, I’m just not sure.  Those features Mitchell tried to avoid, but were either part of the renovation or included with Gordon’s input.  Either way, the course is set on interesting terrain, with many fairways leading on to the greens.  There are slopes on the fairways and greens to consider and use, as well as a good amount of forced carries and blind shots.  The greens are fairly large for the most part, heaving, undulating and sloping.  It’s decidedly a parkland design and the terrain is wooded, but trees are not overbearing.  There are some places I think tree removal would benefit the course, however.  It was a fun course with a lot of interesting shots.  The green complexes were likewise engaging, needing to really consider the movement of the surrounding hills and slopes.  The touch of the flagstick helps here tremendously.

2018 was the year of getting to know the courses in my own backyard better and this included finally playing Cedarbrook.  So in the late fall (it was cold then too, so we’re basically on month 4 of cold weather?), I was able to see this fixture in the Philadelphia suburbs for myself.

The First is a 385 yard par 4 (from the Blues).  An exacting tee shot is necessary for those who want to get it past the bunkers while there is plenty of room before them for those who opt for a safer tee shot and much more challenging second.  The fairway bends to the right after the bunkers, leading downhill to the green.  The green is large, moving from back to front in general.  I like the position of the green with respect to the fairway.  It’s below it, enabling the use of the slopes on the sides or before it if you want.  A nice opener with lots on the line already with the opening tee shot. .

The First

Looking back

 The Second is a The Second is a 511 yard par 5.  The fairway heads straight out with Wissahickon Creek running along the left side.  Trees are along the right and with bunkers on the left, placement of the tee and second shots becomes something worthy of thinking about for a bit.  The green is tucked in to the right, with two large bunkers guarding the front on either side, and trees and the creek further back.  

The Second
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
The green, from off right

The Third is a 386 yard par 4.  The tee shot is a forced carry over water with trees running along the left and three bunkers along the right.  Two bunkers protect the green on either side, which rises from the fairway and turns right, moving that way.  While it seems like a straight forward enough hole, the hazards and movement of the green can complicate things in a hurry.  
The Third
Approach shot
A look at the green

The Fourth is a 372 yard par 4.  Switching directions, this hole is also straight and heads downhill to the green, with the water we saw on the tee shot of the last hole now around the left side of the green.  Driver isn’t necessarily the ideal club here; what’s much more important is being a good position for a clear approach.  The green is wide yet shallow and tilts, with slopes off into the water on the left and a bunker on the right.  A tough approach shot which I would rather attack on the left side to take the water out of play.  

The Fourth

A little closer

A look at the green

The Fifth is a 187 yard par 3.  This longer uphill blind par 3 is the hole that finally got my attention on the front.  The green is deep and moves quickly from left to right, with bunkers on either side of it, all of it blind.  A bunker is short of the green and visible from the tee for good measure.  Knowing the green, knowing which club you can rely on for a longer straight shot and the multitude of recovery shots and putts you face make this an exciting hole.

The Fifth

A closer look at the hill

The bunker on the left

The Sixth is a 555 yard par 5.  An elevated tee shot for this dog leg right, with a larger bunker on the right inside turn and trees on that side after the turn, ensuring that cutting the leg is not a foregone conclusion.  The fairway narrows as you get closer to the green and as we’ve seen from earlier holes, tends to swivel leading up to the green.  Bunkers are staggered on either side leading up to the green as well.  The green is subtle, appearing flatter but with Wissahickon Creek behind it, there seemed to be a lot more movement than first blush.

The Sixth

Approach shot territory

A little closer

The Seventh is a 366 yard par 4.  We go from an extreme dog leg right to an extreme dog leg left, where the shortest distance from tee to green is carrying a group of trees off to the left.  For the less adventurous or more sensible, the fairway goes straight out, with a larger bunker on the left and a smaller one on the right, so placement is necessary to clear the trees and leave yourself with a clear approach to the green.  A bunker is on the left of the green, likely serving the dual purpose of protecting the green from the tee.  The front has some slopes on either side that can be used to roll off of and with the overall movement of the green, sticking this green is a tall order.

The Seventh

Where the green is from the tee

Approach shot territory

A closer look

Looking back from the green

The Eighth is a 410 yard par 4.  Heading back to the creek, the hole bends slightly to the right, with the right hillside sloping towards the fairway and trees on the left.  As we have seen, the fairway runs up to the green, with the bunkers carved into it on either side, which also creates contours on the greens.  Advancing down the left side makes the most sense to make sure you’re not blocked out by the trees on the right.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 171 yard par 3.  An uphill tee shot to a green that moves from left to right and back to front.  Bunkers along either side.  The apron leading up to the green is a false front, so taking more club than you think you need seems to be a good play.

The Ninth
Looking back at the tee

The clubhouse, just far enough from the Tenth tee to think twice about stopping (there’s a halfway house closer anyways) 

The front nine starts off a little tough, then eases with a couple shorter par 4’s before another stretch of challenging holes before easing off once again on the last two.  I really enjoyed the Fifth and the First while the greens had a lot of challenge to them.  I’d rank them 5, 1, 4, 7, 2, 8, 3, 9, 6.

The back nine starts with the 502 yard par 5 Tenth.  While straight for the most part, the fairway dips from the tee and slithers to the green.  Trees are on both sides while a bunker at the start of the fairway helps frame the hole.  The green is raised from the fairway, with a bunker on the lower left front, with the green moving in that direction.  Precision is better here since there’s not a whole lots of room off the fairway to miss.  Well, maybe you can use the fairway on the hole to the right (so I’ve heard), but then you need to carry the trees to get back over.  Using the slopes of the fairway and right side bring in a couple other options as well.  It’s a good hole.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 362 yard par 4.  Wissahickon Creek runs along the left side and trees on the right, with bunkers on the right as well.  With the green tucked in to the right a little, hugging the left side of the fairway helps ensure a clear approach but brings the creek more into play than seems necessary.  Not too many places to hide here for those wanting par or better, with accuracy faring much better than rabid distance.

The Eleventh

Approach shot territory

The Twelfth is a 500 yard par 5.  A slight dog leg right, trees on the right and further off on the left, with a bunker sitting on the left at the outside of the turn.  Longer hitters will need to decide if they should go for the green, which is a carry over the ever-present Wissahickon Creek twice, and avoiding the trees, to a raised green.  Those taking the extra shot can decide to lay up to the end of the fairway or use the area between the two creek crosses.  A good amount of options but I think taking the trees out near the green on the right side would open up even more.  They may be there to bring some separation to the par 3 Thirteenth though.  Either way, it was my favorite par 5 on the course.

The Twelfth

Moving down the fairway…or approach shot territory?

The Thirteenth is a 193 yard par 3.  Wissahickon Creek isn’t done with you yet.  The tee shot is a forced carry over it, again twice.  The creek has basically been in play for every hole on the back nine, which is impressive.  The creek actually comes into play a third time, on the far right side, almost giving the hole a Road hole angle.  If they ever name the holes, this one is definitely, “Creek Time.”  Because of it, hitting the green is almost mandatory.

Approach shot territory

Looking back

The Fourteenth is a 421 yard par 4.  The fairway dog legs slightly to the right.  The fairway runs down from the tee to a creek, but it’s not Wissahickon.  It’s Willow Run creek.  After the creek, the fairway climbs uphill to the green.  The green is on the larger side.  The hole allows the turn to be cut, with a single bunker protecting that side, but there’s some challenge in determining whether the tee shot can carry the creek or not.  You have the slope leading into it as a consideration and with the course opening up from the prior few holes, may see the freedom as an opportunity to swing away.  It’s a nice looking hole, simple in its presentation but effective.

The Fourteenth

The Fifteenth is a 390 yard par 4.   Turning around and going back over the creek off the tee, the fairway then dog legs left and descends gently to the green.  The fairway cants to the left after the turn as does the green.  I liked this approach shot a lot.  With the fairway moving downhill and to the left, there was a lot of ways to attack the green, yet remaining below the hole seemed important with how fast the green was moving right to left.  Yet another fun hole.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

From off due right

The Sixteenth is a 148 yard par 3.  An uphill green with interesting off-green areas below and to the right of the green.  The green moves from right to left as well, quickly, so using the slope is always a good idea.  In terms of match play, this hole comes at the right time as an opportunity to even things up before the closing par 4’s.

The Sixteenth

From the right side

The Seventeenth is a 400 yard par 4.  While the hole is technically straight, the bunkers are staggered on either side, which at least gives an appearance of some side to side movement.  This is another green I liked a lot because of how the fairway fed into it downhill and sloped off on the far end, creating a kind of an infinity pool feel.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The green

The Eighteenth is a 391 yard par 4.  The closing hole starts as a forced carry over water then dog legs left, with a bunker on the inside of the turn.  The green undulates, with the front rising form the fairway.  Trees are on either side of the fairway, but the left side is likely a little more forgiving.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

A closer look 

The back nine was a little more intriguing and diverse than the front to me, with more slopes and movement while the creeks were incorporated well.  I’d rank them 15, 17, 10, 12, 16, 13, 14, 11, 18.

Generally, Cedarbrook is a nice parkland course with a good mixture of holes.  Some are straightforward, some are fun and some are challenging.  The greens are quick and generally move strongly in one direction.  There are some strategy calls and some forced carries.  The bunker configuration near the greens became a little repetitive and there were some holes that were familiar but there’s also a good amount of holes that stick out with character.  The principles of Mitchell seem to be in place in terms of a course that improves those who play it more and more while Gordon’s highlighting of natural features for strategy is intact with the contours and creeks.  This surely is one of the reasons for the strong membership and a course that has been in place over half a century.  

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  Well-sized and stocked.  The clubhouse is some what old school with a very entertaining men’s locker room that is well worth the price of admission.

Practice area: Driving range, short game area and putting green.