6,795 yards, 130 Slope from the II tees
There’s always room for one more round and such was the case when I found myself at Militia Hill. Those December days are as fickle as the game itself but when they come, the dance of Winter’s Bittersweet Symphony begins. Happy to be out but never knowing when you’ll be out next, there’s a newfound appreciation for the present. Skills and feel diminish ever so slowly but it’s secondary and the sprouts of hope are already laid for the next season, further away than ever. Still, you go out. You go out because it’s about more than perfect conditions or a score. The leaves fall and the cold comes yet that dance between man and nature goes on. The music has simply changed.
Militia Hill first and foremost is in the echelon of greatest golf course names, its origin from the Revolutionary War. Designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, it opened in 2002, more than 80 years after Wissahickon came to be. While Tillinghast always intended to design 36 holes for the club, the second course was never built. Regardless, the club had the land for a second course that was finally utilized in what is a much more modern counterpart to its classic masterpiece. Militia Hill is set on hilly property on two sides of a set of railroad tracks. Creeks are nestled at the bottom of the property in several areas and the hills are generally used vertically. There’s a wide open nature to the course. The hills climb and plunge while bunkers are large and cover a lot of ground. Run of the ball is built into the contours on a lot of the holes. There is some fun and challenge, but there’s also redundancy, mostly on the back nine. The up and down back and forth routing of the holes make one wonder whether the terrain could have been used a bit more diagonal and well, inspirationally with more character. Mind you, there are a handful of holes worthy of note, yet there also a handful that could use more diversity. With such a historically significant club, Militia Hill is their modern option of contrast to its classic courses that likely focus on components of the game not emphasized as much at Wissahickon and St. Martins. The dramatic elevated tee shots, forced carries to the behemoth ridges looming above; the shorter par 4’s within range from the tee. These can be found with more prevalence at Militia Hill and provide for a lively distinct round. In terms of modern courses in the area, it is one of the better ones for sure. Still, there is room to be much better.
I have an inordinate amount of excitement when it becomes beanie weather. A whole new dimension of fashion and comfort opens up and I just like the way they look and feel. I always find myself wearing them late in the season when it’s objectively far too warm but bad habits die hard. On this day, it was decidedly beanie weather and I couldn’t have been happier. The crisp cold air against the weaker shiny sunlight was with us the whole round as the final new course of the year was played with such bitter sweet joy.
The First is a 384 yard par 4 (from the II tees). An elevated tee looks over a slight dog leg right with a clustering of bunkers on either side of the fairway to contend with. The tee shot can easily end up in those bunkers while most will need to figure out if the right bunkers can be carried or not. The bunker pattern continues at the green, which has interesting movement as it arches over to the right. Like the tee shot, the approach must confront the greenside bunkers that collect a lot of shots with their size and placement.
The Second is a 376 yard par 4. Driver may too much with the creek at the end of the fairway for many, yet getting as far out as possible is important for the approach. The green sits atop the hill off a little to the left, a large slope ramping up to the green. It’s one of my favorite features of the course, for its contrast between generous invitation and intimidation. The entire hill is all short grass, so the golfer can end up short for a much shorter third shot in, or try and massage the movement of the hills to the pin. Others can try for a heartier longer shot to the green where things seem to move quickly off to the sides the further to the rear of the green. Certainly notable for its visual impact on the golfer as well as its versatility of play.
The Third is a 493 yard par 5. Moving under the railroad tracks to the other side of the course, this hole takes up to the border of the Wissahickon course. The entire left side of the hole should be avoided and altogether forgotten to start. The fairway moves right to left and the bunkers on the right present an issue off the tee. Laying up short of them for a longer second shot to set up the approach can be a smart play. The fairway narrows after those bunkers so driver must be true of line to avoid them as well as the water that starts off to the left. The fairway dog legs hard to the left around the water with a lot of room on the right just before the green. This leaves a good amount of space to play with for those out of position that will then need to sharpen their short game to get close to the pin. It’s another nice approach shot to an interesting green complex, especially right after the Second.
The Fourth is a 373 yard par 4. One of the more engaging tee shots and holes of the course presents an elevated tee shot with a fairway straight out looking easy enough to hit. Panning to the right, a creek runs along the right side while the fairway to the green is on the other side of it. There’s temptation to carry the creek from the tee for a shorter approach in, but the risk is ending up short in the creek, long left in the creek, or off to the right where trees and long rough will confound the approach. A shorter club can be used off the tee to the fairway straight ahead and getting as far down to its end will reveal more of the green for the approach. Bunkers on the right guard the green, which will come into play unless the tee shot gets further enough out to clear them. The green moves front to back, which is also refreshing movement and fits the approach well. It’s a hole angles and shot selection and consideration of terrain movement, showing great use of the terrain.
The Fifth is a 169 yard par 3. An uphill tee shot, lots of bunkers on the left yet the single bunker high right seems to be much more relevant. The green is large and moves from rear left to front right.
The Sixth is a 555 yard par 5. The fairway runs perpendicular and uphill from the tee and with a row of bunkers on either side confronting the tee shot, the golfer must either fit his shot between them or belt it long enough that it moves past the altogether. The second and third shots are uphill and consist of avoiding the bunkers on the sides, then carrying a centerline bunker in front of the green. The green nice and wide on top of the hill is one of my favorite here, with its mixture of subtle and bold movement, the Wissahickon off in the distance behind the rear.
The Seventh is a 441 yard par 4. We head back down the hill. Mostly straight but listing to the right, favoring the right side is preferable with the canting of the fairway to the left side. Eventually the fairway ramps up to the green which curls left and settles between a pit of bunkers down below on the left and another high right. Both shots should favor the right and fall to the left.
The Eighth is a 376 yard par 4. An elevated tee shot, straight fairway, assorted bunkers on either side, the green curls to the left at the entry point. Leading us back to the road under the railroad tracks to the other side, the hole is rather utilitarian in getting us there.
The Ninth is a 225 yard par 3. A longer par 3 tempered some what from the elevated tee, the short grass before it and larger size of the green accommodate the margin of error that comes along with long shots. The green is subdued a little as well so even those far away from the hole have a shot.
The front nine begins and ends a little flat but the middle holes are where I found a lot of the thrill, character and variety that make up a lot of the course’s distinct identity. I would rank them 4, 2, 3, 6, 9, 7, 1, 5, 8.
The back nine starts with the 399 yard par 4 Tenth. Going off behind the clubhouse in the opposite direction of the First, we head uphill with bunkers right then further up to the left. The fairway spills out wide around the bunkers to provide a bit more relief and landing area for the tee shot. The green is very deep and at the top of the hill. Similar to the Seventh, there is one side of the green down low and fraught with bunkers and here it is the right. The deepness of the green allows a lot of play and run up the hill to avoid those bunkers but it moves back to front quick as all get out, so even favoring the left side on the approach can counter that speed a little as well.
The Eleventh is a 130 yard par 3. A shorter drop shot with bushels of bunkers on either side primarily at the front, this green has its own dogleg that moves to the right around the bunkers. There is a ridge that separate the front and rear of the green, making putts from one to the other a challenging transition.
The Twelfth is a 379 yard par 4. A real fun hole where the right tee shot can take full advantage of the downhill that feeds right into the green. The stated yardage is deceptive in this respect, as most will have a shorter wedge on their approach; so long as their tee shot is respectable. Getting out of position off the tee is not only a lost opportunity, but exponentially complicates things. Those that hit off to the right are now faced with a shot to a hillside that is running away from them like the plague while those off to the left are either out of bounds or on a severe hillside where they’ll need to focus on getting back into play more than anything else. The fairway and green continue downhill, so the golfer has no choice but to embrace the movement of the terrain and ride it to the hole. I wish there were more of these types of holes here.
The Thirteenth is a 446 yard par 4. The shorter nature of the hole prior gives way to this beast. I still can’t believe it’s a par 4 but here we are. Uphill all the way with a left to right tilt means favoring the left side all the way. The bunkers on the right off the tee punctuate this. The approach will be a long one but the deep green understands this. The only hazard around the green is the bunker on the left; the right side is fairly open with either short grass or rough. The course begins to get serious.
The Fourteenth is a 507 yard par 5. Downhill coming back, the tee shot will run so long as the trees and bunkers on the right are avoided. The second shot will either lay up short of the creek or will be a long, booming one that carries the creek and lands on the ridge above. Most of the time it will be the lay up short, which some what stifles this hole since it really doesn’t matter if you’re out of position on the tee shot; just get the second shot some where close to the creek and your approach will be fine. There’s short grass leading from the other side of the creek up the hill to the wide green with bunkers on either side. Getting it over the creek is well and good but a good deal of precision is needed as well to avoid the bunkers and the ball falling down towards the creek.
The Fifteenth is a 199 yard par 3. In the same direction as the prior hole, we climb back up near the Eleventh. A tremendously long par 3 made even longer uphill that’s blind in spots and has a bunker complex below to the right. The wind has been known to whip over the hill and against the tee shot, which lengthens things even more. The green is large and entry point nice and wide, so even shorter shots will have a clean look at the hole.
The Sixteenth is a 371 yard par 4. Switching back downhill to this slight dog leg left that sits on a ridge, the left side falling off altogether after the bunkers on that side. Setting the tee shot more towards the right will hit the contours so that the ball springs forward and downhill, closer to the green. The fairway constricts just before the green and moves up a bit to it, interacting in movement with the bunker lip on the right. It’s a well done hole with an interesting green that embraces the terrain movement well.
The Seventeenth is a 561 yard par 5. Yet again moving from one end of the valley to another, the tee shot descends from the top of the ridge to the fairway below. The fairway crooks, constricts and widens in spots with bunkers on either side. The approach feels a lot like the First, with the green set in the same direction and bunkers in the same position, but this green doesn’t have as much left to right movement. The hole is well suited for handling an array of longer shots that will be needed here with the only caveat being to avoid the bunkers on the way to the green.
The Eighteenth is a 411 yard par 4. The symmetry of finishing paces away from where the round started is achieved here as we move parallel with the First, which is off to the left. The tee shot moves towards the creek and is actually in play for longer hitters or those who veer too far to the left. As on the Fourteenth, the approach will need to carry the creek and hit the ridge above, where the short grass once again moves up from the creek to the green and bunkers are all on the right side. The green is much deeper than it appears from the fairway and even moves right behind the bunkers. It’s a testing finish, making sure the golfer stays in form until all strokes are accounted for.
The back nine has some well done holes and remains challenging throughout, but the back and forth nature of the holes among the hills and how they’re configured becomes a little redundant and scarce of strategic components. I would rank them 12, 16, 18, 10, 15, 13, 11, 14, 17.
Generally, Militia Hill s a fun, challenging play with intriguing movement in spots and a good number of well done holes. It’s a notable course, especially among the moderns of the Philadelphia area. Yes there is some repetition that can stall out the round every now and then. With the terrific topography at its disposal, there are likely other routings and hole shapes that one starts to wonder would have turned out better in these spots but as it stands the challenge remains consistent even if some of the shots feel similar and straight forward. The course stands out for its ability to lay its sleekness throughout without overly relying on rough, the emphasis on the arduous uphill climb contrasting with the screaming sprint of the downhill well done and worthy of play.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A smaller structure with a nice patio area for casual gatherings.
Practice Area: The same as the Wissahickon course, just coming to the range from the opposite side.