If I told you that one of Philadelphia Cricket Club’s three courses had hosted two US Opens, I imagine you would naturally guess the storied Wissahickon course… You would be wrong. Philly Cricket’s oldest course, the St. Martin’s course, hosted both the 1907 and 1910 US Opens. Alec Ross, the brother of course architect Donald Ross, won that 1907 US Open. The history found at Philadelphia Cricket Club goes well beyond just the golf courses as you will see later in this review.
It is a mistake to shrug off Philadelphia Cricket Club’s St. Martin’s Course as the tertiary 9-holer. If you look at the course earnestly, you can see bits of genius, particularly in the green complexes. The 7th, 8th, and 9th holes are the same layout as they were during the 1907 and 1910 US Open Championships. Although Willie Tucker designed the course as an 18-hole layout in 1898, the course has since been reduced to 9 holes.
It is also impossible to ignore the grandeur of the clubhouse on the Chesnutt Hill campus of Philadelphia Cricket Club. If the Flourtown property is viewed as the main golf facility, being home to the Wissahickon and Militia Hill courses, the Chesnutt Hill campus is home to rest of the “country” club. Upon entering the expansive clubhouse you look out over members in their tennis whites playing on pristine grass courts. A beautiful patio provides an excellent place for lunch while watching the tennis. Philly Cricket Club was one of the founding members of the American Lawn Tennis Association in 1881. Instead of being filled with golf clothing and equipment, the historic two-story locker room is filled with tennis, cricket, and squash garb.
The opening tee shot plays uphill and leaves an approach into a long and narrow green. The squared-off corners on this green harken back to early course designs. Those who have visited Pine Valley may see similarities between the first greens on both of these courses.
The 2nd certainly isn’t the longest hole, but the beautiful green complex makes for a challenge, no matter how close your drive gets to the green.
The 3rd is yet another great green complex, with balls feeding from left to right down the slope. The three bunkers well short of the green appear to be greenside from further back in the fairway, creating an intimidating illusion.
The simple 4th hole tempts golfers to get aggressive, although the smartest play is an iron down the left and wedge into the green.
Hole #5 – 110 yards – “The Maples”
The 5th hole is a beautiful short par 3, but I felt that it wasn’t in keeping with the old, traditional feel found in other holes on the course. The runoff area on the left and clearly raised green made for a great hole, but it doesn’t feel like one you’d have seen in 1907.
The large false front on this green punishes any poorly struck approach shots.
The subtly sloping 8th green, along with the simple front right bunker, looks exactly like I would imagine a 1907 US Open layout would feel.
Hole #9 – 243 yards – “The Inn”The squared off 9th green on the St. Martin’s course is framed by the impressive clubhouse. The finishing hole is a great reminder of the classic golfing days of the past – persimmon woods, blades, and all.
I wish that I had been able to play the St. Martin’s course with a “period” set of clubs. The experience would have been all the richer hitting a selection of brassies, mashies, blade irons, and hickory shafted drivers on the historic course. It is a place that can’t be fully appreciated while blasting 460cc drivers and flighting zip-groove wedges. I’m certainly not the only one to think about it… there are sand tee boxes on the course specifically made for hickory golfers. St. Martin’s has also played host to a number of hickory golf tournaments. I’ll bring along a set of hickories if I ever make it back!