Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pine Valley No. 1, Merion No. 6 in Golf Digest rankings

   With 153 days until the 2013 U.S. Open tees off at Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course in the Ardmore section of Haverford Township, it is the perfect time to review the Golf Digest biennial rankings of America’s top courses.
  The Golf Digest rankings are the original and probably still the best and the publication has gone to great lengths to create a numerical value with which to measure the country’s top layouts. Still, when one of the criteria is ambience, we’re not exactly talking wins-above-replacement, or whatever that stat is the sabermaticians have dreamed up to measure a player’s worth to his team.
   When the statistical dust cleared at the Golf Digest offices, Pine Valley was declared the best course in America. However, even Ron Whitten, the author of the piece, had to admit that Pine Valley’s edge over Augusta National was so small that it amounted to a statistical dead heat.
   Regardless, Pine Valley, the gem in the pine barrens halfway to the South Jersey shore from Philadelphia, has always been at or near the top of the rankings. That’s why so many top pros and amateurs in the area were so anxious to tee it up in qualifiers for the Golf Association of Philadelphia’s Open Championship when it was held at Pine Valley last summer.
   It’s why Episcopal Academy senior Sean Fahey can be pretty darn proud of himself for getting around 36 holes at the greatest golf course in America in 78 and 79 at the Philly Open in the summer before his senior year in high school.
   Merion’s East Course has consistently been among the top 10 in the Golf Digest rankings, although it may have fallen out a couple of times during some lean years between the 1989 U.S. Amateur and the 2005 U.S. Amateur. But the East in a lean year is better than most golf courses can ever hope to be.
   With the Open returning to a rejuvenated and muscled-up Grand Dame of the Main Line on the heels of the 2005 U.S. Amateur and the 2009 Walker Cup Match, Hugh Wilson’s East Course sits at No. 6 on the 2013 Golf Digest rankings, just behind Pittsburgh’s Oakmont Country Club and just ahead of Pebble Beach.
  The only other Delaware County course in the top 100 is Aronimink Golf Club, which is ranked 80th. I thought maybe the Donald Ross classic might move higher as a result of two really nice stagings of the AT&T National in 2010 and 2011. I’m pretty sure Aronimink’s been ranked higher over the years, but the membership in Newtown Square knows what a high-quality layout they have.
   In the state-by-state breakdown, obviously it’s Oakmont, Merion East and Aronimink at 1-2-3, respectively, in Pennsylvania. Three western Pennsylvania layouts, Laurel Valley, Huntsville and Fox Chapel occupy the next three spots. The Lehigh Valley is represented at 7 and 8, respectively, by Lehigh Valley Country Club and Saucon Valley’s Old Course, which the USGA has gone to for two Senior Opens and a Women’s Open in the last 20 years or so.
  The Philadelphia area is represented at Nos. 9 and 11, respectively, by two classics, Huntingdon Valley Country Club and Philadelphia Country Club. At No. 10 is Lancaster Country Club. Saucon Valley’s Weyhill Course is ranked 12th.
   At 13 is the only other Delco course on the list, Rolling Green Golf Club, site of the 1976 U.S. Women’s Open. The USGA will return to Springfield Township, it was announced late last year, for the 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
   The Mystic Rock Course at the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort in western Pennsylvania is 14th on the list followed at 15 by Applebrook Golf Club, a really neat course you can see from Paoli Pike In East Goshen Township, Chester County.
   Stonewall’s Old Course in the far reaches of Chester County is ranked 20th in Pennsylvania. It was the site of a memorable Delco battle royal for the 2009 Philadelphia Amateur Championship with former Strath Haven standout Conrad Von Borsig defeating former Haverford School star James Kania in the title match. And Philadelphia Cricket Club’s relatively new Militia Hill Course, where I’ve seen The Haverford School’s Michael Kania and Cole Berman win Inter-Ac League individual titles in recent years, is ranked 22nd in the Keystone State.

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