The BMW Philadelphia Amateur Championship is the same age as the U.S. Open, both will be played for the 117th time this week, and the quality of golf courses that the Golf Association of Philadelphia has from which to choose a site for its premier event is an impressive one.
Case in point is the 2017 edition of the BMW Philadelphia Amateur, which gets under way Tuesday at Philadelphia Cricket Club. Both courses at the Cricket Club will be utilized for qualifying, the Wissahickon Course, an A.W. Tillinghast gem that the Wissahickon Creek runs through, and the newer Militia Hill Course. Once match play gets under way Wednesday, all the action will shift to the Wissahickon Course.
After 36 holes of qualifying, 32 survivors will play a first round of matches Wednesday morning. The second round will be played Wednesday afternoon and that will whittle the field to eight players.
The quarterfinals will be Thursday morning followed by the semifinals in the afternoon. The last two standing will get a day off before Saturday’s scheduled 36-hole final.
It is a grueling test and it sounds like summer is going to make its long-awaited arrival this week. Somehow Michael McDermott, at age 41 a year ago, withstood it all to pull out a 1-up victory over his close friend Jeff Osberg to put his name on the J. Wood Platt Trophy for the third time.
McDermott captured the title on his home course, Merion Golf Club’s historic East Course. He won his second title on another course at which he is a member, Aronimink Golf Club, the Donald Ross masterpiece in Newtown Square, four years ago.
Golf Digest released its 40th Best in State rankings last week and Merion East, Aronimink and the Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course are Nos. 2, 3 and 5, respectively, on that list.
The Cricket Club has been very generous with its golf courses in recent years. It hosted the PGA National Professional Championship – or the National Club Pro as it used to be known as – in 2014. Former Temple standout Brandon Matthews won his second Philadelphia Open title there two summers ago. The Philadelphia Section PGA held its championship there as summer was giving way to fall last year.
Just about this time last year, the top senior players paid a visit for the Constellation Senior Players Championship, Bernhard Langer battling difficult windy conditions to claim his seventh PGA Tour Champions major with a 1-over 281 total.
The praise from the top senior players was universal and often effusive. Many of them prefaced their remarks by saying it is well known how many great golf courses there are in the Philadelphia area, but that they were surprised how little they had heard over the years about the Wissahickon Course. Better than Merion escaped some lips.
Comments like that are probably why the Wissahickon Course jumped from No. 12 to No. 5 in Golf Digest’s state rankings. It displaced the Pittsburgh area’s Fox Chapel Golf Club, which hosted the Constellation Senior Players for three straight years beginning in 2012.
That is the backdrop for 143 of the Philadelphia area’s top amateur golfers when they tee off Tuesday morning.
The last four champions, McDermott (2016 and 2013), Cole Berman (2015) and Osberg (2014), will play in the same group and tee off at 8:30 a.m. at the Wissahickon Course.
They are each the best of their respective generations, McDermott representing the 40-somethings, Osberg the 30-somethings and Berman the 20-somethings.
Two years ago at Llanerch Country Club, McDermott and Osberg battled in an epic second-round match on a course on which McDermott had grown up on and Osberg had been a member for several years before taking his sticks to Huntingdon Valley Country Club with McDermott claiming a 2-up win.
Berman would go on to capture the title at Llanerch, beating his friend and former Inter-Ac League rival Michael Davis in the final.
Turned out that McDermott-Osberg match at Llanerch was just a table-setter for last year’s final, which was, what, more epic? It took every bit of the 36 holes it was scheduled for for McDermott to emerge with the title. Oh yeah, and just to get there, McDermott had to survive a 20-hole gut check against Berman in the second round.
“Even though Jeff and I are quite a bit older than Cole, we have developed a bit of a friendship with Cole and Michael Davis and some of the younger guys, so that’s going to be great,” McDermott told the GAP website concerning his playing partners for qualifying. “Jeff’s obviously my good buddy and a competitor I admire very much who scares the heck out of me.
“Last year worked out for me, but the truth be told, it was a great day for Jeff and me. I almost would have the same feelings had it gone the other way. Both of us played about our best golf that day.”
The essential Michael McDermott was on display last summer in the U.S. Mid-Amateur Championship at Stonewall, particularly in his third-round victory over Derek Busby, a reinstated amateur from Ruston, La.
Busby’s as pure a ball-striker as you’ll ever see, anywhere. McDermott wasn’t playing all that great. But he kept making tough five-footers for par, kept hanging in there. And when Busby inexplicably shoved a foot-and-a-half putt for par past the hole on the 18th green, McDermott was a 1-up winner.
McDermott would take eventual champion Stewart Hagestad, you know, the guy who was the low amateur at the Masters this spring, to the 18th hole before falling, 2-up in the quarterfinals, but he still wasn’t sure if hadn’t beaten a better player in Busby the day before.
It’s why McDermott will be a tough out if he makes into match play this week.
So, too, will Berman. His parents got him into the Cricket Club when they realized how much their rising junior phenom had embraced the game. And the Cricket Club’s many good players have enjoyed watching the former Haverford School standout grow into the player who won two of GAP’s major titles, the 2014 Patterson Cup and the 2015 BMW Philadelphia Amateur, before he turned 21.
He capped his junior season at Georgetown by finishing fifth in the Big East Championship at Callawassie Island Golf Club’s Dogwood and Magnolia nines in South Carolina. Davis, the former Malvern Prep standout who plays out of Aronimink, completed his junior season at Princeton by finishing tied for sixth in the Ivy League Championship at The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Conn.
Osberg followed up the disappointment of falling to McDermott in the BMW Philadelphia Amateur final by winning the next two GAP majors, the Philadelphia Open at The Ridge at Back Brook and the Patterson Cup on his home course at Huntingdon Valley. He nearly made it three straight with a runnerup finish in the Middle-Amateur Championship at Overbrook Golf Club last month.
And McDermott, Osberg, Berman and Davis would the first ones to remind you that anybody who can survive 36 holes of qualifying at two courses like the Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course and the Militia Hill Course is completely capable of winning this championship.
A couple more comments are in order on Pennsylvania’s top courses. Merion is not No. 1 because Oakmont Country Club, which hosted the 2016 U.S. Open, is, two great, great courses switching places. They are truly 1 and 1A.
It was recently announced that Merion will host the Curtis Cup in 2022. It will be the 19th time the United States Golf Association will utilize the timeless Hugh Wilson design. No golf course has hosted more USGA events.
Laurel Valley Golf Club retained its No. 4 spot ahead of the Cricket Club’s Wissahickon Course. Following Fox Chapel, which slipped to sixth, behind the Wissahickon Course is Lancaster Country Club, the William Flynn gem that quite successfully played host to the 2015 U.S. Women’s Open.
Stonewall’s Old Course, the Tom Doak design in northwest Chester County which hosted the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur, rose from 10th to eighth. I have become quite familiar with the Old Course with a somewhat unexpected second act as a caddy. I think it will continue to climb in rankings like this. It’s just a great golf course.
Saucon Valley Country Club’s Weyhill Course is ninth, beating out two other courses on the grounds in Bethlehem, the No. 12 Old Course and the No. 17 Grace Course.
Huntingdon Valley, another Flynn design, rounds out the top 10. After Lehigh Valley Country Club in 11th and Saucon Valley’s Old Course in 12th, are Huntsville Country Club in 13th and Applebrook Golf Club, one of the early works of renowned golf course architect Gil Hanse, in 14th.
Philadelphia Country Club is 15th and Rolling Green Golf Club, yet another Flynn design that was the backdrop for a tremendous edition of the U.S. Women’s Amateur in 2016, is 16th, up from 18th.
I’ll quibble only with the inclusion of Merion’s West Course in the top 25, its first appearance among the top courses in the state. I love the West. Growing up as a Merion caddy, I played it a couple hundred times on caddy day.
But there are some pretty good golf courses in the Philadelphia area alone that can make a strong case that they belong ahead of Merion West in a ranking of Pennsylvania’s best. Llanerch? Sunnybrook? Whitemarsh Valley? And they’re just a couple off the top of my head. Bottom line: There are a ton of great golf courses in this area.
The BMW Philadelphia Amateur at the Cricket Club will only drive that point home once again.