4. Wyncote Golf Club, Par 4, 444 yards.
As a public course golfer in southeast PA, I’ve got to have Wyncote on the list. My first memorable experience with Wyncote was the District 1 tournament my freshman year of high school. I shot 85 and was pretty pleased with myself. That round included a playing partner getting caught cheating, another one stealing a tee marker and me missing a putt of approximately 18 inches. Wild times. Back in the day, the nines were switched, but in the present routing, the 4th is always a swing hole. For almost every course I play, I have an expectation for the first four, five or six holes. If I’m within that range, I feel like I can go and shoot a good round. If I miss that mark too badly, I pretty much write it off and try to shoot a decent score on just the back nine. At Turtle Creek, I like to be 2-over or better through six holes. At Wyncote I like to be 2-over or better through four. Considering I always bogey the 3rdfor whatever reason, the 4th becomes huge and it’s probably the toughest par-4 on the course. It’s a semi-blind tee shot, it can often play into the wind, and it meanders a bit to the right in a way that makes you want to block your tee shot onto the 8th hole. A decent round at Wyncote makes you feel like you accomplished something and if you can bust a driver down there on #4 and knock an 8-iron in there and make par—that’s just good playing.
5. Bulle Rock Golf Club, Par 4, 453 yards.
I’m including Bulle Rock, because when I went to play it the first time I had played very few good golf courses. It was also the infancy of upscale public golf. When you play Pickering and Kimberton on the regular, planning a trip to Bulle Rock was an exotic experience. You get your own bag tag? The range balls are free? This was a world I was not familiar with. The obscene price tag also made it feel like a special occasion, and I’ve only gone back twice in the all the years that followed my first visit. I think the course is full of mostly big, solid holes and a couple of very good ones. Nine and twelve come to mind, but they aren’t going to make the cut. The fifth is a sharp dogleg left that climbs uphill, and normally doglegs aren’t my favorite, but this hole is so long and tough that knocking one out to the corner is a real achievement. Plus, there’s something about standing on a tee and hitting a draw with the shape of a hole that makes you feel like the most powerful man in the world. According to the scorecard I still have from my first visit, I managed a par here. Most likely I was given a five-footer and/or took a mully off the tee.
6. Shoreacres, Par 3, 192 yards.
The Chicago area is an embarrassment of riches. It’s obscene. Even with all the great courses around, though—Skokie, Butler, Chicago Golf, Bob O’Link, Olympia Fields, Beverly, etc., Shoreacres carries a special bit of esteem. Built in 1916, when you turn into the nondescript driveway, it really is like travelling back in time. One of Seth Raynor’s true masterpieces, if Shoreacres was a classic car, the term would be “all original.” From the clubhouse to the course, it doesn’t feel like anything has changed. The pro I went to play the course with, a guy who had played most everywhere, was so excited about getting on the course he brought the head pro at Shoreacres a gift. True story. Raynor was famous for his pristine routing, but he also used characteristic green complexes like his mentor, C.B. MacDonald. There is maiden, redan, and road hole, but perhaps the most distinct to the naked eye is Biarritz. This is a green complex that features a large swale in the middle. You can almost disappear into the one at Yale, and it’s not quite as severe at Shoreacres, but it still makes for a great and memorable par-3.