Golf Course at Glen Mills

Glen Mills puts any concerns to rest

Originally published on Oct. 05, 2003

When it opened three years ago, anybody who had anything to do with the Golf Course at Glen Mills had their fingers crossed.

There were, of course, the usual concerns about whether golfers would like the area's latest upscale daily-fee course, the first original design in the Northeast by Bobby Weed, a Florida architect who for years had been right-hand man to the great Pete Dye.

More ominous, though, were the concerns about whether golfers would even feel comfortable at the course, which is built on, managed and owned by the oldest reform school in the country, Glen Mills School, founded in 1826.

Would golfers even realize when they pulled up to the bag drop that they were most likely handing over their clubs to a troubled teen sent to Glen Mills by a judge in one of 28 states? If they did know, would they care? Would they come back?

At a glance
Getting there: The Golf Course at Glen Mills is located at 221 Glen Mills Road, Glen Mills, Delaware County. From Interstate 476, take Exit 5 for Route 1 south. Follow Route 1 south past the Granite Run Mall and the Franklin Mint. At the second light past the Mint, turn right on Stoneybrook Road. Follow the signs for Glen Mills. Phone 610-558-2142. Website: www.glenmillsgolf.com.

Green fees: Fridays, weekends and holidays, $90, including cart fees. Monday through Thursday, $75 with carts. Discount rates available for seniors, juniors, twilight and 9 holes.

Walking: Walking permitted any time, but cart fees are included.

Amenities: Well-stocked pro shop, comfortable clubhouse with locker rooms and snack bar. Driving range and putting green. Outings welcome. Alcohol not served.

Rating: One of the best upscale daily-fee courses in the region; deservedly a darling of national golf magazines. Terrific design, well-kept, a must-play for area golfers.

Accurate as of Oct. 2003.

"One mistake, one problem, is all it will take," Ron Pilot, a Glen Mills board member, said at the time as he sat in a trailer that served as a temporary pro shop. "We know that."

Three years later, there have been no mistakes, no problems.

"We've had kids bring back wallets, rings, cell phones, watches and credit cards that had been left in carts," Pilot said with pride last week, this time sitting in the snack bar of Glen Mills' comfortable clubhouse.

In three years, more than 40 Glen Mills students who were trained in the golf shop's operations or in course maintenance have graduated and been placed in jobs in the golf industry.

"These kids have never had a chance in life," said Pilot, a father of seven and grandfather of 23. "We give them a chance."

If the concept has succeeded, so has the golf course.

In 2001, the year after it opened, Golf Digest ranked Glen Mills seventh on a list of best "New Upscale Courses" in the country. In 2002, Golf magazine named it No. 5 on its national list of "Top Ten You Can Play." In May, Golfweek magazine crowned Glen Mills the best daily-fee course in Pennsylvania.

The golfing public has responded. Day in, day out, weather permitting, Glen Mills is fully booked, even at prime rates of $90.

The course will ring up 33,000 rounds this year, and could do plenty more if tee times weren't spaced at 15-minute intervals to prevent course crowding. Much of the $2.6 million in revenue that the course generates is earmarked for college scholarships for Glen Mills students.

The only other time I played Glen Mills was the week it opened. It was obviously full of potential, but it was still raw; the rough was still overgrown, while fairways and greens hadn't fully grown in.

Three years later, the fairways and greens are as lush as carpet. Except for four opening holes, which are built on an old cornfield, the 6,636-yard, par-71 layout wends its way across 235 acres of rural countryside so perfectly suited for a golf course that Weed and Scot Sherman, his top assistant, must have pinched themselves.

In the unlikely event that the splendor of the scenery or the design of the holes aren't enough to impress you, the Glen Mills School complex that comes into view through the trees from time to time will: It's a series of towering red stone structures that could easily pass for a medieval castle.

Three years ago, as I groped my way around a strange new course, I liked Glen Mills , but complained that on a couple of holes, Weed's fairways were too narrow and the adjoining rough too punishing.

Maybe I have mellowed with age, or maybe the course has. This time around, I cringed once on a tee, at the 376-yard 11th, with its obscured tee shot.

Relax, my playing partners assured me, it's not that tough. It may not appear so, but the fairway is plenty generous. When I looked up, all I could see was a narrow chute of a fairway bordered by a creek on the left and a nasty wall of dirt and high grass on the right. I couldn't see that spot in the fairway they mentioned.

Naturally, I tensed up and sent a half-shanked dead buzzard nose-diving to the right 30 yards off-line.

Other than that, my hat is off to Weed. For the purist, his bunkering runs toward that raw, ragged look. His greens tend to be outsized, tiered and undulating, giving each hole pin positions that range from easy to hard to treacherous. My least-favorite green is at the 7th, a 221-yard, uphill par 3, where the green is 170 feet deep and has four distinct levels. Wonder why the hole is officially nicknamed "Hell."

Weed dares the bold and the big hitters to go for broke at the 572-yard double dogleg par-5 No. 4 on the second shot, a 235-yard carry over a quarry. He also tempts them at the 8th, a 325-yard par 4 (from the tips) that is very reachable off the tee.

Glen Mills was already good, very good. But with the announcements several months ago that two other premier daily-fee courses, Pine Hill and Hartefeld National, are in the process of going private, Glen Mills suddenly looms even more prominently among the elite handful of courses available to play.

Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 215-854-5604 or jlogan@phillynews.com.

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