Glen Mills offers second chances, big challenges

By Darryl Berger, Contributor

GLEN MILLS, Pa. -- The Glen Mills School in suburban Philadelphia is the oldest residential school in the country for court-referred young men. It's been in existence since 1826. It is for all intents and purposes a private reform school for boys ages 15 to 18 who have run afoul of the law.

All of that is interesting, but what has made Glen Mills unique was the decision to build and operate a golf course on its grounds. In 2000, the Golf Course at Glen Mills opened for play and the accolades have been rolling in ever since.

Golf Digest listed it seventh in its list of "Best New Upscale Courses" in 2001. In 2002, Golf Magazine ranked in fifth in its "Top 10 You Can Play." And Golfweek listed it as the top public course in Pennsylvania in 2003. Pretty heady stuff for a course with such unusual roots.

General Manager Paul Stuhmiller says the students work in the pro shop and on the maintenance crew. "They learn some very important lessons about responsibility and how to function in the workplace," he says. "They also learn skills that are marketable."

According to Stuhmiller, Glen Mills is run like any other course, "but we are here to change the lives of young people and help carry out the school motto 'Service to Youth'."

During my first visit, I spoke to several students. They couldn't have been friendlier or more helpful. You get the feeling they are trying very hard to do the right thing. It's nice to know they are getting another chance to straighten out their lives.

"We've had almost all positive feedback," Stuhlmiller says, "The kids know they have to behave in a professional manner and they do."

Operating profits from the course go toward the school's scholarship fund to help low income students pay for college.

It's a unique situation, but the Golf Course at Glen Mills has people talking -- and for good reason.

The par-71 Bobby Weed design offers a lot of variety. Each hole has a distinct character and the course has an 'old-time feel' while the architect employs several design features. The first four holes have an open feel. Then the course heads into the woods for a more traditional parkland feel. On the back nine the courses plays through a valley with several of the holes taking on aspects of target golf and a more modern feel. The bunkering harkens back to an earlier time, with irregular shaped sand traps, many of which are rimmed with high grass. There are also several nasty pot bunkers.

After a benign opening hole, the second is aptly named "coffin." The long par-4 has half a dozen bunkers in play on the drive. Then short and right of the green is the "coffin" pot bunker. No matter how good your sand game, you want to stay out of that trap.

The fourth hole is a long par-5. Its S-shaped fairway can tempt long hitters to try a second shot over a quarry with bunkers and high grass. Leave it in there and getting on in regulation is no bargain. Play the safer route down the fairway to the left and there are still several traps that must be avoided about 100 yards out from the green.

The par-3 seventh hole is called "Hell." You might use that term and several others you wouldn't use in church after you play this demon. The hole plays uphill, 221 yards from the tips. It's cut out of the hillside to the left and it drops off into bunkers on the right. The green is huge and has no less than four levels from front to back. Yes, the fun is just beginning when you get to putting surface.

The eighth hole is a great, short par-4. The blind tee shot must be placed as close to the narrow green as possible, and you'll want to hit your approach with as little club as possible. If your approach comes up short of the green, it'll likely run down a steep slope. There are no bunkers on this hole, but it's plenty tough without them.

The back nine features a trio of strong par-3s.

The 10th hole is a long par-3 that plays from an elevated tee. There are wetlands in front and to the right of the green. You need to pick the proper club from the tee and there's a large swale running through the green so you'll need to be on the proper level if you're looking for a bird.

The 14th is called the "Redan." Its got plenty of defenses, bunkering well short of the green, and a waste area that wraps around the left side of the putting surface. You'll only need a short to mid iron off the tee, but it's still a knee-knocker.

Those knees will be knocking again on the 16th. A pond wraps around the front and right sides of the green. The only bailout area is pin-high left. Go a little long left and there are three sand traps waiting. Get in one of them and you're left with a sand shot back toward the pond. Your knees will still be knocking.

The back nine has two par-5 holes. No. 15 is a mid-length par-5, but it plays downhill. No. 17 is a short par-5. Both provide opportunities for birdies, but you could have bogey or worse. That's a measure of a pretty good golf hole. Glen Mills has plenty of them.

High handicappers and beginners probably will not enjoy themselves at Glen Mills. There are some tight driving holes, forced carries, tough bunkers and enough trouble to challenge a seasoned golfer. Better players will love it. No one will be bored!

Glen Mills features a lovely Victorian Clubhouse complete with a large clock on top that will let you know how close you are to your starting time right when you pull up to the bag drop. On the first floor is the pro shop and a sitting area with a couple of large leather sofas, very classy. Downstairs you can grab a hot dog or sandwich in a small snack shop.

Orientation:

The Golf Course at Glen Mills is in Delaware County, Pa., about 15 miles west of Philadelphia. Take Route 1 south from I-476 (the Blue Route as its known locally), make a right onto Cheney Rd and another right onto Glen Mills Rd to the course.

Where to stay:

The Park Inn & Suites Brandywine Valley Hotel in Concordville. It's nearby at the intersection of Routes 1 and 202. Rates include a deluxe continental breakfast to fuel up prior to hitting the links. parkinn.com

Where to dine:

Duffer's Tavern & Restaurant (610- 358-5050) is aptly named and close by. It's just the ticket for a sandwich and beer after the round. Franchetta's Restaurant (franchettas.com) in Eddystone is a little longer drive, but features progressive American cuisine. Try the crab cakes.

Off course:

Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford, Pa. It's several miles south of the course just off of Route 1. It marks one of the most costly American defeats of the Revolution. British General Howe routed George Washington's troops here in 1777, leading to the capture of Philadelphia. Right down the street is an attraction of another kind, the Chadds Ford Winery. A renovated Colonial-era barn is the center piece of winery which creates some highly regarded Pennsylvania grape product.

Fast fact

Distance is not the challenge at Glen Mills. There are five sets of tees ranging from 6,636 yards to 6,011 yards (middle tees) and 4,703 yards. From the middle tees the course rating is 66.3 and the slope is 122.

Darryl Berger, Contributor


Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment