Donald Ross was perhaps the most prolific of Golden Age golf course architects, producing over 400 courses in 40 years. While only a few courses are seen as elite (Pinehurst #2, Seminole and locally Aronimink), nearly every Ross course is excellent due to inspired routing, interesting green complexes and solid design principles. In most cities east of the Mississippi River, there’s usually a public Ross course you can play. In Philadelphia, we have two – LuLu Country Club in Glenside and Jeffersonville Golf Club in Norristown.
For a public golfer, LuLu Country Club is a must play. LuLu was long a private club, but fell on hard times early in this century and has adopted a semi-private model, allowing public golfers to play up to seven times in a year as “Members for a Day.” It’s filled with fun holes, in excellent condition and leaves you wanting to play more. You’ll use every club in your bag – the true sign of a great course. With a maximum greens fee of $78 on the weekend (including cart), it’s also a great value. Under the leadership of Head Pro Jon Rusk and Superintendent Matthew Stout, the course has never been better, with hundreds of trees being removed in the last couple of years.
LuLu was founded in 1912 by members of the LuLu Shriners Temple in Plymouth Meeting. The original 9-hole course was laid out by J. Franklin Meehan (nearby North Hills CC and Sandy Run CC), including the famous, short par-3 4th hole. In 1919, Donald Ross was brought in to expand the course to 18-holes. The current course has remained basically the same since opening a century ago. The only change was due to the clubhouse and parking lot constructed on the west side of Limekiln Pike, altering the 12th from a short par-4 to a moderate par-3.
As the photo above illustrates, there were very few trees when the course was built. As with most golf courses from the early 20th century, trees were planted (and grew), choking down the golfing corridors. In the early 2000s, the club took on a restoration plan under the guidance of Ron Forse and Jim Nagle and made substantial improvements. In the last three years, they have removed hundreds of trees and added tee boxes, opening up the course so that players of all levels have a chance to enjoy this Ross gem. There’s no better example of the progress than the 6th hole as shown below.
In October of 2015, the stately old clubhouse burned down. I was there just a week before and came away impressed by the recent changes (a new awning was being installed on the deck that day). After briefly operating out of the parking lot, clubhouse operations were moved to trailers by the unused pool building. The new, state-of-the-art clubhouse is set to open in 2019.
An extensive article on the past, present and future of LuLu can be found here from the Summer 2017 issue of the Golf Association of Philadelphia magazine.
Lulu is just plain fun. There are two things that make it so enjoyable – the diversity of hole types and the quality of the greens. Unlike many mid-century courses, there are no two holes that are remotely the same. While it doesn’t seem like there’s much elevation change while on the course, you can see from driving down Limekiln Pike how much land movement is in the course, and the routing takes you up and down seamlessly throughout the round. While most holes are straight forward with only a few forcing you around a dogleg, you’ll often need to play to one side of a hole to get a better approach or avoid an obstacle.
While the set of par 3s lacks a long hole, each requires a different type of tee ball, with different green type and each are well guarded by bunkers. The par 5s, while short on the scorecard, all play longer than the stated distance and offer varying challenges. If you want to reach the green in two, making an error will have you scrambling for bogie or worse. It’s the par 4s that make LuLu shine. There’s a excellent mixture of long (3, 5, 7, 13), medium (8, 14, 18) and short (2, 9, 11, 16) holes with each presenting a different demand of the golfer.
LuLu’s greens really put your game to the test. There’s a common misconception that Ross greens are turtle-backed (like Pinehurst No. 2), or back-to-front greens. However, Ross designed a wide variety green types. As on display at LuLu, each type fits perfectly with the requirements of the preceding shots. There are two punchbowls (2 and 12) and a punchbowl green site with a relatively flat green (8). A couple have great spines or humps (3, 10) and a couple are two tiered (6, 16). There are a few relatively flat greens (1, 4, 9, 14, 17) and some that slope severely from back to front (5, 7, 11, 13, 15, 18).
Another interesting thing to note is the natural drainage built into the course by way of channels in the fairways and surrounds. Living nearby, I’ve often driven by during a heavy rain to see “rivers” taking water off the course, allowing the course to open without issue the next day. The contours also add interest to your round, providing lots of different lies. Pay particular attention to these contours on the 3rd, 16th and 17th holes.
Lulu is a great course for moderate to very good players. While I’ve taken my 13-year old son here a couple times and he’s played well, I do not advise it for beginners or high-handicap players. Pace of play is generally good (I’ve averaged 3:45). Despite a decent amount of elevation change, it’s a very walk-able course thanks to the tees being close to the preceding green. Despite a higher fee to play than most area courses, LuLu provides excellent value thanks to the great design and country club conditions. For me, it’s a must play in the Philadelphia area.