There’s a strange stigma that developed over the years that comes with a shorter course. It’s as if the length of a course is somehow related to how “good” it is. Paxon Hollow Country Club is on the on the opposite side of the city from where I’ve lived so I never sought out a course that was just over 5,700 yards from the back tees. But after reading many positive reviews, and wanting to get outside and play somewhere on a cold November Friday, I finally made it Paxon Hollow. And boy I’m glad I did!
Like many old courses around Philadelphia, Paxon Hollow is laid out on undulating land and around a creek. Short by any standard, it still presents many challenges and is a great choice for a fun round of golf. The green complexes are outstanding and there’s a ton of variety. The back 9 is particularly good with a standout stretch of holes 10 through 13 and perhaps my favorite closing hole in the region.
The course was originally built by J. Franklin Meehan in 1926 with design help of Francis Warner, then secretary of the Golf Association of Philadelphia. Meehan, a landscaper by trade, also built two excellent private courses on the my side of the city – North Hills CC and Sand Run CC. Originally a private club, it went through various states of ownership before being purchased by Marple Township in 1967. While the course did not lose any land over the years, the layout was altered a number of times. The plan pictured below was for 27 holes, but only 18 were built.
Most changes occurred on the back 9, though the par-3 4th was added to replace another par-3 in the front 9. Below are images from the Dallin Collection and Penn Pilot in 1939.
My driver shaft broke in my trunk earlier in the season, so I was teeing off with a 3-wood or 19° hybrid, which proved to be the perfect way to play the course. Playing to about 225, I was still hitting 6-iron to PW on most par 4s. The green complexes are outstanding. A recent article by The Fried Egg mentions that Jim Wagner has helped on the bunkers and it shows. As a result, I’d recommend teeing off with whatever club you can get into the fairway with a comfortable approach. There’s little advantage to hitting to 60 yards, out of position with a half wedge.
The front nine is a little weaker than the back. The opener offers a confusing angle from tee to green and the par-5s have severe doglegs. The 5th is a strong hole, a dogleg to the left with a steep drop off inside the dogleg. The 9th is excellent, sloping and bending right to left.
The back nine holes is where the course shines. Though not original, the 10th is a visually stunning, short par-4 along the creek. The green slopes back right to front left, so better to stay to the left on approach. The 11th is a short but gorgeous par-5 up the hill, with a 1700s cottage on the left and hollow on the right. The 13th is another dogleg left where the green has been moved closer over the years. New work has put more challenge into the green complex but I would have loved to have seen the original. Closing out the round is a drop-kick par-3 on 17 down 50 or so feet followed by the beautiful 18th. Originally routed from the top of the hill, it still inspires as the hole crosses Trout Run multiple times on the way to a perched up green.
From an architecture perspective, Paxon Hollow is a must play. I could play the last 10 holes every day for a year and be a happy man. While the front is weaker, the holes are still challenging, particularly around the greens. To get the best out of your experience, keep your ball in play and hit to 200-225 off the tee on the par-4s. The greens aren’t tricked out and you can have good birdie opportunities (I made three). From other reviews, it seems it can be a long round. I played with nobody else on the course and flew around, so better to find a less busy day to get your first experience. Conditions were really good for late November after a ridiculously wet summer and fall, so I assume they’re good year round. I’ll be returning in 2019 and will update once I’ve played once or twice more. I’m particularly interested to see how my 13-year-old enjoys the course.