A few years ago I found a great website while researching old courses – the Hagley Museum in Wilmington, DE. Their digital archives have all kinds of photos and print materials from years gone by. The most interesting collection for golfers is the Dallin Aerial Surveys photograph collection. There are hundreds of aerial photos of golf courses taken in the 1920s and 1930s. Most are labeled with the name of the club, but the photo below was simply labeled, “Country Club near Pitman, New Jersey.” This sparked my interest, being unfamiliar with Pitman, NJ. What course is this?
It wasn’t hard to figure out that the photo was of the current Pitman Golf Course. Designed by Alex Findlay, the first nine holes opened in 1927, it was and expanded to 18-holes shortly after and remains pretty much the same course today. The club is owned and operated by Gloucester Township, having purchased the property in 1994. Since then, they’ve renovated the course, and built a new clubhouse and event pavilion.
Located just 30-minutes due south of Center City, Pitman is another example of a municipal golf course that gets it all right. The greens fees are reasonable, especially for locals. On the rates page, there’s even a section dedicated to “Affordable Golf” – something I’ve never seen. For the general public, rates peak at $59 to ride on the weekend (2020). Walking is permitted at any time and 9-hole rates are available throughout the day.
On the shorter side at 6125-yards from the back tee and 5731-yards from the middle tee, the par-70 course makes up for its lack of length with challenging and interesting green complexes. Most of all, the course is a ton of fun. The conditions aren’t country club perfect, but the course is well maintained and greens were in excellent shape in my October visit. The staff is friendly at the small pro-shop and there’s a restaurant and snack shack (cash only) on site.
The Pitman website has a detailed history of the club, which I always appreciate. The course opened for play on April 1, 1927 as a 9-hole layout. As evidenced by the Dallin photo above dated November 1928, it was full 18-hole course shortly after opening. From the beginning the course offered both memberships and daily public play. Alexander Hamburg Findlay was both the architect and a founding member. Findlay was considered a “Johnny Appleseed” of American golf, credited with designing over 140 courses starting in the late 1800s. Findlay settled in the area around 1910, with most of his last 40 or so designs in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Pitman survived the Great Depression, but did not outlast World War II. The club closed in 1942 and was used as a hay farm for 12 years until reopening in 1954. The only major change to the course is the 7th hole. Originally a straight par-5, the green was moved in 1992 due to complaints of golf balls landing on the newly constructed Route-55 highway. While it was determined that golfers were not to blame, the re-routing was nevertheless required by the state. Today you can still see the original green to the left of the 8th tee-box. The firm of Ault-Clark was tapped with the renovation of the course in the late 90s and early 2000s, focusing on the greens and surrounds.
In my 40+ years living in Philadelphia I had never heard of Pitman, and was really interested in seeing a relatively untouched Alex Findlay course. Many of the courses Findlay designed were severely changed, replaced by other architects over the subsequent years, are poorly maintained, or have closed. As I found in Reading Country Club, he did produce some really good work. So on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon in early October, with the kids off of school, I made the drive down to South Jersey with my oldest son.
Right from the first tee, I was in golf heaven. The course was glowing in the warm fall afternoon. While not perfect, it was in tremendous shape for a muni. As you can see from the aerial above, the course is self contained in the farmland outside Glassboro, so it feels like a walk in the park. The routing is quite clever for a piece of land with minimal elevation change. The front nine wraps around the outside of the property going clockwise from the clubhouse. The back nine moves counter-clockwise through the inside of the property, before snaking back and forth in the center of the property, crossing the ponds and creek five times. Though the back has five holes that run east to west or west to east, they’re angled slightly differently so as not to feel like the one that came before.
There’s a comfortable flow to the holes. The first three are straight forward, two slight dogleg-right par-4s and and left-leaning par-5. From there, the Findlay quirk gets dialed up. The 4th is a longer par-3, with a large bunker left and a hidden bunker right. The 5th is a short, dogleg left with the tee shot crossing over the creek and the fairway sloped right to left. The 6th is another dogleg left that bends in a crescent shape around the trees.
The standout holes are those from 8 to 11. The 8th is a short, downhill 138-yard par-3 with a wide green that slopes left to right. The 9th is a moderate par-4, with slight turn to the left. The tee shot heads uphill, leaving an approach over a small pond to a well-guarded green. The 10th is a severe dogleg-left, with bunkers on the corner. The green is framed by mature evergreens. The 11th is another severe dogleg-left. With the fairway angling right to left down towards the creek, the ideal play is out about 210 yards to the turn. The approach plays over a swale around creek to a green adorned with a bullseye sign, so going too far left off the tee leaves a difficult shot from a severe downhill lie.
The two other holes of note are the par-3s on the second nine. The 14th tops out a 129-yards, but plays a little uphill, parallel to the creek with a pond in front of the tee. The green has an “Eden” feel, with ghost bunkers surrounding, and only one trap filled in to the right of the green with a tree unfortunately ahead of it. I’d love to see the tree removed and the bunkers restored. The 17th is bunkerless short hole, playing across a pond to a green that slopes from back to front.
Pitman is a hidden gem. I’m shocked that I had never heard of it. But it looks like through the pandemic of 2020-2021, more people have found it. As I scroll for tee times, I usually only see a couple very late slots available. If you’re looking for a new course to play in South Jersey, plan ahead and visit Pitman. You’ll get a great value for a really fun golf course. Trying to build content for the website, I rarely get to play the same course multiple times, but Pitman is one I will be going to back to at least once a year. I just wish I lived closer.