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May 04, 2023

South Jersey's Pine Valley course named best in the U.S. by Golf Digest

Merion Golf Club, the suburban Philly site of 5 U.S. Open championships, also ranked in the top 10, but behind Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh

Recreation Golf
Golf Digest Pine Valley Golf Digest/YouTube

Pine Valley Golf Club in South Jersey once against topped Golf Digest's list of the best golf courses in the United States. Merion Golf Club East in the Philadelphia suburbs ranked No. 6.

Five Philadelphia-area golf courses have been named among the best in the United States by Golf Digest as part of its biennial rankings. 

The Pine Valley Golf Course in Clementon, Camden County once again topped the magazine's list of America's 100 Greatest Golf Courses. Golf Digest has ranked Pine Valley as No. 1 all but eight times since 1985. Merion Golf Club East in Haverford, Delaware County ranked No. 6 for the fourth time in a row. Aronimink Golf Club in Newtown Square, Delaware County was No. 95.

Golf Digest included two other Philly-area golf courses in its Second 100 Greatest Golf Courses rankings. The Philadelphia Cricket Club's Wissahickon course in Flourtown, Montgomery County ranked No. 124 and Galloway National Golf Club near Atlantic City, New Jersey came in at No. 165. 

Here are the top 10 golf courses in the United States, according to Golf Digest:

  1. Pine Valley Golf Club, Clementon, New Jersey
  2. Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Georgia
  3. Cypress Point Club, Pebble Beach. California
  4. Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, Southampton, New York
  5. Oakmont Country Club, Oakmont, Pennsylvania
  6. Merion Golf Club East, Haverford, Pennsylvania
  7. National Golf Links of America, Southampton, New York
  8. Sand Hills Golf Club, Mullen, Nebraska
  9. Fishers Island Club, Fishers Island, New York
  10. Seminole Golf Club, Juno Beach, Florida

The rankings, which began in 1966, evaluate courses on their shot options, layouts, challenges, aesthetics, conditioning and character. Shot options and layout are weighed more heavily than the other four categories. This year, Golf Digest scored each course from 1-10 on each category, calling the rankings its "most scientific ever." 

Pine Valley received high scores in all six categories but particularly was lauded for its character, which received a score of 9.2. Golf Digest has ranked it among the top five golf courses in New Jersey since 1977, and as the top New Jersey course since 1985. 

"The ultimate golf experience in the United States," one Golf Digest evaluator wrote. "Pine Valley is the best course in the world, but it is also one of the least forgiving. The course demands precision and harshly punishes any poor shots. Though sometimes people say it's Disneyland for golfers, I don't think children enjoy Disneyland more than golfers enjoy Pine Valley." 

Pine Valley, established in 1913, was designed by George Crump, a Philadelphia native and accomplished golfer. The course opened with the purpose of serving as a place where the region's best male golfers could compete and practice. Despite its standing, the course has not hosted any major tournaments, championships or international competitions. 

Instead, golfers at Pine Valley can compete in the Crump Cup, a century-long tournament named after its architect. Though Crump spent years working on the property and lived on the grounds year-round until it opened, he died in 1918 before the full 18 holes were completed.

In 2021, Pine Valley leadership voted to allow women to play unrestricted for the first time in the club's 110-year history. The club had been exclusive to men since its founding, and women previously only were permitted to use the club on Sunday afternoons. 

Merion Golf Club East, which ranked just behind Oakmont Country Club in the Pittsburgh suburbs, scored best in the character, category, receiving an 8.7. The private club was designed by Trenton native Hugh Wilson in 1912 and has long been considered the "best course on the tightest acreage in America." 

"Merion is an exceptional experience with a world-class golf course, both incredibly fun and challenging," a Golf Digest evaluator wrote. "The course continues to link world-class holes one after another to create a cohesive course that has stood the test of time." 

Merion East has hosted five U.S. Open championships, most recently in 2013. It previously hosted the major in 1934, 1950, 1971 and 1981, with several big-hitters unable to conquer it. The club is scheduled to host the U.S. Open again in 2030 and 2050. It also has a West Course, which opened two years after its more highly-rated counterpart. 

The course has been included in the rankings since Golf Digest debuted them decades ago. It has ranked first in Pennsylvania four times, though it frequently falls behind Oakmont. It has ranked as high at No. 5 in the country, most recently in 2016. 

Aronimink Golf Club dropped slightly from a No. 94 ranking in 2021. The 121-year-old course was the site of the 2020 KPMG Women's PGA Tournament and will host the Men's PGA Tournament in 2026 during the nation's semiquincentennial celebration. 

The Philadelphia Cricket Club's Wissahickon course fared best in the conditioning category, with a 7.6. The club began operations in 1854 and opened its Wissahickon course in 1922. One Golf Digest evaluator described it as "one of the best courses in the golf-rich Philadelphia area." 

Galloway National Golf Club, which fell from a No. 131 in 2021, earned its highest mark for its challenges, scoring 7.5 in the category. The course, which opened in 1994, has reached as high as 74th in Golf Digest's rankings. One evaluator noted that it is "perhaps the best course in South Jersey (not named Pine Valley)."