These 3 Historic (and Fun!) Golf Courses Can Be Played for Under $50

The treacherous Moat Hole at Galen Hall.

Courtesy of Galen Hall Golf Club.

Many golfers dream of soaking up the game’s rich history by walking down Magnolia Lane, watching service in Oakmont’s Church Pew bunker, or hauling one of Merion’s signature wicker flags off the hole.

But let’s be honest, for many golfers those dreams may never come true.

That’s good, though! Because there are still many other historically significant courses that are both accessible and easy on the wallet. None of the courses on this list have hosted a major, but each has always had an outsized influence on the game as we know it – and best of all, they can all be played for less than $50! Let’s dive in…

Galen Hall Golf Club
Wernersville, Pennsylvania.
$43 over 18 holes

Twenty minutes from Reading, Pennsylvania, and just over an hour from Philadelphia, is a golf course that claims to have the oldest island green in the game. After nine holes were already in place at Galen Hall , AW Tillinghast was brought in to add a second nine. Opened for play in 1917, the back nine features Tilly’s style with planes over streams and hills to elevated greens guarded by steep slopes and rock formations.

The 15th at Galen Hall is known as the Moat Hole (picture above) and is widely considered to be the oldest island green still remaining in its original form. Tillinghast may not have considered potential advancements in golf club technology when he tilted this postage stamp-sized green significantly back-to-front and left-to-right. while surrounding it with water.

TPC Sawgrass, 17th Hole

The 11 largest island greens in the world


GOLF Editors

It’s a formidable target to hold, especially from the back tees, which extend out 190 yards. Although there is plenty of leeway outside the moat, anyone with the ability to reach the green wouldn’t dare to swallow the pill of laying down on a par-3.

If the green of Galen Hall Island is indeed the The oldest island is up for debate – Tillinghast built another green island at Shackamaxon Country Club, New Jersey around the same time he built Galen’s – but it’s undoubtedly one of the oldest .

With green fees of $43, Galen is also one of the best deals in golf. Just for the story! Without the influence of holes like Galen’s 15th, it’s hard to know if the modern pattern would have caught on. Certainly Pete and Alice Dye’s island green at TPC Sawgrass’ penultimate hole has helped fuel the island green building boom – see examples at Coeur D’Alene Resort, PGA West’s Nicklaus Course and the Rancho San Lucas – but the concept was born long before the dyes had perfected it.

The Hotchkiss School Golf Course
Lakeville, Conn.
$16 9-hole walk

In the early 1920s, Seth Raynor found himself spending a lot of time in Connecticut during the construction of the Yale golf course. In favor of the Hotchkiss boarding school, Raynor drew up plans to update the school’s nine-hole course. He built the original eight greens but mostly kept the original hole layout intact while slightly modifying the routing.

What makes Hotchkiss historically significant is that one of the school’s English teachers, Charles Banks, befriended Raynor here and carried out the building plans for the course. After the new Hotchkiss course was completed in 1923, Banks quit his day job and joined Raynor full-time as a protege, in the same way that Raynor had left his job as a surveyor to join C.B. MacDonald in the design business. When Raynor died suddenly in 1926 at the age of 47, Banks completed all of his current projects, as well as having a stellar solo design career afterwards.

If Yale was designed to play like an advanced calculus class, then Hotchkiss (above) was more like basic algebra.

Ben Levin

The vast majority of MacDonald Seth Raynor courses are not only private but also exclusive. Golf temples like the National Golf Links of America, Chicago Golf Club and Fishers Island keep the MacDonald and Raynor names alive in course rankings to this day. These designs are mostly banned, but Hotchkiss is not.

Pattern design features – or “ideal holes”, as MacDonald called them – are all over Hotchkiss. MacDonald built the concept of the Ideal Holes by building holes at National inspired by his favorites to study abroad in the British Isles. Raynor then perfected the concept by configuring the characteristics of these holes in the natural landscape of a new course.

As the style evolved, Raynor began to implement the features of multiple patterns on a single hole, as he often did at Yale. A prime example is the 3rd hole at Hotchkiss. From the tee you climb a hill to a blind green with a tall pole behind that acts as a directional guide. The green sits under a hill which rises to 40 metres, using elements of an Alps hole (with the blind danger) and also a Sahara bunker (between the hill and the green).

The green itself acts as both a punch bowl and a maiden, with the fringe and rough balls helping to funnel towards the middle, and two bumps dissecting the hitting surface into three tiers.

The layout is much simpler than Yale’s, but there are similarities. As one friendly pro shop clerk put it, Raynor designed Hotchkiss to prepare golfers for boarding school at Yale, where many of them went on to play collegiately. If Yale was designed to play like an advanced calculus class, then Hotchkiss was more like basic algebra.

For the same price as a bucket of shot balls, no course has as much historical significance as Hotchkiss.

Golf Marion
Marion, Mass.
$22 over 9 holes

Not to be confused with another historic Pennsylvania course, the Marion Golf Club, which dates back to 1904, is the oldest surviving original design by George C. Thomas. If you don’t know Thomas’s name, you’re probably familiar with some of his West Coast creations, including the Los Angeles Country Club, Riviera, and Bel-Air. Thomas also served on design committees that developed the plans for Pine Valley and Cobbs Creek, both located in the Philadelphia area. While Marion isn’t quite indicative of what Thomas’ style would become, it’s like playing golf in a time capsule.

The holes are short and strategic, a tidy ground game is essential and, if the opportunity arises to play the course with hickory clubs, take it!

I did, and had a blast playing the course with the clubs it was designed for.

A bump and run will not get you past this hurdle.

Ben Levin

Even with hickories, I passed the dogleg on the 2nd par-4 from 290 yards. I blame Thomas, who deceptively placed the 7th green in view from the tee. Playing Marion for the first time you can easily confuse the 7th green with the 2nd and you would never expect such a short hole to make a 90 degree right turn.

As Thomas proved at Marion, with a smart design, it’s easy to play with golfers minds. I find this type of borderline scam psychotic, and I say this with the greatest admiration.

On each of the three par-3s from Thomas to Marion, stone walls guard the greens, forcing players to carry danger. These walls also act as visual barriers, obscuring green ripples and all other penal areas on the other side.

Marion Golf Club is one of the few publicly available Thomas designs. The opportunity to play one of his courses should not be taken for granted as his design style varied wildly from that of his Golden Age peers.

At only $22 for 9 holes, you could easily afford to buy a vowel at Marion. But no need, that’s fine.

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Michael C. Ford