Philly golf review: Cheltenham’s JC Melrose a nasty, immaculate test

Tucked away in an enclave in Cheltenham, JC Melrose Country Club describes itself as an “urban oasis.”

The historic (Sam Snead played here), formerly private club is a lush, strategic and punishing trek of 18 holes located just outside Philadelphia city limits.

From the minute you cross the street after playing the relatively simple par-3 fourth hole, the dogleg, uphill fifth (with water, a steep incline and small landing area), you’re entering territory for serious golfers only.

“It’s a tough golf course to play from the wrong side of the fairway,” Melrose’s head pro Chris Testa said. “It’s a tough golf course to play from the rough. You really have to be able to stick the greens. It’s a traditional old golf course, there’s a lot of side-hill lies, you’re not going to find too many flat lies out there and thats really what protects the golf course.”

The quality of the layout and upkeep is palpable, from the subtle but speedy greens to the unrelenting threat of trees that beckons nearly every tee shot.

Like most old-style courses in the Philly area, long irons are key. The driver can stay in your trunk.

“I think it’s a fun course to play, it’s a lot of target golf,” Testa said. “You don’t have to be long. You have long guys here who think they’re going to tear the place up but it’s not easy for anybody.”

The course was in its heyday back when Cheltenham was an upper-class Jewish neighborhood, but still holds the same charm and test for golfers of differing skills under new management. The facility was a fully private club as recently as a decade ago, but it’s transitioned to fully public and offers surprisingly reasonable rates.

Local knowledge tip: “It’s good to have a little local knowledge on the back nine. There’s some tough holes out here, too. Seventeen’s a tough hole and eight is one of the toughest par 3s in Philadelphia. You just have to play it like a par 4, theres no bail on it. I think it’s a good challenge for anybody and the greens are great.”

Price range: From $35 (weekday twilight) to $60 (weekend morning)

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