An introduction to Pittsburgh
After Philadelphia, Pittsburgh is the second biggest city in Pennsylvania and voted as one of the best places in the world to visit. You’d expect the tourist board website to say that, but it is definitely one of the most fun. Add to that some great golf courses in Pittsburgh we’ll look at later.
The heart of the city is also the junction of three major rivers, the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny. The banks of the river provide much of the bustle of the city, with on the north shore the Andy Warhol Museum and the Carnegie Science Center.
You could be visiting the city with the kids or ticking off the historical sites, and you’d never get round everything in one visit. The city has numerous history museums as well as the impressive Cathedral of Learning.
The cathedral has remarkable gothic-style architecture and is an epic place to visit. At 42-stories high, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city.
For stunning views of downtown, grab the cable car at Duquesne Incline. There really are no views which beat this and this is without doubt one of the main attractions of the city.
For somewhere to visit after playing golf, why not consider the Strip District, which is just out of the city center. There are awesome eateries, great bars and some quality nightclubs.
The best golf courses in Pittsburgh
Oakmont Country Club
Up in East Oakmont, 25 minutes from downtown Pittsburgh, is one of the world’s most spectacular golf courses.
Here ladies and gentleman, we have Oakmont Country Club. One of the oldest courses in Pennsylvania and arguably one of the most difficult in the world.
Oakmont is an icon in the game of game. Aside from Augusta National, the course has hosted the most major championships in the U.S. Countless USGA and PGA championships have been hosted here as well as numerous other high caliber tournaments.
Its history reaches right back to the beginning of the twentieth century. Henry Clay Fownes was the son of English immigrants and his family owned a large and profitable iron business.
After discovering the game of golf in his 40s, in 1903 he decided to acquire a parcel of land 14 miles east of the city. It was here that Oakmont was born, with the course opening for play in 1904.
Henry himself designed the layout and over subsequent years, his son William continued his great work.
The course is one of the most brutal layouts in existence. Super-tight fairways pock marked with traps. The bunkers are perilous and anyone finding them consistently will rack up a cricket score quite quickly. Many of you may recognise the famous ‘church pew’ bunker which is one of 210 deep bunkers throughout the 18 holes.
But even when you get to the greens, it is no easy ride. They are lightning fast and it’s not unusual for them to be toned down for major championships.
Oakmont is an outstanding course and is consistently ranked as one of the Top 10 golf courses in the world, let alone the U.S.
Fox Chapel Golf Club
On the north side of the Allegheny River, is the exclusive private club of Fox Chapel golf club. It is located in a leafy upmarket suburb away from the bustle of the city.
The layout at Fox Chapel is a Seth Raynor classic. As soon as the 2nd hole we’re entering classic golf course architecture territory. Heaven on earth for architecture enthusiasts!
The Punchbowl second, the Eden third, Redan sixth and the list goes on. There is intrigue and creativity on every hole making Fox Chapel quite unique to play.
By today’s standards, some may consider it slightly short from the back tees at just over 6,700 yards. But this is a refreshing detour from brute length we see at so many of today’s ‘greats’.
A round at Fox Chapel is about picking your way round, thinking about strategy and alos simply enjoying the trip back in time.
But don’t think this is an old-school gimmick. We’re talking about a course considered one of America’s finest golf courses.
Longue Vue Club
Just east of the city, hugging the Allegheny River, is one of the most elevated plots of land in the city. Where better than to place a golf course!
And so here you will find the Longue Vue Club. Perched high up on a ridge, it has stunning panoramic views of the suburbs and north over the river.
It was built in the 1920s by a relative unknown, Robert White. White was a Scotsman who emigrated to the U.S. in the late nineteenth century. He was at times a greenkeeper, a professional (who played in the U.S. Open on a couple of occasions), and eventually a course architect.
Amongst the 20 or so courses he designed, Longue Vue is up there as one of his finest. It also portrays a number of classical design traits made famous by the likes of Seth Raynor and A.W.Tillinghast, who some years later made several upgrades to the layout.
At Longue Vue you will find a Redan, an Alps hole and an Eden. Fairways are constantly flowing from one side to another. There are very few occasions where you’ll have a flat lie, so knowing how to shape the golf ball is paramount to scoring well.
It is a family friendly country club and one of the top golf courses in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh Field Club
Another course whose legacy and tradition harks way back to before the start of the twentieth century. Pittsburgh Field Club started life as Pittsburgh Cricket Club, way back in 1882.
In 1914, the club relocated and purchased a 171 acre plot of land, north of the Allegheny River and east of O’Hara Township. The course was designed by Alexander Findlay, the ‘Father of American Golf’.
Over the years, the routing has undergone many changes. Those changes have been overseen by a who’s who of golf course architects. Donald Ross, A.W.Tillinghast, Willie Park Jr, Robert Trent Jones , Arthur Hills and many more.
As many great changes as there have been, there have been some notable losses. Those include the twelfth, a par 6 measuring 600 yards, as well as a 165 yard par 3 whose green was perched high up on a sharp cliff.
Despite that, Pittsburgh Field Club remains a top class course which is highly regarded, both now but also back in the day. So much so, in the late 30s, it was selected as the host venue to the 1937 PGA Championship.
Since then, the club has primarily been used for qualifying, both for the US Open and the US Amateur Championships. And you can understand why, as this is no walk in the park.
The elevated first tee is the perfect start, with plenty of hang time on the drive. From there on, the course climbs, bucks and descends. The routing is challenging at the best of times and pin-point precision off drives and approach play is critically important.
A great course and one of the finest in the city.
Totteridge Golf Course
A course renowned for its breathtaking views and rolling hills, Totteridge is a Rees Jones masterpiece.
Truth be told, the course is much closer to Greensburg than it is to Pittsburgh. We’re talking just under an hour’s drive due east from central Pittsburgh.
But there are many good reasons to include Totteridge, and not just the fact it is open to the public.
Jones worked with Tom Tanto to create an inland-links style layout, with expansive views. Many parts of the course are wide open with very little vegetation and trees protecting it from winds guzzling through the valley.
There are also some great elevation changes which come into play on many of the holes. Add to this elevated tee boxes, wildly contoured bunkers, fairway mounding and fast greens, this is a fantastic layout.
It also makes Totteridge one of those courses to test some of the better players. Playing off the Black tees will stretch the routing to nearly 7,200 yards. Fortunately there are four other tee boxes to choose from for those less competent.
Allegheny Country Club
There aren’t many golf courses which can list out names such as Bendelow, Fowler, Alison, Ross and Hanse having materially influenced the design. Yet Allegheny does just that.
This is a club whose traditions run back to the pre-twentieth century, with the first Invitational Golf Tournament held in 1895. Fast-forward seven years and the club moved to its new location in Sewickley Heights in 1902.
It was at this point Tom Bendelow laid the plans for the first 18-hole routing whilst the grand clubhouse was also constructed. It was in 1913 when Donald Ross was first involved with Allegheny CC, coming to consult on changes to the layout.
He then later revisited the club on a number of occasions, the last being post-World War II, to finalize major course renovations.
Jumping to today, Allegheny Country Club is a bustling family-centric club with a number of additional facilities. More recently the course has enjoyed a couple of upgrades from Gill Hanse no less.
A mere 6,500 yards in length might seem innocuous. Yet elevation changes, slopes and raised targets more than up-the-risk factor. The greens are also testing, both fast and featuring numerous undulations.
A fun and quirky course well worth pushing for an invite.
Sewickley Heights Golf Club
Not quite a stone’s throw, but approximately half a mile north of Allegheny Country Club is Sewickley Heights Golf Club.
Completely surrounded by Sewickley Heights Borough Park and Devil’s Hollow Conservation Area, this is a secluded spot.
The course opened for play in 1961 and within just five years, it was already selected as the host venue to the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship. The course was designed by a Donald Ross associate called Jim Harrison, and Ferdinand Garbin.
The layout is fine indeed, and is far too often overlooked for some of the other layouts surrounding Pittsburgh. What it does share with many of these courses, is a spectacular topography.
The routing features numerous elevation changes which in itself would be a challenge. But add to this super narrow fairways and rapid greens, all of which were completely renovated after the turn of the century.
A real hidden gem in the Pittsburgh area, if you get an invite here, grab it with both hands.
St Clair Country Club
Just 8 miles from Pittsburgh, in the south western suburbs, is St Clair Country Club.
The club has been in existence since the 1920s and features a championship 18-hole layout, as well as a testing 9-hole.
The Championship course was designed by William Gordon and his son David. In more recent years, it was renovated by Keith Foster, a specialist in renovating classic courses.
It has to be said, the Championship course is serious fun. Snaking around a 265-acre plot, there are just over a handful of lakes, many of which are used to protect greens.
Bunkers are another hazard with not one green featuring at least a couple of strategically placed sand-traps.
Off the back tees the yardage is over 7,000 and even the 6,660 yards off the tee in front of that is challenging.
The whole package here is impressive. The practice facilities are vast, the Terrace nine-hole is great and the site is manicured to perfection.
The Club at Nevillewood
Nestled in the Western Pennsylvania Hills, around ten miles to the west of the city, is the wonderful Club at Nevillewood.
This is a Jack Nicklaus signature layout which opened in 1992 and adds to the selection of great golf courses near Pittsburgh.
The 9th hole is the one which gets all the plaudits. Amongst Nicklaus’ 200-plus course designs, those holes selected as his finest join a collection called ‘Bear’s Best’, elite company to which the ninth was added.
Off the tee of this par 4 is a short carry over a slight dip, but negotiate this and you’ll land on a relatively large fairway. You then have an approach over a small lake to the elegant tiered green.
The Club at Nevillewood is a welcome contrast to many of the classically designed courses around Pittsburgh. The attentively manicured grounds are in no way impeded by the housing which surrounds the course. There is enough distance and foliage to keep you focused on the challenge in front of you.
Nicklaus and his team have created a fine championship course at Nevillewood. There is plenty of variety in the holes and the terrain keeps things interesting. From the Nicklaus tees, the yardage is just shy of 7,300 yards!
What is the best golf course in Pittsburgh?
The best golf course in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is Oakmont Country Club. The course is located in East Oakmont and was designed by Henry Fownes. It is ranked as one of the best golf courses in the world and has held numerous major championships.
How many golf courses are there in Pittsburgh?
There are 71 golf courses within 20 miles of Pittsburgh. In Pittsburgh itself, there are 14 golf courses.