Earlier this week, I made a return visit to Bidermann GC, near Wilmington, which I first played in the
fall of 2010. At the time I dubbed Bidermann the "most exclusive club you’ve never heard
of." I enjoyed it just as much the
second time around, so I’ve reposted this story I wrote after my first visit.
Also, I took a few photos.
Just when I thought I had experienced pretty much
all that the Philadelphia golf scene has to offer, it turned out I hadn’t.
I say that because this past week I played a
course that was one of the most unique and enjoyable golfing experiences I’ve
had in years.
I had heard of Bidermann Golf Club -- sort of, vaguely -- but I really knew nothing about
it. I’d never heard anybody say
anything about Bidermann
as a club or as a course – good or bad -- so I had no reason to be
In fact, the only time I ever heard of Bidermann at all
was when a member of Merion GC I
know mentioned several years ago that he was also a member of Bidermann. He said it like I would be familiar with
so I nodded as if I was.
But Bidermann -- it’s Bid-er-mann, like you "bid" at an
auction – didn’t really register on my radar screen until recently, when
a golf writer buddy, Jeff Silverman,
called and said he was writing a piece on Bidermann for the Golf
Association of Philadelphia
"You’ve got to see this place," gushed Jeff, who does not gush easily. "It’s amazing."
Bidermann, which has long maintained the lowest of
profiles, doesn’t have a website, and Googling didn’t
turn up much, either. So, by way of
preparation for the round, about I could do was read the profile and short history of the
course on the GAP website.
There I learned that Bidermann had its beginnings as
a 9-hole course, designed in the 1920s by the respected and prolific architect Devereux Emmet,
and laid out across the hills and meadows of the private estate of Henry Francis du Pont, adjacent to what
is now Winterthur museum and gardens, near Wilmington. Membership: One.
It remained du Pont’s private playground until 1963, when he was approached by
his cousin, George Weymouth, who
convinced him there was the need for a "small, intimate club devoted solely to
In addition to du Pont’s estate, his cousin Emily
du Pont, and avid golfer, kicked in an adjacent parcel, giving them 300
acres. To design the course, they
brought in Dick Wilson, a one-time
understudy to William S. Flynn who
went on to make a name for himself, designing, among other courses, Cog Hill in Chicago, Laurel Valley in Ligonier, Pa. and,
locally, Radnor Valley CC.
When it opened in 1965, Bidermann expanded its
membership rolls from one to include other blue bloods from the area, some of
whom were said to be escaping the crowds at Wilmington CC.
Here’s an interesting passage from the GAP
beginning, there was only one club rule: "ball must be lifted from any flower
bed and dropped no nearer hole without penalty." This remained the only club
rule because Weymouth was insistent
that given the size and quality of the membership, rules were unnecessary.
In 1977 Bidermann merged with Vicmead Hunt Club and today has about 275 golf members.
(After the round, even more curious, I turned
up a few mentions of Bidermann
on discussion threads at GolfClubAtlas.)
No tee times
There are no tee times at Bidermann because, well, they
don’t need them. Bidermann
does only 7,000 to 8,000 rounds a year, longtime head pro Dick Wilson – no relation to the course architect –
told me. That is fewer even than
Mills GC, and most likely the fewest rounds of any
course in the region. Since much of
the membership heads to warmer climes for the winter, the Bidermann is closed from around Thanksgiving until early spring.
On a warm, clear fall morning this past
Thursday, there were only a couple of cars in the parking lot when Jeff and I arrived. Other than ourselves, we saw one
"Looks packed today," Jeff joked with the assistant pro.
"Oh, yeah," said the assistant pro.,
smiling "Yesterday we had seven."
That’s seven, as in seven golfers for the
Much of the charm of Bidermann is the rustic,
understated elegance of the whole place.
The clubhouse, pro shop and locker room -- everything is old and simple
and classy, like an old-money millionaire who wouldn’t think of playing golf in
anything other than faded khakis and a frayed white golf shirt. Bidermann members aren’t concerned about impressing anybody
with their status or wealth.
Right away, I spotted two telltale indicators
exclusivity and refinement. First,
the scorecard is small and simple.
No four color course map, no photos of holes, no pretentious club
history. Leave all that to resorts,
daily courses and second tier private clubs.
Inverse Scorecard Rule
Over the course of my golf travels, I have in
fact developed what I call the Inverse
Scorecard Rule, which essentially
holds that the more elite the club, the more understated and basic the
scorecard. Merion, Pine Valley, Augusta National, Aronimink, Oakmont, Saucon Valley and East Lake – they all have the simplest of scorecards.
I have developed a similar inverse rule when it
comes to course signage and markings:
The more private the course, the fewer the signs. Which is why was I not surprised in the
least that Bidermann
had literally no signage. Not so much as a small and subtle
"No. 1" marker on the shaft of the ball washer.
After the first hole at Bidermann, you move across the
road, where there is a slightly confusing confluence of tee boxes. Naturally, there was no hint whatsoever
as to which was the No. 2 tee. And
why would there be? It is assumed that
anybody who needs to know, knows.
Paved cart paths? Ha!
Cart girl? Puh-leeze. Like
many clubs of this sort, Bidermann has an honor-system halfway house. If members take a soda or crackers, they
fill out a small card with their name, membership number and what they took.
The golf course, which is a delightful parkland
layout, with all kinds of elevation changes and a handful of terrific holes,
wouldn’t make the Top 10 in Philadelphia.
But it’s first-rate by any measure, and the perimeter is dotted with
stone mansions in the distance.
Though the course is quite good (6,766 yards
from the tips, 73.2 rating/129 slope), it’s almost secondary to the total
golfing experience at Bidermann. Imagine playing an
immaculately-maintained course, on a perfect fall day, and so far as you can
tell, there is only one other foursome on the course. It’s hard not to feel like King for a
and I putted out on the 18th, a middle-aged couple was stepping to
the first tee. Hmmm, let’s see: Jeff and I, plus that foursome that was
two holes behind us, and now these two.
That’s makes eight total.
Busy day at Bidermann.