NEWS AND FEATURES
Bidermann GC 
Bidermann Golf Club: The most exclusive club you never heard of

By Joe Logan
Published November 14, 2010

 

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 curious.

 

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 Bidermann, 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 magazine.

 

"You’ve got to see this place," gushed Jeff, who does not gush easily.  "It’s amazing." 

 

 

Low profile

 

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 golf."

 

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 profile:

 

In the 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 ultra-private Gulph 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 foursome.

 

"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 entire day. 

 

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 of Bidermann’s 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 Day.

 

As Jeff 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.

 

Send to a friend
7 Comments   |   0 Pending   |   Add a Comment  
bill[4/4/2017 5:38:16 PM]
understated elegance
Scott Prince[11/16/2010 7:20:57 PM]
OK,Joe...what did you shoot?
fran21356[11/16/2010 5:22:10 AM]
it goes to show what a great golf area Philadelphia is that a top ten course has even been rarely heard of.
Mark M.[11/15/2010 6:28:05 PM]
Hey Joe, Great article!!
redanman[11/15/2010 6:42:35 AM]
Glad you got to play there, Joe, thatís two very special in about a month.
Acer3x[11/15/2010 5:19:44 AM]
How were the hot dogs?
David M[11/15/2010 5:04:05 AM]
What a place!


 
MyPhillyGolf.com
  About MyPhillyGolf
  Blog Archives
  Photos
  Reviews
Special Features
  Advertise with Us
  Course Finder
Links to Other Golf Sites
  Philadelphia PGA
  LPGA
  PGA Tour
  EWGA- Philadelphia
  Philly Publinks
   © 2018 MyPhillyGolf.com All Rights Reserved
   Privacy Policy | Terms of UseDeveloped by AppNet Solutions