The PGA Tour will make history this week and - thank goodness - it has absolutely nothing to do with rogue tours and lawsuits.
When the BMW Championship begins on Thursday, the tour will check Delaware off of the list of states to host at least one of its tournaments. That leaves just a few other states like Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, etc. that have yet to see golf's best pros cross its borders.
The honor of Delaware's maiden PGA Tour event goes to the South Course at Wilmington Country Club in The First State's largest city. Wilmington bumps up against the state's northern edge, making it something of a connector between the Philadelphia area and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. megalopolis.
Wilmington Country Club is a midcentury-modern oasis from urban sprawl with serious golf bona fides. After all, its director of golf's name is Michael Shank, who counts among his membership President Joe Biden. Prior to his terms in the executive branch, Biden was for 36 years one of Delaware's two U.S. senators and a single-digit-handicap golfer.
The 7,300-yard South Course was the first of the club's two courses to open, in 1960. The shorter North Course, a Dick Wilson design, opened in '61. Laid out by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., renovated in 2008 by Keith Foster and adjusted further by Andrew Green in 2020, the South is a strong, sturdy test of parkland golf. Tree-lined fairways, lush rough and slippery greens will be the order of the day, with scoring likely significantly affected by the amount or lack of rain in the lead-up to the tournament.
As sometimes happens when the PGA Tour comes to town, the routing of the course has been modified for the BMW Championship. The first hole of the tournament sequence will be the typical 10th, then the pros will play 13 through 15, 5 through 9, 1 through 4, 16, 17, then 11 and 12 before finishing up on 18. This moves a potentially drivable par 4 into the final three holes before closing with two longer two-shotters.
Part of Green's scope of work was to lengthen the par-5 14th hole - no. 3 in the tournament - not by building a new back tee but by moving the green farther downrange. Green and a crew from golf course construction company McDonald and Sons used GPS to build an exact replica of the entire green complex - putting surface and bunkers - in order to preserve Jones' intent and beef up the hole for the modern game. The only modification was to the back-right portion of the green, whose slope they mellowed slightly to increase pinnable area.
Golf in Delaware offers plenty for visitors
At less than 2,000 square miles, Delaware is the second-smallest state by land area (Rhode Island is roughly a third smaller). But it is a solid public golf state, and especially attractive to regional beachgoers who flock to Rehoboth Beach each summer. It's a little smaller and a little quieter than Maryland's nearby Ocean City area, with three solid upscale public courses with B-names: Bear Trap Dunes, Bayside Resort Golf Club and Baywood Greens Golf Club. All three offer resort-style experiences featuring stay and plays, pools and dining.
Having played all three courses several years ago, Bayside ($219) is my top choice. A 2005 Jack Nicklaus Signature design, it shows a somewhat more generous approach from the Golden Bear than his courses built in the 1980s and 1990s. Fairways tend to be quite hittable, with the biggest challenges coming on and around the greens. The scenic run of marshside holes from 10 through 14 is a strong highlight.
Bear Trap Dunes and Baywood Greens are also worthy options. Bear Trap Dunes ($160) is 27 holes, laid out by former Nicklaus associate Rick Jacobson. Its three nines - Kodiak, Black Bear and Grizzly - wind out and back from a clubhouse that is nicely integrated into the surrounding residential community's village center. Sandy waste areas give many holes something of a rugged feel.
Baywood Greens ($167) offers something a little different. A Brian Ault/Bill Love design, it is equal parts garden tour and golf course, with several holes featuring extensive pops of colorful flowers. There is a lot of water, too, especially on the back nine. The 14th has an island fairway that can shorten the hole by 50 yards but at quite a steep risk. My round at Baywood Greens sticks out for the 10-minute introductory speech the starter gave my group.
There is quality accessible golf away from Delaware's resort section, too. Back in Wilmington, Rock Manor Golf Course ($89) is a popular choice, redesigned by Lester George in 2008. White Clay Creek Country Club ($92), an Arthur Hills/Steve Forrest design that opened in 2005, is another highly-rated course that has owned the no. 4 spot on GolfPass' Golfers' Choice list for the state the last three years.
Half an hour south, around the town of Middletown, sit three more modern courses: Frog Hollow ($70), Odessa National Golf Club ($62) and the Links at St. Anne's ($49). The Links at St. Anne's is one of the newest courses in the Mid-Atlantic, having finally been completed in 2020. Frog Hollow's many ragged-edged bunkers and open-plan layout make it an appealing test. Odessa National was originally laid out by Gil Hanse in 2008 and later slightly re-routed by Joel Weiman. It receives rave reviews as well, alternating between no. 1 and no. 2 in the state on our Golfers' Choice list the last three years.
Other notable Delaware golf courses
These clubs are private, but keep an ear out for them. If you get an invite, do not turn it down.
Bidermann Golf Club - Close to the Delaware-Pennsylvania line north of Wilmington, this Dick Wilson design sits on the grounds of the Winterthur estate, a longtime family property of the DuPonts. To say Bidermann flies under the radar is an understatement, but the club did host U.S. Amateur qualifying a couple of years ago.
Fieldstone Golf Club - This Michael Hurdzan/Dana Fry design opened in 1999 and is Wilmington's modern golf club of choice. Stone ruins between the 12th and 14th fairways add to the ambiance at Fieldstone.
DuPont Country Club - A longtime former LPGA Tour host, DuPont Country Club is home to three golf courses. There's the tournament-hosting Championship course, the 6,200-yard Nemours course and a par-61 routing called Montchanin. Alfred Tull laid out the big courses in the '30s and '40s, and Lester George has updated them in recent years.