160-year-old club adds Gary Player-designed golf course to its portfolio

Golf course news and notes: March, 2021.
The par-5 9th at the renamed Union League Liberty Hill crawls uphill toward the stately clubhouse.

It sounds like the Union League of Philadelphia has heard the good news about the resurgence of private club golf in the last year.

On February 27, the 160-year-old organization confirmed its acquisition of the golf course currently known as the ACE Club in Lafayette Hill, Penn., just west of Philadelphia.

Boasting a membership of more than 4,500, the Union League of Philadelphia dates back to 1862, originally organized to support the policies of then-President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War.

Over the last decade, the Union League has steadily added golf to its amenities in a big way. In 2014, the organization purchased the former Torresdale-Frankford Country Club and its Donald Ross-designed golf course, rechristening it the Union League Golf Club at Torresdale and investing some $15 million in improvements throughout the facility.

In 2017, the League bought the former Sand Barrens Golf Club in Swainton, N.J., renaming it the Union League National Golf Club. That course, a 27-hole layout originally designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry, is in the midst of a massive renovation by Fry and current design partner Jason Straka.

The Union League's purchase of the ACE Club, which will be renamed Union League Liberty Hill, makes it the third golf facility in the club's overall portfolio, in addition to two restaurants and the Inn at the League, a hotel for members and their guests.

I played the former ACE Club on a 2019 trip to the Philadelphia area and enjoyed it. With a rollicking property and large hole corridors and features - a sense of scale that carries through the clubhouse - it is a big-feeling place, a contrast to many of Philadelphia's older, scaled-down golfing grounds. The course is in its third iteration, most recently redesigned by Gary Player in 2003 when it was bought by ACE Insurance (later merged with Chubb Insurance). In addition to it and its 35,000 square foot clubhouse, the Union League also purchased the on-site Chubb Hotel & Conference Center, whose guests previously had limited access to the golf course.

Other golf course news and notes

Gil Hanse's restoration of Baltusrol Golf Club's Lower Course includes the reintroduction of architect A.W. Tillinghast's "Great Hazard" on the long par-5 17th hole.

BALTUSROL BETTER THAN EVER - The Lower Course at Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, N.J., host of nine major championships (most recently the 2016 PGA, won by Jimmy Walker), will reopen in May. Architect Gil Hanse's design firm has been meticulously restoring A.W. Tillinghast's original design for the past year. [LINK: The Golf Wire]

HISTORIC NEW MANAGEMENT - The village of University Park, Ill., about an hour south of Chicago, has hired a new management company for its golf course. CHW Management Group, owned by Sonia Coffee, becomes the first Black-owned golf course management firm in state history. "This is Black history in the moment," said University Park Trustee Donzell Franklin. [LINK: Chicago Tribune]

NICKLAUS COURSE PLAN SCUTTLED - A long-anticipated municipal golf course by Nicklaus Design in Buffalo, N.Y. appears to be a no-go, as the land's previous owner defaulted on mortgage payments, forfeiting it to Source Renewables, which now plans to turn 63 acres of it into a 31,800-panel solar energy farm. [LINK: Buffalo Rising]

GOLF COURSE DESIGN CONTEST - As lockdowns set in during the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the American Society of Golf Course Architects started a golf course design contest for kids. It was so successful that they're starting up another one for 2021. The winner will receive a $250 prize and the ASGCA will make a matching donation to the winner's home First Tee chapter. [LINK: ASGCA]

GOLF-ADJACENT - PopStroke, the mini-golf-for-the-21st-century company, is expanding. Following its initial location in Port St. Lucie, Fla. in 2018 and its Ft. Myers location, which opened last year, there are plans to open new mini-golfertainment venues in Orlando and Delray Beach, Fla., sometime this year. Per an agreement that dates back to 2019, PopStroke's new courses will be designed by Tiger Woods' TGR Design firm. [LINKS: Orlando Weekly, South Florida Business Journal]

Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for GolfPass. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
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160-year-old club adds Gary Player-designed golf course to its portfolio