If you’re a devotee of the annual golf magazine course ratings, you know Pine Valley Golf Club is almost universally recognized, year after year, as the world’s best course.
Unlike other perennial top-10s such as Augusta National and the Old Course at St. Andrews, however, Pine Valley is a complete mystery to 99.9 percent of the golfing public. Hotelier George Arthur Crump’s 1913 masterpiece, on the end of a one-lane road across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, is all-male, ultra-private and never seen on TV.
What’s behind the curtain? That’s for the members to know, and for you to never find out.
Pine Valley might be the hardest course in the world on which to score a tee time. Playing guests must be accompanied by a member, the list of which has included Bob Hope, George H.W. Bush and Sean Connery. Yeah, it’s that kind of place.
Since 1922, Pine Valley has played host to an invitational tournament for mid-amateurs and seniors called the George A. Crump Memorial Tournament, known colloquially as the Crump Cup. There is no application process or means to qualify. If Pine Valley wants you in the field, you get an invitation.
And you go, no questions asked. It’s golf’s equivalent of an audience with the Pope.
Kevin Van Rossum of Hartland recently played in the 95th Crump Cup. We know this because the scores were posted on amateurgolf.com. Van Rossum, 41, who tied for sixth in the Wisconsin State Open this summer, qualified for the championship flight of match play but lost his first match.
No shame in that. The 16 players who qualified for the top flight included four of the last six U.S. Mid-Amateur champions.
Michael Muehr of McLean, Va., won the Crump Cup for the third time, beating 2014 U.S. Mid-Amateur champion Scott Harvey, 4 and 3, in the final. Gene Elliott of West Des Moines, Iowa, successfully defended his senior title, beating Arnie Cutrell, 3 and 2.
Reached by email, Van Rossum wrote that out of respect to Pine Valley he did not want to disclose details or be quoted for a story, other than that he was “humbled to have had the opportunity to experience it” and that he was proud to represent Wisconsin.
So, what exactly is the Crump Cup?
The field annually consists of USGA champions, former Walker Cup players and other accomplished amateurs. Players are invited, which means they can be uninvited. There is an unspoken understanding that competitors are to be on their best behavior. This is a tournament explicitly for gentlemen – toss a club, curse after a missed putt or treat a playing partner with less than utmost respect, and you’re not coming back.
Despite all that, the Crump Cup is the opposite of stuffy. It’s an intimate gathering of fine players who mostly know one another through shared national tournament experiences and appreciate the social aspect of the event, as well as the chance to compete on an insanely difficult course set-up. Though par is 70, the course rating typically is north of 77.
The competition calls for 36 holes of stroke play qualifying, after which the field is cut to three match play flights of 16 players each. Only those in the top flight have a chance to win the Crump Cup. Early champions included Francis Ouimet and Chick Evans. Jay Sigel owns the most Crump Cup titles, having won the tournament nine times between 1975 and 1993.
Locals know about the Crump Cup because, for one half-day every year, Pine Valley opens its gates to spectators to watch the championship match. The gallery typically numbers in the thousands. But for the rest of the world, Pine Valley and the Crump Cup are shrouded in mystery.
“To say it is special doesn’t do it justice,” Van Rossum wrote. “I’m lucky to have the opportunity, no doubt.”
We’ll have to take his word for it.
Editor's note: Gary D'Amato played Pine Valley and wrote about it in 2013 when he was a sportswriter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.