Sean Melia of AmateurGolf.com attended the final matches of the 2022 Crump Cup at Pine Valley Golf Club. It was a quieter Crump Cup Sunday than usual, as the club has suspended its tradition of allowing spectators. But it was a whirlwind experience, and we thought we’d pull back the curtain and let you in on what it’s like to spend Crump Cup Sunday at Pine Valley.
The 18th hole at Pine Valley Golf Club (Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com photo)
The entrance to Pine Valley is at the end of a quiet little street called East Atlantic Avenue. It's a meandering road dotted with small, nondescript houses. There is nothing about the thickets of trees, crooked window sills, and shaggy lawns that would alert anyone that the No. 1 golf course in the world is merely a stone’s throw away.
At the end of the pock-marked road sits a random parking lot; it’s out of place. The road bends to the right over railroad tracks. There are two signs.
The bigger one reads “DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS”
The smaller one reads, “Pine Valley Golf Club. Private.”
Understated and hidden. Just how Pine Valley likes it.
I was driving a car that held no golf clubs. I was not there to play. I was there to watch golf and gawk at the golf course.
“I tell my friends back in St. Louis that I go to golf heaven,” David Nelson
told me as we strolled down the ninth fairway watching Mike McCoy
and Tommy Brennan
in the senior flight final. “They take care of everything here. It’s incredible.”
Nelson wasn’t lying.
Need a ride to or from the airport?
You got it.
Need a place to stay?
You got it.
Golfers stay on the property, never having to head down E. Atlantic Ave for any creature comforts (unless participants want to visit a water park. Clementon Splash World is a mere two minutes away at the top of E. Atlantic Ave.).
This year Nick Maccario
played in his first Crump Cup. The 2020 Mass Golf Player of the Year and 2021 U.S. Mid-Am semifinalist called it "incredible".
“It’s unique in that you see the guys see the Hagestads
, the Smiths
, and Parziales
but you also get the new guys like me,” Maccario wrote. “And then there are the members. It’s a group of influential people over the game of golf. It’s a pinch-me moment.”
>> Related: Is the Crump Cup the Best Tournament in Amateur Golf?
The highlights were endless for Maccario. The players-only dinner, playing dice, and spinning around the short course with 16 guys made the week seem like summer camp.
The other side of the tracks, literally
After crossing the railroad tracks, I was greeted in my car at the main gate. They knew my name and that I had permission to bring a digital camera. To be honest, I was waiting for him to ask if he could inspect it. Usually, I know what to expect when I go to a golf course, but I felt like a fish out of water flopping around the boat deck gasping for air.
After parking, I packed up my bag with my camera, water, and some snacks (I was told the food was for competitors and volunteers only). When I started to walk toward the clubhouse, I looked lost enough that a nice gentleman in a maroon vest picked me up in his golf cart. His name, George, was stitched on his left chest; he delivered me right where I needed to go.
Right away, the solitude and quiet struck me. I had no bearings. There were no signs or tee markers. A green and a tee box sit just across the road from the clubhouse. I spotted golfers on another green in the distance (I had no idea it was the fifth hole, one of the hardest par 3s in the world). It looked more like an oil painting than real life as they were 240 yards away climbing the wild terrain.
“It’s the hardest par 4 in the world,” one golfer joked.
Not a bad first-look at Pine Valley: the all-world 5th hole (Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com)
After a few missteps in the wrong direction, I found the 18th green and spotted Matt Parziale
; he told me he had just wrapped up an alternate shot round.
They shot 78. He was pleased.
This is another perk of the Crump Cup. Parziale lost on Saturday, but competitors can stay until Sunday, play a little more golf, and hang out before heading home to reality. I’d imagine Pine Valley can either erase the "Sunday Scaries" completely or send them into overdrive.
More players gathered near the 18th green with beers and cocktails in hand and smile across their faces sharing their alternate shot scores and any good, and bad, shots they hit.
Winning the Crump Cup obviously matters to all these elite mid-amateurs, but just being there means a whole lot, too.
“The course, the people, the entire week is special,” said Maccario. “Someone else said that this is like our Masters, and I couldn’t agree more.”
They ribbed each other and cracked jokes until Stewart Hagestad
and Jimmy Ellis
arrived on the 18th green in their semifinal match. Both players missed birdie putts and then headed to the first tee which is just steps from 18.
Apparently, George Crump designed the first hole so it would end extra-hole matches quickly. It worked twice on Sunday. Ellis made easy work of the 421-yard par 4 with a birdie. Later in the day, Brennan would make a par and beat McCoy for the senior division title.
Weather delays and nervous flyers Stewart Hagestad (in blue) congratulates Jimmy Ellis for advancing to the final of the 2022 Crump Cup at Pine Valley (Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com)
This particular Sunday at Pine Valley had a few hitches due to the weather. Some host clubs under that stress might melt; staff members at other clubs might run around anxiously. But the calm at Pine Valley was staggering as ominous clouds rolled in at 3:30pm. The final matches were in the middle of the golf course when the first thunder rumbled in the distance.
When the lightning horn blew, seven vans appeared out of nowhere on the course to drive players, caddies, and the limited spectators back to safety for about a 40-minute delay. Players started worrying about missing flights out of Philadelphia airport. McCoy sat on a plush leather seat refreshing the radar on his phone. He had a 7:30pm flight and was preparing to split the trophy with Brennan because the radar didn’t look very promising.
The staff, including Head Professional David Clark, were calm and adamant that winners would be crowned by sundown and flights would be made.
I normally wouldn’t have felt brave enough to step into the clubhouse, but the lightning storm gave me an excuse to enter and wander around a little bit. The walls have little tidbits of history, original sketches of each hole, a handwritten history of the club, signatures of the 1985 Walker Cup players, and a replica of the massive Walker Cup.
When play resumed, I was without an umbrella; I walked the edges of the 12th and 13th holes for a little protection under the trees. Suddenly, like a moment at Disney World, a golf cart pulled up next to me; a man adorned in Pine Valley rain gear whipped out an umbrella, opened it, handed it to me, and zoomed off to likely complete another task.
It’s all in the details.
The Behr-Ellis championship match on the 13th hole at the Crump Cup at Pine Valley (Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com)
During our second rain delay, I ended up in a lightning shelter off the 13th green with finalists Ellis and Stephen Behr Jr.
, their caddies, Clark, and two other organizers of the event.
NFL scores were checked. Clark and I received some ribbing as New England Patriots fans, and the group talked about family, kids, and work. Behr Jr., the son of a PGA Professional, just got married in December. Ellis, 37, spoke about how much he enjoyed being a dad to his daughter and son. It’s cliche, but golf allows people to connect. Sometimes, we assume all these amateurs know each other.
Behr Jr. checked his phone to see if his 7:27pm flight was on time; it was the last flight to Atlanta. In true mid-am fashion, he checked his work schedule to see if he could fly home on Monday morning.
He was 1-up in the match after 12 holes; it was 3:45pm.
Still, Clark was calm and assured Behr. Jr. he would make his flight. Unless, of course, the match was tied and the sun was gone. Otherwise, they would finish this match, and he’d be on that flight.
I pictured a helicopter emblazoned with the Pine Valley logo swooping in to pick him up to deliver him to the Philadelphia airport in time for his flight home.
A tradition suspended
The Crump Cup had a long-standing tradition of opening its gates to spectators for the Sunday final matches. But the event was canceled due to COVID in 2020, and in 2021 the rise of the Delta variant forced the suspension of the tradition. Maybe in 2023 the club will open its gates again. Or maybe they won’t. It’s all a mystery, much like Pine Valley itself.
“We used to have 2,000 people out here,” one employee named Mark said. Employees could attend and bring a friend. This particular grounds crew member was also celebrating his birthday. He brought his brother along for the day. Mark was a retired school teacher and had been at Pine Valley for 18 years doing odd jobs - driving trucks, fixing trucks, mowing fairways, running errands. He beamed as he talked about his experience working at Pine Valley.
Looking back on the par-3 10th hole on a very quiet Pine Valley with No. 9 in the background (Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com)
Wandering around a quiet Pine Valley was surreal. The golf course is spectacular. Many people say that you could drop any hole at Pine Valley onto your home course and it would be the best hole on the course. It’s tough to argue that theory after walking the golf course and having the freedom to snap pictures and stand on tees and fairways.
The land is dynamic, and each hole feels like its own event.
The matches conclude and players bolt
I cut behind the 14th green as Behr Jr. grew his lead to 2 up (he would go on to close out the match two holes later) so I could catch Brennan and McCoy finish their match. The Pine Valley members and good friends were tied on the 17th fairway. Brennan had looked dead-in-the-water after nine holes. He couldn’t find a fairway, and on the 7th hole, a small pine tree grabbed his ball. We didn’t find it until he was out of time and on his way back to the tee.
Tommy Brennan's ball ended up in a tree on #7 (Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com)
Brennan had battled back though, starting with narrowly missing a hole-in-one on the par-3 10th hole. After the seniors split the 17th and 18th holes with pars, they headed to the first tee box. It was 4:35pm.
Crump’s decision to make the first hole a “match ender” would hold up again. This time, McCoy’s tee shot was a little wayward and ended up in a bunker. He had a 3-foot sapling in his back swing, so he played out sideways. Brennan won with a par. Golf carts swooped in and picked up the two players and whisked them back to the clubhouse.
Another Pine Valley hazard - a sapling prevents Mike McCoy from taking on the green on the 19th hole (Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com)
Unfortunately, the crowds were small because the lightning and rain chased many folks away sapping the growing energy.
The day ended as fast as it started.
Behr Jr. was already in a van on the way to the airport.
“We’ll mail them the trophies,” Clark said.
>> Related: Behr and Brennan capture Crump Cup titles at Pine Valley
Brennan had some time for a chat and was elated with his win. He even admitted he was worried a poor performance might result in him not being invited back for next year’s event.
Imagine a Pine Valley member feeling concerned about losing his spot in the Crump Cup?
It was time to head back to my car. I snapped a few final pictures with my camera and with my mind. It felt funny leaving a place you might never return to see again. I walked slowly and found my car in the quiet lot, turned it on and headed past the gate and onto E. Atlantic Ave., past the water park, and back to the real world.
View the photo gallery from the 2022 Crump Cup below. All photos Sean Melia/AmateurGolf.com.