Hole 9

The Ace Club

Bucolic retreats like this in the middle of a major urban setting are usually reserved for parks or botanical gardens.

Only 10 miles from the center of Philadelphia, the ACE Club boasts an unusually spacious feel for a golf course. The 311-acre site includes a Gary Player-designed course whose holes are framed in acres of tall, wavy native field grasses. It's easy to see why the course, which opened in 2003, has qualified as a Certified Silver Audubon International Signature Society Sanctuary-the first in Pennsylvania to do so.

ACE Insurance Co. has done an admirable job converting the old Eagle Lodge Golf Club into a comfortable ­private club with an adjoining 120-room hotel that has 35,000 square feet of meeting space. The par-72 layout can be brutal from the 7,471-yard back tees (76.1 rating/ 143 slope). But most players will be tested plenty from five more forward sets of markers. The main challenge comes in the form of big, lacy fairway bunkers and greens that, while large, fall away in the back.

The club is very traditional in that there are no tee times, walking is encouraged, and the clubhouse ­provides elegant long views and a cozy bar for hanging out. In an area of many old line clubs here's one place that manages to provide indulgent comfort and quality conditioning while avoiding the feel of a museum.

Brad Klein welcomes comments and suggestions at: bklein@bjtonline.com.