Pennslyvania is nicknamed America’s “keystone state.”
Grab your clubs and board a flight to one of its two major cities – Pittsburgh or Philadelphia – and unlock the door to some of the finest American golfing real estate….
- Birthplace of the King of Golf
- Golf in chocolate town at Hershey
- Rich in history: America’s first Big Mac to Gettysburg
- Great Bears and Skytops in the Pocono Mountains
- Follow in the footsteps of Presidents
PA or Pennslyvania is one of the most famous of all America’s states.
It’s the building block of American nationhood – where the Declaration of Independence was signed and read at Philadelphia in 1776. It’s where the American Civil war turned on the fields of Gettysburg.
It’s also where the first McDonald’s Big Mac was made and it was the birthplace of Arnold Palmer, the undisputed King of Golf. I discovered a destination big on history with a golfing pedigree to match.
With over 500 courses including U.S Open venues Oakmont and Merion, Pennslyvania is quite simply one of America’s premier golfing destinations. Serviced by major international airports at Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania is an ideal fly-drive golf destination.
Where better to start a golf break than in the birthplace of Arnold Palmer? Palmer’s hometown Latrobe is home to the tiny Arnold Palmer regional airport and close to the Laurel Highlands region in western Pennslyvania.
The Laurel Highlands is one of the best places to enjoy challenging golf amongst breathtaking mountain scenery. Just 61 miles from Pittsburgh , in the heart of Laurel Highlands, is the Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa.
This 355-room resort boasts 36-holes of championship golf including Mystic Rock – host to the PGA Tour’s 84 Lumber Classic of Pennslyvania.
Stay and Play at Nemacolin Woodland Resort and Spa
The brainchild of Lumber magnate Joe Hardy, Nemacolin is a luxury retreat centred on the Pete Dye designed Mystic Rock.
At 7329-yards, par 72, this course can challenge PGA Tour professionals and exhilarate the average golfer at the same time. Dye made excellent use of natural features and multiple teeing grounds in what he describes as, “possibly my best yet.”
Mystic Rock is a perfect name.
Golfers fire over rock fissures, canyons and gullies and are often mystified by lost balls on a course where water features on ten holes. The psychological examination begins at the 435-yard par-four second hole, where you tackle your first canyon and drive to a fairway lined by dense pine trees.
Danger is everyhere on the front nine but the course fully hits its stride at the 11th and 12th holes. Here Dye follows a dramatic par-five with a deceptively short par-three, where a quick sloping green is guarded by a lake, bouldering and a gushing waterfall.
Nemacolin’s facilities are second to none.
Golf carts come equipped with global positioning satellites to show your exact yardage as you drive to your ball. Falling Rock, a 42-room deluxe hotel overlooks Mystic Rock’s 18th green.
It opened in August 2004 and is further proof of the desire to make Nemacolin the most talked about golf resort on America’s east coast. If your game requires repair after Mystic Rock, you could try Shepherd’s Rock, a shorter less taxing layout.
Or alternatively head to one of the many fine public courses in Laurel Highlands. Tom’s Run at the Chestnut Ridge golf club could be the perfect cure if your game mysteriously deserted you at Nemacolin.
Situated in the foothills of the Highlands, Tom’s Run measures 6812-yards (par 72), and offers panoramic mountain views. The early holes are most interesting. The 3rd and 4th require tee-shots through a chute of trees over natural wetlands and creeks to fairways and greens set in mature woodland.
The latter part of the course opens out and while longer it’s arguably too wide open from the tee. Despite this, you won’t be disappointed at the $45 green fee, as excellent course conditions makes up for lack of real bite.
If you’re keen to hang up the spikes on a rest day, the Ohiopyle recreation area is known for outstanding white water rafting, hiking and biking. Also in this area, are two homes designed by acclaimed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who built the iconic John Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Falling Water and Kentuck Knob are both popular with visitors. Falling Water, built in the 1930’s, is Lloyd Wright’s most famous construction.
Billed as one of America’s most significant buildings, it is dramatically cantilevered over a waterfall. Its angulated balconies fuse with lush woodland surroundings and draw gasps from tourists.
Finding a tee-time at Laurel Valley, one of the most exclusive clubs in Laurel Highlands, is difficult, but there are lots of other great courses to explore in the region.
Explore Pennslyvania – from Pittsburgh to The Poconos
Choosing a region and setting up a base camp for a few days is the best way to enjoy golfing in a state that has 67 counties and covers 45,888 square miles.
After the fresh mountain surrounds of the Laurel Highlands, opt for the historic route 30 – “Lincoln Highway.”
This was once the longest and oldest coast to coast highway in the US, and head east.
Route 30 intersects the greatest historical sites of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, including Amish country in Lancaster, where 18,000 people speak a dialect of German, and ignore modern conveniences such as electricity and cars.
Gettsyburg: History comes to life
Stop short of Lancaster, at Gettysburg near the border with Maryland. This historic town saw the pivotal battle of the American civil war won by the Union army in July 1863.
Tours are available around the 3500-acre Gettysburg National Military park, but it is overly commercialized and you may wish to explore parts of it alone.
Follow in presidential spikes at Carroll Valley
If you’re keen to get back on the course, then Carroll Valley Resort – just eight-miles from Gettysburg in Fairfield – is a great place to start.
Despite its homely clubhouse, Carroll Valley’s course has hosted some of the most important men on the planet, including President Bill Clinton.
Just five miles away is Camp David – the famous Summit meeting place – used by American presidents for international diplomacy.
While an equally short distance away, cut into a mountainside, is Site R.
Site R is the underground pentagon and emergency seat of government – used by Vice President Dick Cheney in the aftermath of the Sept.11th terrorist attacks.
Set at the foot of the Catocin Mountains, the course was built in 1968 and has matured into a thrilling test of parkland golf.
Water comes into play on eight of the holes at this 6633-yard par 72 course, and most memorably on the signature par-five 12th.
From an elevated tee you hit down to a fairway that slopes severely from left to right.
Once on the short grass you have to decide to try and hit your second over the picturesque stream and rock boulders that front the green or lay up short and play it is as a three-shotter.
Carroll Valley bursts with risk-reward golf, yet balances difficult holes with playable par-fours.
For an easier fayre, head to the resort’s second course at Mountain View, where you can try and buy the latest Titleist at a quizzical pre-civil war Pro-shop.
Golf in Hershey: Chocolate Town
If international affairs are debated at Carroll Valley, the state of the nation’s teeth is the topic of the day at Hershey, a golf resort in a chocolate town.
Hershey, ten miles from Harrisburg – Pennsylvania’s state capital – was built in 1903 by candy magnate Milton. S Hershey to house a chocolate factory. Now, alongside four-star Hotel Hershey, Chocolate World and Hersheypark, an award-winning golf resort lies at the heart of Hershey’s reputation for luxury.
Milton S. Hershey opened Hershey Country club in 1930 and since then some of golf’s greats have graced the fairways, including Ben Hogan, who was club professional from 1941-1951. The course planner includes the kitsch phrase, “at Hershey not every chip is chocolate.”
Designed by George Fazio and built in 1970, the 7061-yard East course is a tough test of Championship golf and hosts events on the nationwide tour. The course changes in elevation numerous times and features man-made lakes and over 100 bunkers.
You’ll experience the recurring feeling of hitting from elevated tees, down to valley fairways before aiming high to find lofty greens.
Club selection is most difficult at the dogleg par-four 9th hole, where the fairway rises sharply up to a two-tiered green.
Yardages might be hard to gauge but Hershey’s East course has some of the best holes in Pennsylvania.
The 467-yard par-four 15th is a long downhill tester with water on both sides, and requires pinpoint accuracy right from tee to undulating green.
The 18th hole itself captures some of the essence of Hershey.
The approach shot is hit over water to a green set in front of the vast clubhouse, whose flat roof and cream flecked brick make it look like a giant praline chip Hershey bar.
The other must-play course is Hershey’s West course.
Built in 1930 and designed by Maurice McCarthy, this par-73 course uses as its backdrop High Point Mansion – the former personal estate of candy baron Milton S. Hershey.
It held the 1940 PGA Championship and is certainly no cake walk.
There is plenty to do off-course at Hershey, including Hersheypark for the kids and its new Storm Runner rollercoaster, which launches you from 0-72mph in two seconds.
For sedate relaxation try the Spa at Hotel Hershey which offers treatments such as a chocolate bean polish or a whipped cocoa bath, but beware becoming a choc-a-holic.
Around three hours drive north from Hershey on interstate 81 and 80, is the Pocono Mountains and Lehigh Valley region.
Here you are close to the Delaware water gap separating Pennsylvania from neighbouring Delaware.
The Pocono’s is reachable by five interstate highways and is the perfect mountain retreat at which to end your PA golf break.
Golf in the region is of the highest standard.
There are over 30 courses catering for all abilities, from the benign but enjoyable course at Skytop Lodge to the testing Jack Nicklaus designed Great Bear course near Stroudsburg.
Skytop Lodge is the ideal place to make home and is popular with stressed-out New York bankers and traders.
The centerpiece of this stunning 5-500 acre resort is the lodge itself, a grand stone building which commands views of the lake and mountains.
Skytop is a gentle and relaxing golf course and a perfect warm-up to playing the toughest courses in the Pocono Mountains: Great Bear and Shawnee Country Club.
Great Bear – designed by The Golden Bear
Unlike the crisp air and wide open feel of Skytop, Great Bear and Shawnee play as if located in the South American rainforests.
Eerie mist rises from the trees that line every hole and humidity is high.
It’s easy to stay hydrated, however, as beverage cart attendants frequently roll up in carts that stock everything from beer to philly cheese steak sandwiches.
Great Bear is relatively young, having been built and opened in 1997 and designed by no other than the “Golden Bear,” Jack Nicklaus.
The entire course demands bold aggressive play and the par-five 18th is a world beating finishing hole – in front of the clubhouse – and where only the bravest go for the green in two.
Shawnee Country Club is the grand old man of PA golf, having been built in 1911 by famous architect A.J Tillinghast, whose honour roll includes the US Open course at Baltusrol.
The course is situated on an island in the middle of the Delaware river, and has 27-holes with typical Tillinghast greens that are so tricky to read.
Pennslyvania has 16 domestic airports within the state, if you would prefer to fly between the different regions in the state.
Global Golfer would recommend that no American vacation is complete without striking out onto the open road to marvel at the endless space, mountain ranges and vast swaths of woodland.
As you travel through Pennsylvania’s distinct regions, you’ll experience some of the finest views in the North American continent and some of its best golf as well.
WHERE TO PLAY
Mystic Rock at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa
1001 LaFayette Drive, Farmington, PA 15437
Tel: 001 (724) 329-8555
Tom’s Run at Chestnut Ridge G.C
1762 Old William Penn Highway, Blairsville, 15717, Indiana County, PA.
Tel: 001 (724) 459-7188
Carroll Valley Resort
121 Sanders Road, PO Box 715, Fairfield, PA. 17320
Tel: 001 (717) 642 8252
Hershey Golf Club
West Chocolate Avenue and University Drive, PO Box 446, Hershey, PA 17033.
Tel: 001 (717) 533-2360
One Skytop, Skytop, PA 18357
Tel: 001 (570) 595- 7401
One Great Bear Way, East Stroudsburg, PA, 18301
Tel: 001 (570) 223 2000
Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort
One River Road, Shawnee on Delaware, PA 18356
Tel: 001 (570) 424- 4000
WHERE TO STAY
Nemacolin Woodlands Resort and Spa
Tel: 001 724 329 8555
Tel: 001 (717- 533- 2360)
Tel: 001 570 595 7401
Time difference – 5hrs GMT
Tourist Information: www.pennsylvania.com
Temperature: Temperatures can dip as low as -3 in January and February, with snow a likely possibility. Spring and Autumn are great times to visit.