Hunter's Station is home to prettiest hole you've ever seen
TIONESTA, Pa. -- It's rare that a golf hole transcends its utilitarian origins and becomes an honest-to-goodness tourist attraction, a place where even non-golfers will trek to marvel at its beauty. In fact, if the ones on Monterrey Peninsula ever slide into the Pacific Ocean, you'd be hard pressed to name three others.
Here's one that should makes the list:
No. 7, Hunter's Station, Tionesta, Pennsylvania.
The course, although there is much about it worth commending, never will make anyone's top 10, but the seventh hole is so spectacular that golfers owe it to themselves to make the trek -- 90 miles north of Pittsburgh and 60 miles south of Buffalo -- just to swing at the seventh at least once.
Yep, it's that good.
"This is the prettiest hole I've ever seen," gushes Fred Birkmore, director of operations for the Whole World Travel in London. Birkmore was one of a group of European travel and golf writers who must have said, "Wot?" when told that their American itinerary was going to take them to the southern edge of the lush Allegheny National Forest in north central Pennsylvania. After all, it's a good bet the name Tionesta, pop. 668, doesn't rank up there with Myrtle Beach in terms of international golf name recognition, a fact owner Terri Obenrader concedes.
"I really don't know how people hear about it," she says. "But they do. It's not uncommon in the summer and fall to have people from Germany or Scotland -- non-golfers, even -- come into the pro shop and ask if they can hike up to enjoy the view from the seventh tee. Of course, they're welcome to. It's free."
She's wrong about that last part. In fact, it's priceless.
Each fall when the trees don traditional tartan, the 167-yard elevated tee -- and, boy, is it ever elevated -- offers an unobstructed nine-mile view down the meandering Allegheny River. The vista is unsmudged by so much as a single shack roof. It's just miles and miles of sylvan beauty. And, way, way, way down below your feet, looking about as big as a bottle cap, is the green.
You'll argue with your partners about the best iron needed to reach the green, but the truth is the best way to get there is a skyscraper fire pole. The cart path serpentines down the mountain like one of those Alpine test tracks where they shoot sports car commercials. The vertical drop has been measured at 166-feet straight down.
It's magnificent. If the vertigo isn't enough to cause a swarm of butterflies, then the observant tourists might. Some non-golfing Germans were there when we teed off. Predictably, they wound up more amazed by the view than our result.
It might be the only hole in golf where you actually need to calculate -- not just variables such as distance and wind -- but the speed of the earth's rotation. My 8-iron was hit, I thought, dead at the stick, but the ball was aloft for so long it landed 10 feet to the right of the green. The designated landing area just rotated right out from under a well-struck shot.
The seventh and the other holes that make up the front nine opened in 1996. In the years since, Obenrader knows of just two golfers who've aced the hole. The original nine opened in 1980 and winds down along the banks of the Allegheny River.
The back (original) nine, opened in 1980, and would be better off it were the back seven. Spatial concerns typical of many golf courses meant designers had to shoe-horn in some holes to get to the requisite nine. That means some parallel fairways become cross-driving shooting galleries. It's unfortunate, but the stubborn mountains and rivers bracket the course and left little room for a comfortable layout.
Taken individually, however, each of the back nine are fine golf holes. There are lakes, marshes, trees and on four holes, inviting access to the banks of the Allegheny River. The impulse to unleash at least one monster swing to see if you can carry the more than 300-yard shore-to-shore expanse is almost irresistible. Our biggest guy kangaroo-bounced an old ball into the eastern forest after it hit what must have been a underwater trampoline. Still, it earned him bragging rights and it's a fun diversion while waiting for the fairways to clear.
But it's the front nine that will set your pulse racing. Each of the holes enjoys a snapshot-worthy character. It's a great "look-back" nine.
Serious golf demands we forget the last shot and charge forward, always concentrating on what is up next. But the front nine at Hunter's Station begs you to look back. The views of the forest, the streams, the deer and turkey all invite curious inspection. It's good to stop and see where you have been from a different perspective. The visuals at Hunter's Station are stirring.
You'll never hear Hunter's Station mentioned in the same breath as Pebble Beach, Augusta, or other top courses on the must-play lists, but you'll be on the wrong side of the divot before you play another hole as memorable as the seventh.
And unlike those other high-profile courses, Hunter's Station has affordability going for it, too.
Where to stay
Hunter's Station Golf Club recently opened Hunter's Station Lodge, which offers golf packages including lodging, unlimited golf and 18 holes per day cart fee. Weekend two nights/two days rates start at about $130 per person for a condo; $98/person for the motel. (Check for current rates.) Rates are based on four occupants per condo and two per motel room.
Where to eat
5 Forks Restaurant, Route 62, Tionesta, Pa. 16353; (814) 755-2455. A family buffet restaurant one mile north of the golf course. With spacious open-air porches overlooking five fingers of the Allegheny River -- where eagles and deer frolic -- the food still manages to match the view.
Hike through some of the largest trees east of the Mississippi at Cook Forest State Park. Dozens of shops, restaurants & family attractions abound. See the birthplace of the oil industry at the Drake Well museum and park in Titusville. Explore the expansive Allegheny National Forest, just north of Cook Forest, in Marienville. Visit a real ghost town at Pithole, just northwest of Tionesta. Another of our ancient forests, complete with picnic area and interpretive trails, is found at the Heart's Content National Scenic Area. Outdoor recreational activities abound in the Allegheny National Forest - and there are lots of great local hunting taverns, too.
From Pittsburgh, take I-79 north to I-80 east. Take Route 8 north to Oil City. At Oil City, proceed north of Route 62 to Hunter's Station in Tionesta. From points North: From Interstate 86, take Route 62 South to Hunter's Station in Tionesta.
Chris Rodell, chrisrodell.com, is a staff writer for TravelGolf.com, and author of Hole in One! The Complete Book of Fact, Legend and Lore on Golf's Luckiest Shot, published by Andrews McMeel, $9.95.
The largest tee-to-green elevation change on any American par-3 is the second hole at Waterfall Country Club, Lake Burton, Ga. The 186-yard hole features a vertical drop of, gulp, 215-feet.
April 14, 2005