If you're 95 and blind, Saxon Golf Course could be a challenge
SARVER, Pa. - Almost everyone's hit golf balls in a field for kicks. Whether it's behind an elementary school after the AYSO soccer freaks have left for the night or out in the real countryside where cornstalks sprout, you and a few junior high buddies get together and see who can mash it the farthest.
Most people move beyond this.
Saxon Golf Course in the mega-reasonable, off-the-beaten-Golf Digest-path destination of Butler, Pa. brings you back.
At Saxon, you're once again confronted with nothing but open field. Only you don't have to worry about the school janitor or the local farmer chasing after you, causing a quick abandonment of all those ratty range balls you pounded into the horizon. Though if you're looking for pure reminiscence, the condition of the Saxon fairways themselves are apt to remind you of that long ago field.
Welcome to Saxon. This might be the most wide-open, straight-forward golf course in America. It's 6,636 yards from the back tees with not a single bunker on the property.
Of course, this is a course that will do its best to protect your virtue. The biggest signs on property are the ones reminding of the no-alcohol rule and promising a swift banishment for those who dare flaunt a Budweiser or Miller Lite.
You'd think this emphasis might attract a kinder, gentler hacker. Yet Saxon is the only course where a golfer angrily shouted towards me, "Why's he pointing that camera right at me?" From a distance, it seemed like a parole-violating felon put on a ballpark jumbotron screen situation, but I didn't stick around to confirm.
Saxon is also the only course in Butler where two senior citizens practically tackled this writer in their zeal to make sure their disappointment at Saxon's no-special-seniors-rate policy was heard.
Still, all that could be traced to one strange day. The workers in the clubhouse could not have been nicer and with the typical less-than-$30 Butler standard riding rates, it's hard to get too uptight about additional discounts. The family atmosphere obsession actually can be an endearing trait. What truly limits Saxon is the course itself.
If you've ever imagined what it would be like to stick a few holes into a wide-open field and play it as a golf course - well, Saxon has your answer. The course is flatter than Ally McBeal. Water only really comes into play on one hole - an elementary forced carry right off the tee on No. 10. And as mentioned before, you're more likely to find sand in the middle of Iowa than here.
The family owner of Saxon wanted a course that was easy to maintain and easy to play and he succeeded on all levels.
"I like it because par is a score you can really shoot for on these holes," said local golfer Hal Mangel, Sr. "The average golfer can go for pars."
If you built a handicap card just off rounds at Saxon, it's easy to imagine a 10-handicap difference between it and how you played at any other course. A 25 handicapper at a nearby local course such as Strawberry Ridge or Cranberry Highlands is easily a 15 or lower at Saxon.
Bringing golf back to the people is a noble, worthwhile goal. It's just hard to imagine too many people enjoying golf as presented by Saxon. After a few holes, your mind starts wandering to the nuances of life, that gas bill or car payment that needs to be mailed, that client meeting the next morning.
At its best, golf is an escape. At Saxon, it can swiftly turn into a dull chore. Take out the trash, drive that straight-forward par 4.
Take Saxon's start. After the slightest dogleg left, 379-yard par 4, it's a straight arrow 378-yard, par-4 No. 2, followed by a straight arrow, 414-yard par-4 No. 3, followed by a straight arrow, 415-yard par-4 No. 4. You can be swinging on autopilot before the round's 45 minutes old.
There are a few breaks in the monotony. The 397-yard, par-4 sixth has the green tucked in an interesting corner. The 391-yard, par-4 seventh actually forces you to shoot up a little hill. But for the most part it's more of the scorecard friendly same.
"I've been playing here for years and it's still a little raw," local hacker Bob Mangan said, looking down a patchy fairway. "But it's a good place to feel like you're one of those college kids."
Mangon rose stiffly out of his golf cart, ready to let loose with his old driver. Again.
Stay and play
The Pittsburgh Marriott North ((724) 779-4201) in Cranberry is your best high-end option in the area by far. It's one of the nicer Marriotts you'll find with extremely comfortable beds and large sized rooms.
The kitchen even produces better dishes than you get in most chain hotels, showing that who's running the individual location still matters these days.
Basic snacks are offered in a small clubhouse, chips, candy bars and the like.
For something more expansive, the Harmony Inn ((724) 452-5124) in historic downtown Harmony offers a menu that ranges from German to Mexican specialties, ghost stories complete with sighting pictures and a surprisingly bustling bar scene.
October 6, 2005