Golf in Gettysburg: Hallowed ground a dual draw for golfers and history buffs
GETTYSBURG, Penn. - Civil War re-enactors from all over the world come to Gettysburg to play soldier. They dress in authentic uniforms, shoot blanks through restored 19th century weaponry and wear historically accurate clumps of facial hair that are so offbeat you may confuse their mugs with long relievers from Major League ballpark bullpens. Hardcore re-enactors are so devout that they ridicule beginners who show up wearing store-bought buttons that aren't the precise vintage.
So imagine what they'll say when some Johnny Reb or Union counterpart shows up lugging - not a genuine rifled musket - but a state-of-the-art, kick-stand golf bag stuffed with titanium shafted high-tech wonders capable of bombing futuristic golf balls like cannon shots down manicured fairways.
The hallowed ground where many come to play soldier has become a great place for weekend warriors to play golf.
The gently rolling terrain, the thick woods and the meandering streams that made Gettysburg such a difficult place for advancing armies to attack are the same topographical features that make south-central Pennsylvania a wonderland for course designers. New and established courses in and around Gettysburg are drawing golf and history-loving tourists from all over the East Coast.
"This is one of the great small towns in all America," says Ken Picking, general manager of The Links at Gettysburg. "The golf is great, the scenery beautiful and one of the most historic battles in the entire history of the world happened right here."
Picking is a former big city news reporter for USA Today and other top metropolitan newspapers who says he "met the right guy at the right time and was persuaded to leave the news business for a dream job in golf."
He still covers local high school sports for the venerable Gettysburg Times, but he spends most of his time blowing the bugle on behalf of Gettysburg golf. It's a rally call to which many golfers will respond. And when the golf is done, you can enjoy the poignant and heroic history of Gettysburg and all it has meant to America and the world.
Golf hadn't been introduced in an otherwise occupied America when Abe Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address in the Wills House on the Gettysburg Square - and that's too bad. The Great Emancipator could have used a diversionary round of golf after the terrible pressures of saving the Union. Like General Dwight Eisenhower, who lived out his retirement on a Gettysburg farm within cannon shot of the battlefield, Honest Abe would have probably enjoyed golfing at Gettysburg.
And that's no lie.
The Links at Gettysburg - The tee markers are tiny Civil War cannons, and the temptation on every drive is to have a buddy hold a lit match over the back of the barrel: "Ready, aim . . . Fire!"
The course's mailing address is 601 Mason-Dixon Road. That means some holes are Confederate Gray, while others on the northern side of the famous border are Union Blue. Either way, golfers are going to have trouble posting red numbers here.
Built in 1999 by Lindsay Ervin and Steve Klein, The Links at Gettysburg's signature hole features a marvelous stone bridge reminiscent of St. Andrews linking the tee to the green of the 163-yard par-3 12th hole. Symbolically, a bridge on a course straddling the Mason-Dixon line makes a nice image, but the indelible ones of this great course deal more with blood red rocks.
Eons before men spilt blood in battle 12 miles north along Taneytown Road in July 1863, the rocks here were a sanguine hue. The designers unearthed so much of it during construction that golfers may feel like they've wandered into a slasher movie. It shows up right after the first tee shot on the downhill 395-yard, par-4 first hole. The creek bed fronting the green is a jagged jumble of red rocks.
Even more imposing are the scooped-out backdrops of rock cliffs - some as high as 35 feet - that rise up from behind four holes. The most awe-inspiring example of it being the par-5, 539-yard 18th hole. An inverted "C" of a moat is at the bottom of the cliff protecting the green. Above it is the clubhouse and, standing like sentries, a porchful of golfers eager to see you surrender your approach shot to the waiting hazards.
At 7,031-yards, the course is a thrill ride with a mix of links-style holes, gnarly fescue rough, forested and confining sections and ample water on 13 holes. Put it all together with a friendly staff, a comfortably elegant clubhouse - there's an inviting gas fireplace pit on the porch overlooking the 18th hole - and it's easy to understand why The Links at Gettysburg is deserving of all the happy chatter about being one of the best new golf courses in Pennsylvania.
Carroll Valley Resort - The two courses at this charming mountain resort are everything the sprawling battle of Gettysburg was not. Confined in a lovely little cleavage of mountains, the layout has a certain gentle sweetness to it, and at Carroll Valley, nobody's going to walk away in pain.
On the contrary, a round at either of Carroll Valley's championship 18s - the Mountain View Course and the Carroll Valley Course - can be uplifting and joyful. Credit the simply elegant setting. The courses are natural beauties from the old school of golf course design. In a valley of the Catoctin Mountains at the base of Liberty Mountain (a popular area ski destination), the original Carroll Valley Course looks as if designer Ed Ault simply pushed some trees and scrub aside and - voila! - behold, a golf course. But simple design shouldn't be confused with simple golf.
Winds roar down the valley and the first six holes play directly into its teeth before the course does a welcome U-turn back toward the clubhouse. Meandering Tom's Creek babbles and baffles golfers who are uncertain about their approach shots.
Of all the jewel-like holes, the best may be the 415-yard, par-4 14th hole. It sits at the base of the colorful and lively mountain with its flocks of chirping birds and swirling leaves. Tom's Creek runs the entire length of the hole's right side before jutting 90-degrees in front of the green.
The resort's Mountain View course is three miles down the road, the same one on which Confederate and Union soldiers marched to and from battle. Chances are you'll enjoy the trek more than any of them did. Mountain View is flatter and more open than the challenging original course.
Be sure to save room for dinner, too, at Carroll Valley. If you leave the club, head 10 miles north up the road to Gettysburg, and ask locals for a good dinner recommendation, many of them are apt to say, "Take Route 116 about 10 miles to a place called Carroll Valley. It can't be beat."
They aren't kidding.
Bridges Golf Club - The battle of Gettysburg was won and lost several times over by both Confederate and Union armies during the three-day conflict. It was a pitched battle of ups and downs.
Spend 18 holes putting on the severe greens at Bridges Golf Club and you'll be able to relate. At just 6,713 yards, the scorecard makes the course look like something a reasonably sound golfer could conquer with ease. They'd be mistaken.
Named for the 10 bridges that traverse and preserve scenic woodlands and wetlands, Bridges Golf Club (a participating member of the Audobon Cooperative Sanctuary) features mounds, bunkers and trees that snare and confound golfers who strike imprecise shots.
The clubhouse is a charmingly refurbished 19th century furniture factory with 12 rooms for overnight guests.
Penn National Golf Club & Inn - There were no winners nor losers in the Battle of Gettysburg. Only heroes. The same could be said, albeit sheepishly in comparison, about the golf there 140 years later. The golf courses of Gettysburg offer something satisfying to every golfer. There are no winners, nor losers.
But if there must be one course that will not surrender, cannot be vanquished and has stood the test of time, then it is Penn National. In fact, it's two golf courses: Penn National's Founder's Course, opened in 1968, and the Iron Forge Course, 1997. As disparate as North and South, the courses combine to give golfers a rich tapestry worth preserving, sort of like Lincoln felt about the Union in 1860.
About 18 miles west of the Gettysburg, the courses are near enough to Camp David that U.S. Presidents of both southern and northern heritage choose it for golf relaxation. Golf Digest rated both 4 ½-star courses on its 2003 "Places to Play."
The "resort" is more retirement community for people insane enough to think they're going to miss bone-chilling northern winters here. It's located in a dry township, so it's strictly BYOB, but that shouldn't matter to anyone who's serious about their GOLF. The 36 holes give two distinct layouts, both top-notch. Many venues try to combine two different styles and fail, with one being more cherished than the other. Not at Penn National. Members and regulars think of the courses they way they do about grandchildren. Each is unique, but both are beloved for different reasons. About the only thing they have in common is a grounds crew deserving of praise.
The older Founder's Course, an Ed Ault design, has always drawn golfers from throughout the Mid-Atlantic who are looking for fairways amid natural settings of forested seclusion. Like all good courses, Founders rewards a golfer who can hit a straight ball and control his or her innate urges to swing out of their spikes. Many of the greens are as small as bottle caps and only a bit easier to putt.
Both courses sit in the looming shadow of Scotch Mountain. On Founders, trees obscure the view. It's a different story on the marvelous Iron Forge, another Ault, Clark & Associates design. The course is virtually treeless, but the rough is thick as a circus strongman's beard and impenetrable fescue awaits those who stray beyond that barrier.
The vast mountain range makes even big hitters feel small. The lack of trees gives the wind a voice that sounds like a taunting opponent. It gets in your head as you're standing over shots and trying to compensate for each gust.
Ponds come into play on five holes, but the sweeping elevation changes, tight landing areas and ever-present winds are what make Iron Forge a triumphant challenge, maybe the best in the Gettysburg area.
As for history, the centerpiece of the complex is the White Rock Manor House that was built in 1847 and served as temporary headquarters for Robert E. Lee and Gen. J.E.B. Stuart.
The name Gettysburg is fired with so much emotion that golfers may feel patriotically compelled to "choke up" even on distant tee shots. But golf at Gettysburg is something worthy getting fired up over.
The first British Open was held in 1860, three years before the Battle of Gettysburg was fought.
Where to stay
Carroll Valley Resort,
PO Box 715, Fairfield, Pa., 17320;
(717) 642-8252, (800) 548-8504;
The Bridges Golf Club,
6729 York Rd., Abbottstown, Pa., 17301;
"Stay & Play" packages including one night lodging and 18 holes of golf.
Penn National Golf Club & Inn,
3720 Clubhouse Dr., Fayetteville, Pa., 17222;
"Stay & Play" packages include golf, lodging and on-site meals.
Gettysburg offers an abundance of charming and historic bed & breakfasts which can be researched at gettysburg.com, the Web site of the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, 35 Carlisle St. Gettysburg, Pa., 17325; (717) 334-6274.
Where to dine
The Dobbin House, 89 Steinwehr Avenue (Business Route 15 South), Gettysburg, Pa., 17325; (717) 334-2100; dobbinhouse.com. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, The Dobbin House is a colonial restaurant with candlelit elegance and outstanding food. Includes the charming Springhouse Tavern in the basement. The Dobbin House was a former secret hideout on the Underground Railroad.
Farnsworth House Inn, 401 Baltimore Street, Gettysburg, Pa., 17325; (717) 334-8838; farnsworthhousedining.com. Before plump diners began enjoying their reasonably priced fare, the Farnsworth House served as a hideout for Confederate sharpshooters and 100 bullet holes still scar the building as reminders of its violent past. It is believed that the bullet that killed Jenny Wade, Gettysburg's only civilian casualty, was fired from the rooftop garret. Five of the 11 rooms are said to be haunted.
The Pub & Restaurant, Gettysburg Square, 17325, (717) 334-1100; the-pub.com. Located right on the town square, the food and soups are great and a big meal can be walked off by soaking up the ambiance of the square, which is dotted with historical plaques.
More than two million visitors each year come to Gettysburg to absorb the history and heroism of the July 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and one of the most pivotal moments in world history. More than 51,000 Americans died or were wounded during the three-day battle that ended with the beaten Confederates streaming back to their homeland, never again to fire hostile shots in enemy territory. On Nov. 19 of that year, President Abraham Lincoln arrived by train to dedicate the Gettysburg National Cemetery and deliver a 268-word speech that to this day stirs patriots seeking to define liberty. The battlefields, the town and the surrounding area are haunted by the ghosts of the 165,000 soldiers who fought there. The carnage was so great and the gap in the ability to maim better than mend so great than many of the Gettysburg homes served as field hospitals where amputations were the most common surgical procedure. Information about the Gettysburg National Military Park can be obtained at www.nps.gov/gett
Located next to the battlefields of Gettysburg is the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Historic Site, a reflection of the home and farm of General and former President Eisenhower. The farm served the President, an ardent golfer, as a weekend retreat and a meeting place for world leaders. It was here that Eisenhower met with world leaders such as Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, President Charles De Gaulle, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Governor Ronald Reagan. Visitors can tour the home, grounds, barns, and cattle operation, preserved as they were in the days of the burgeoning civil rights movement. And golfers can see the special putting green Eisenhower had built so he could keep his short game sharp.
Gettysburg is located about 50 miles northwest of Baltimore, its nearest major city. It can be reached from Washington, D.C./Baltimore by taking I-695 North to the I-795 North extension to State Route 140 north to Westminster, Md. From there, take State Route 97 north to Gettysburg. From the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Gettysburg is a 20-minute drive south on U.S. Route 15 South.
December 3, 2003