Course: Spring is finally coming around and I jumped at the chance to get back to this course, which I first visited late last fall. Located in Lebanon, PA, which is a little over an hour on the Turnpike West from the Blue Route, Iron Valley opened in 2000 and was designed by P.B. Dye. P.B. is the youngest son of Pete and has been involved with building courses probably as early as he started walking. The Dye insignia is apparent here, as bunkers are liberally placed, sight lines are toyed with and of course, railroad ties are every where.
I couldn’t tell you how, when or where I heard about this course. All I know is I’ve wanted to play it for some time, especially after I browsed their website, showing off the scenic layout. When I finally got out there last season, it was late fall and only the front 9 was open. Those nine holes were terrific, and I left vowing to return. Soon. Cue forward through the Winter, and I was there on one of the first warm days of 2013.
Why, you ask, did I feel so compelled to get back to the course en haste? Simply put, scenic and challenging. IV is set on an old iron mine, which was used to build cannons during the Revolutionary War. Hence the name and the cannon on the front of the score card. Because of this, the course goes through some unique settings of lakes, woods and severe elevation changes that Dye used creatively. The scorecard refers to the course as a, “breathtaking challenge.” They hit the nail on the head. From the giant tranquil lake on the front 9 to the par 5 Thirteenth that likely careens a few hundred feet downhill over a caved in mine, the unique scenery, along with the stingy lay out, intrigued me.
The course is really one of those, “the tale of two nines” themes; each set of 9 has a very different personality. The front 9 is more open and relies on bunkers, railroad ties, mounds and slight hills to shape the holes. The back 9 narrows significantly and into the woods, with the elevation changes and dog legs becoming more severe. I think at some point, the nines were reversed, with the back 9 initially being the front. I’m not sure why they changed it, but I think the routing works either way. In fact, both sets of nine have similar routing, starting with par 4’s and the last two holes being a par 3 then 4. I actually liked facing the more narrow and dramatic set of nine on the back and now that I think of it, liked getting through the scenic lake area to start out with. So, scratch that, I like the order as it is now.
Throw in many blind shots, narrow fairways, the wind, and greens that demand aerial shots, and you have a course that makes you want to come back not only for the scenery, but because it rewards repeat play. The holes don’t reveal themselves head on, so it likely takes a few times around to get the lay of the land and figure out how to play each hole the way that works best for you.
The clubhouse, from the range
The starter was nice enough to check both the First and Tenth holes for me while I warmed up at the range. He told me the front 9 was less crowded, so I made my way to the first tee and fired my own cannon, if you know what I mean (wow, I should stop).
The First is a 380 yard par 4. It’s the number one handicapped hole, yet the green is elevated and straight on. The fairway is sunken with the right side lined with bunkers. The green is elevated and slopes off in all directions, so you have to stick your approach shot. The green also slopes from back to front. The view from the left side of the fairway and green, however, is terrific. The entire Lebanon valley is below you, quite a way to start things off.
Tee shot at the First.
Bottom of the elevated green. You can see the shaved fringes and slopes off the green from here.
View of the Lebanon Valley from the left side of the First
The Second is a 342 yard par 4. Bunkers and railroad ties are most dominant on this hole, as well as the Fourth. The tee shot is elevated, but the left side of the fairway is hidden by raised bunkers that blocks out that side. There are also bunkers on the right side of the fairway, but are level with the hole. The hole dog legs right to the green, which is surrounded by bunkers and railroad ties, with an opening at the front for allowing bump and runs. Because it’s such a short hole and the approach shot is key, figuring out the tee shot that works best, while avoiding the bunkers, makes this hole fun.
Tee shot at the Second
Approach shot territory at the Second
The Third is a 472 yard par 5. The tee shot is semi blind and the fairway is set off to the 2:00 angle. There’s a couple large bunkers that could come into play for longer hitters off the tee or mis hit second shots. After this bunker, the hole dives downhill before going back up to an elevated green. There is bail out room to the left of the green while anything right of the green goes downhill to a bunker. That’s where I went, with the ball resting right on the lip. I some how managed to get the ball up the steep slope and on to the green near the pin. Definitely one of my better recovery shots.
Tee shot at the Third
Second shot territory
A look at the fairway meeting the green. Another slick run off at the front and right.
The Third green. The lake starts to come into view.
The Fourth is a 428 yard par 4. The drive from the Third to the Fourth is great, as you get an aerial view of the large lake that the front 9 rotates around.
View of the lake as you come down to the Fourth
The lake, continued
The tee shot is blind on the right side, with another raised bunker obstructing your view. The view of the green is also blocked on the right side by raised bunkers and mounds and the green itself is surrounded by them as well. Again, use the tee shot to set up your best approach, as it will likely have to be aerial.
Tee shot at the Fourth
The green at the Fourth
The Fifth is the first par 3 and is clearly Dye-esque. It’s an island green with the green surrounded by rocks, but is a short shot at 116 yards. The big factor here is the wind. It can blow in any direction and when it’s gusting, this hole is a bear.
A look at the green.
The Sixth is a 427 yard par 4. It dog legs slightly left to a green that is a little uphill. Pretty standard fare here.
Tee shot at the Sixth
Approach shot at the Sixth
Call the Sixth a breather for the Seventh, a 497 yard par 5 that runs along the the bottom of the mountain’s ridge on the right and lake on the left, then dog legs left to a green hidden in the turn just above the lake. Every shot is blind, as the fairway rises and falls severely, multiple times. The fairway also narrows considerably after the second shot. It’s definitely a hole that rewards repeat play.
Tee shot at the Seventh
Proceeding down the fairway of the Seventh
The lake along the left side of the fairway
The lake again
The green, tucked in as the hole wraps around the lake
You ascend the mountain ridge above the lake, with the Eighth set along the ridge as a 173 yard par 3, with the green set up hill from the tee area. A foursome was nice enough to waive me through, so I wasn’t able to click a lot of photos of this hole. I did manage to snap one as I was driving off.
The green at the Eighth
The Ninth is a 367 yard par 4 that runs downhill and provides another healthy dose of bunkers and railroad ties. There are bunkers along the left side of the fairway that come in to play of the tee, and the fairway crests near the tee shot landing area before diving downhill to the right. There is a large raised bunker that guards the front center of the green, but a good tee shot gets you close enough to use a wedge or short iron to carry that and stick the green. You could say that this hole is a lot of bark and no bite.
Tee shot at the Ninth
Approach shot at the Ninth
Looking at the hole from the back of the green.
The wind is more a factor with the front 9, yet trees don’t really come into play. Instead, you get a healthy dose of raised bunkers, railroad ties and tricky approach shots. Ranking the front 9, I’d go 7, 4, 2, 1, 9, 5, 3 8, 6.
The Tenth is a 423 yard par 4. The Tenth through Thirteenth are a great series of holes. The tee shot here is elevated, very much so, as the fairway descends, then dog legs right on the narrow tree lined fairway. It kind of reminded me of a ski run. You’ll likely face an interesting lie on your second shot, hill wise.
Tee shot at the Tenth
Closer look at the Tenth fairway
Approach shot territory
The lake behind the Tenth green. A collapsed mine shaft is on the far side of the lake.
The Eleventh is a shorter par 4 at 340 yards. The tee shot is elevated and the fairway slopes from right to left. A well hit tee shot can get close enough for a short approach, but you must carry a waste area on the right to get to the pin, or go the safer route and go left, which will leave you with a longer putt or even a chip shot.
Tee shot at the Eleventh
Approach area. Going at the pin means carrying over a waste area.
A close up of the waste area
The Eleventh green. Hitting left means a tougher putt or dealing with this shaved slope.
The Twelfth is a par 3 at 138 yards. The tee shot is elevated and must carry a gully to the green, which is on an adjacent ridge. Bunkers surround the green as well, but the green is a pretty big target. Another foursome was nice enough to waive me through here, so my photos were limited.
The Thirteenth is probably my favorite hole on the course. It’s a 542 yard par 5. The tee shot is blind, as the fairway plummets down hill about 150 yards out, then begins a long and sharp dog leg to the left, while the green is back up hill and set against a lake on the left side. You have a lot of choices on your second and third shots, as a longer second shot can get fairly close to the green for a nice wedge, or you can shorten your second shot for a manageable approach. The scenery, strategy decision making and requiring well struck shots made this hole very enjoyable. This will likely makes its way on to the best par 5’s ranking list.
Tee area of the Thirteenth
Second shot territory
Further down the Thirteenth
The Fourteenth is a 360 yard par 4. It’s a dog leg right to a an uphill and blind green that is fairly narrow and tree lined. I found myself pulling 3W on a lot of the par 4’s on the back 9, only because most of them were on the shorter side and getting it in the fairway appeared to be critical to any decent score, instead of the old bomb and gouge. I definitely hit 3W here, for these reasons and because it looked like a well hit drive would roll right in the woods. The green is fairly large and there’s not w hole lot of trouble near it, so the tee shot seems to be the main concern here.
Tee shot at the Fourteenth
Looking back at the fairway from the green
The Fifteenth is a 422 yard par 4. The hole is fairly straight, but there are ruts and mini wash areas near the green that you must carry to reach the green. You’re not able to see a lot of that from your second shot, but it shouldn’t be a concern if you hit the slightly raised green.
Tee shot at the Fifteenth
Approach shot territory. You can actually see the rut running across most of the fairway ahead
The Sixteenth is a 471 yard par 5. The hole dog legs slightly to the right, but the tee shot is a tough one, as the landing area is pretty narrow, is tree lined and turns to the right while uphill. The second shot is blind and I wasn’t sure where to hit the ball. The left side looks wide enough, but there are bunkers that look like they come into play. I guessed the right side was clear to the green, so I hit in that direction and was generally ok; just in a little rough. Playing the hole again, I’d probably lay up to the area you can see to the left, which leaves you a clear look to the green. It’s also a nice par 5 and although a little short, demands accuracy.
Tee shot at the Sixteenth
Second shot area for the Sixteenth
A look at the where fairway meets the green. Approaching from the left side seems like the better idea.
The Seventeenth is the last par 3, at 165 yards. The green is set on a terrace and is uphill from the tee area. It slopes from right to left as well. Be sure to get your distance right and this should be a relatively easy par.
The Eighteenth is a 389 yard par 4. This dog legs right and is another one where driver will likely go right across the fairway into trees. You must clear the dog leg, however, to have a clear look at the green, so you still need to get it out there. The approach shot is visually intimidating and meant to be so, as there are two levels of bunkers to the right of the green, making anything over there a tough recovery. There’s no room left, so this hole is pretty much demanding you hit a good approach shot to leave on a good note. I bailed out left, then was able to chip out of the rough to get close to the pin.
Tee shot at the Eighteenth
Approach shot territory. Not a whole lot of wiggle room
A closer look at the green
The back 9 demands more accuracy than the front, especially off the tee. There were some intriguing holes on the par 4’s and 5’s, while the par 3’s were on the easier side and what I like to call, “breather holes.” Ranking the back 9, I’d go 13, 10, 11, 16, 18, 14, 15, 17, 12.
Generally, Iron Valley is a scenic shot maker’s course. Well struck tee and approach shots are a must while the short game and putting are not as important, likely giving you a break once you actually get to the green. The scenery itself is worth playing, as the stark differences in the setting of the each sets of 9 holes is striking. Particularly the front 9, which is basically is a large open area among the mountains, with the holes rotating around the lake, is unlike most courses you’ll encounter. I’d actually like to play here again once the trees grow in and the course has had a chance to get a little more lush, to see it in its full glory. Both times I’ve been here I really haven’t run into any crowds and there aren’t many houses in view along the course, so I’ve had nothing but nice relaxing rounds here.
Conditioning was pretty good, just needs some divot care in a few places. The value is through the roof; yeah you ave to factor in the drive, but even peak prices are great for this caliber of a course. The staff was very friendly and they had a great set up for grabbing stuff at the turn. The carts are top notch. Bottom line, this is a great mini destination course for Philadelphians that is just as close as some nearby NJ and DE courses in traffic. Its unique setting and strong design aspects will have me coming back a couple times a season. It also debuts at number 16 on my overall rankings.
Gripes: I had to hit off mats at the range and they are in terrible shape. The grass tees looked much better. I don’t know how I feel about that island green. Both times I’ve played it the wind was real strong and was too tough to stick the green. That’s just whining, but I think that island greens are pretty tough to pull off correctly.
Bar/grill: On the nice side, set above the pro shop with good views. Good beer selection and great food.
Practice area: A range and putting green. The putting green was nice.
Getting there: PA turnpike west to the Lebanon/Hershey exit. Probably closer than you think.