Hershey Links

6,621 yards, 132 Slope from the Blues

Course:  Hershey Links is one of the courses that make up what is called the, “Hershey Golf Collection,” in Hershey, PA.  Hershey is a vacation destination and can best be characterized as a mini Disneyland-esque experience.  The Hershey family started their dynasty of chocolate market domination in this small town located about an hour and a half from Philadelphia many moons ago.  As the brand grew, so did the town, which Milton Hershey was determined to turn into an ideal community for his employees.  You can say he succeeded, as nowadays, the town boasts an amusement park with rides, a convention center, a large concert venue and a multitude of lodging options.  The centerpiece for lodging is the Hotel Hershey, which offers something for everyone, from a spa and five star restaurant for couples, to various outdoor and indoor pools, as well as an ice skating rink for the kids.  And most importantly, there’s golf.

Good old Milt started the Hershey Country Club in 1930, with the first floor of his High Point mansion serving as the first clubhouse.  Hershey West was the first course belonging to the club and has become one of the more storied and famous courses in the area.  As more courses sprang up owned and operated by the Hershey Trust, country club members are able to play any of them, resort guests are able to select various packages to go along with their stay and daily fee players are able to show up for play as well.  Hence, the Hershey Golf Collection, which consists of Hershey East, Hershey West, the Links course and Spring Creek, which is a par 33 primarily meant for younger golfers, yet has been around since 1932 (aptly named the Juvenile Country Club back then).

I’ve always enjoyed myself when I make it to Hershey.  Like Disneyland, everything is clean, everyone is nice and it’s a great place to relax for a few days.  I’m able to get out on one of a few nice courses while my family spends time at the spa, pools, etc., so everyone is happy and finds something to do.

Hershey Links is the newest of the Hershey courses.  Designed by the Columbus, OH based firm of Hurdzan-Fry and opening in 2003, the Hershey Trust took control in 2005.  With Hershey West opening in 1930 and East opening in 1969, you can say that Links is a baby compared to the others.
I mention how new the Links is for one simple reason; it will be closing for good at the end of this year.   It must be one of the youngest courses ever to close down.  

I’ve never played or reviewed a course I knew was about to close.  I have played courses that were on the verge of closing, however, and one thing resonated with me at all of those places; wow, this place is crap.  I mean, that’s why most courses close, right?  There’s no money coming in, so conditions start to go terrible, staff budgets are slashed so service tanks and eventually word gets out that the course is no longer worth playing.  As the course stalls and stops making a profit, some developer swoops in and turns the place into housing or the local government turns it into a park.  The Links, however, doesn’t suffer from any of that.  The facilities are top notch, course conditions were terrific, service was a plus and the course was packed.  The Hershey Trust, which incidentally is a multi billion dollar organization, decided that the land would best be suited as housing for students of the Hershey School, which happens to be one of the wealthiest educational facilities in the nation, founded by Milton.  The School houses and educates impoverished children.  No matter the motive by the Trust, and no matter how successful or beloved the course is, it will be NLE at the end of this year.  After my recent round there, I’m glad I had a chance to play it before it goes away.

The Links is a modern style course that is dominated by rolling hills and ravines.  The hills yield elevated and blind tee shots while the ravines create forced carries for your tee, second and approach shots.  There are a fair amount of bunkers, from pot to large complexes, mainly around the greens.  Trees do not come into play, but the off fairway rough is certainly penal and beyond that, the long grass fescue is virtually impossible to deal with.  The course is definitely not Links, but is rather links style.  I get into what makes a links course in my Wyncote review, but the course characterizes itself as links style, so everyone is clear on what to expect.  Really, a better name would be Hershey Ravines, as the course is full of them and dictates routing as well as shot selection.  The greens are fairly large and contoured, and it becomes apparent early on that the course places an emphasis on your short game, as most of the holes get tougher as you get closer to the green.

After warming up at the range and getting a pretty thorough presentation of the course from the starter, we made our way to the first tee for what was a great day of golf.

Driving Range

The First starts off tough right away, as a 517 yard par 5 (from the Blues).  The first ravine you encounter is about 250 yards from the White tees, which is where we played.  There is a steep down hill before the ravine, so most guys will not do well hitting driver from the Whites on this par 5.  At first blush, this may seem awkward, but it’s only 477 yards from the White, so you still have a very manageable third shot into the green so long as you get over the ravine with your second.  The green was mild, but there are bunkers around the green, along with said rough, so sticking your approach shot is a good idea.

The First.  The first fairway is off to the left, ravine straight ahead

The First green

The Second is a short par 4 at 329 yards.  The tee shot is to a pretty wide fairway.  It’s important to get the ball in the fairway, as the rough really is tough to play out of.  The approach shots can be tough and playing them out of the rough can get down right tricky.  There is water along the right side of the green and a very shaved step slope running into the water from that side of the green, so stay left and don’t get suckered into pin placement, like I did.

Tee shot at the Second
Approach shot at the Second

Another look at the Second green

The Third is a 340 yard par 4.  The tee shot is a forced carry over water to another generous fairway.  The green is tucked in to the left of the fairway, protected by a fairly large bunker.  The green is also pretty large and pin placement dictates how you want to get on the green; from the left, right, or by carrying the large bunker.  Putting is pretty tricky as well.

Tee shot at the Third

Approach shot at the Third, with the green off to the left

The Fourth is the first par 3 at 161 yards.  The tee shot is elevated and bunkers on the left and right of the green.  The green is big, but make sure you hit it since short ends up in a mini ravine, too far ends up in rough along with a downhill chip shot, and either left or right ends up in the bunkers.  The first few holes demand accuracy with the short to mid irons, which is a theme that held true for the entire round.

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 388 yard par 4.  This one has not one, but two ravines.  The first you must carry off the tee to the fairway that is angled almost perpendicular to the tee.  The second ravine must be carried to get to the green, which has a large false front, so go at the pin.

Tee shot at the Fifth

Looking back at the fairway from the green area at the Fifth

The Sixth is a 450 yard par 4.  The wide fairway gently descends from a right to left “S” to water, with the green on the other side.  There is rough between the fairway and water, which makes anything off the end of the fairway that much tougher to get on the green.  A bunker on the left side of the green protects the better approach angle, if you decide to attack the green from the right side of the fairway.  I enjoyed this hole. It was nothing earth shattering, just a nice hole to take in that made sure you hit some semi respectable shots to get through it.

Tee shot at the Sixth

Second shot territory
A closer approach shot

An even closer approach in the rough.  The ball is barely visible, which gives you a good visual of the deep rough.  It didn’t bother this guy, though.  He stuck his approach shot within feet, then swam to the green.

The Seventh is a 447 yard par 4.  The fairway goes uphill from a 5:00 to 11:00 angle, while the green is set to the right while the fairway continues to the left of the green.  A nice uphill hole that plays a little longer than the yardage.

Seventh tee shot

The approach shot.  The green is on the right.

The Eighth is a 159 yard par 3.  The green is uphill from the tee and three large bunkers surround it.  The green also slopes from right to left.  A pretty easy par 3, but I managed to mangle it some how.

The Eighth

The Ninth is a 501 yard par 5.  It was one of my favorite holes on the course.  The tee is elevated and the fairway begins on the left side, then S turns to the right, around a row of bunkers that sits across the course.  The green is about 100 yards from the first row of bunkers, where a greenside bunker sits in front of the green.  The far right side of the fairway avoids the bunkers altogether, so lots of shot decisions to make and different ways to play the hole.

Ninth tee shot

Second shot territory 

The front 9 had a little bit of everything and you’ll likely use most of the clubs in your bag.  The par 5’s really stood out, as well as the short par 4’s.  Ranking them, I’d go 9, 1, 3, 5, 2, 6, 8, 7, 4.

The back 9 starts with the par 4 445 yard Tenth.  The tee landing area has bunkers on either side and the tee shot is blind, as the fairway crests and then proceeds downhill to the green, which is protected by bunkers except for a small opening on the right side.

Tee shot at the Tenth

Approach shot at the Tenth

The Eleventh is a tricky little 180 yard par 3.  The tee shot is over a, you guess it, ravine to a green that runs parallel with the ravine.  The green also has a ridge running through the middle, so there really are two tiers, both of which run right to left and back to front.  Getting the ball on the green is one thing, but setting yourself up for a one or even two putt is another.  You can stay downhill of the hole, but then you must have a much more exacting tee shot.  There’s more room left or right of the hole, but then your putter will get some exercise.  A good par 3.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a short par 4 at 361 yards.  Driver is too much, as the hole dog legs left and after the dog leg, descends into yet another ravine.  The green is long but narrow and undulates a lot.  Although it’s short, the hole demands two pretty precise shots to score well.

Tee shot at the Twelfth

Approach shot

The Thirteenth is a 125 yard par 3.  It plays a little longer since the green is set up hill from the tee.  One of the easier holes on the course.

The Thirteenth

The Fourteenth is a 363 yard par 4.  Honestly, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth felt like what I call, “filler holes.”  The designer has x amount of land and already knows how they want to lay out most of the holes, but then they realize they still need to put in a couple with the remaining space.  So in between holes that make great use of the landscape, there are a couple that usually reside on the outskirts of the property, before getting to more of the interesting holes.  Some architects make sure these filler holes still remain interesting, some don’t.  The short par 3 and this shorter par 4 aren’t boring, but felt a little morose for lack of a better word.  But both are on the easy side, so could also be seen as breather holes.  The Fourteenth is straightaway with larger bunkers on the sides of the fairway and a green with a large bunker on the front left side.

Tee shot on the Fourteenth
Approach shot territory, in front of one of the fairway bunkers

The Fifteenth is a 362 yard par 4.  At just about the landing area of your tee shot, the fairway goes downhill to an alcove green, with a steep drop off on the right side of the green.  The tee shot lures you to bomb as far as possible, but getting just to the crest of the hill is a good spot, as you have a flat lie and clear look at the green.  A nice hole and also a breather before the monster Sixteenth.

Approach shot at the Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 583 yard par 5.  It’s a long tough hole.  There not one, but two ravines as well.  The first is off the tee, which you must carry to the elevated fairway.  The fairway is pretty wide and you must get your second shot in good position to set up your approach, which is a forced carry over another ravine to a smaller green and pretty much death off the green.  AND the green slopes severely from back to front.  It’s a bear, but I appreciated it.

Tee shot at the Sixteenth

Sixteenth fairway.  The green is straight ahead and downhill

The Sixteenth green

The Seventeenth is a 425 yard par 4.  Really, the Seventeenth is a mini Sixteenth.  Tee shot to an elevated fairway, then a longish second shot over another ravine to the green.  I ended up short right of the green and had to go into unchartered territory for my ball.  In my back swing, this beaver rustled up all these leaves, resulting in a terrible chip.  Stupid nature getting in the way of my golf game.  The longer approach second shot makes this a tough hole.

Tee shot at the Seventeenth

Approach shot

The Eighteenth is a shorter par 5 at 485 yards.  If you’re counting at home, that’s 3 par 4’s and 2 par 5’s to close the round.  The fairway is a little narrower, but there’s not much trouble other than the rough off fairway.  There are some bunkers around the green and the distance is enough to tempt you to get there in two, but anything in those deep bunkers will be a tough recovery.  Take advantage of the distance and get to a good chipping distance for an easy third.

Tee shot at the Eighteenth

The Eighteenth green

The back 9 is short in the beginning and longer towards the end, but the holes defend themselves sufficiently and in different ways.  The par 5’s once again stood out.  Ranking them, I’d go, 16, 18, 12, 11, 15, 17, 10, 13, 14.

Generally, this course reminded a little of Wyncote.  Very little trees, yet the rough and forced carries created enough challenge to keep the round interesting.  Like Wyncote as well, the forced carries constrain one’s ability to get creative and play the course in a lot of different ways.  The number of carries make it tough to vary your distance or approach shots.  The bunkers, rough, greens and pin placement generate creativity one you get close enough to the green, so that helps immensely.  And to be fair, there are holes, such as the Third, Ninth and Eighteenth, which can be played different ways.  Either way, the course provides a nice steady series of enjoyable holes and mixes things up one way or another throughout the round to keep you thinking.  The holes have a consistent theme and that’s relaxing.  Conditions were great, service was terrific, the facilities were very nice (and fairly new); it’s pretty much everything you’d want in a higher end daily fee course near you.  I’m sure this will continue until the day they shut things down, which is unprecedented, or at least uncommon for a course with its days numbered.  Selfishly as a golfer, I’d like to see it continue that way, see the course keep maturing and come back several times.  Instead, the range and a few holes will remain for the students to use.  An area so rich in golf history and known for top notch courses deserves another course like this one, so hopefully it happens.  Otherwise, get here this season to experience a well known course with a solid lay out that will perform that way until the day its doors close.

Gripes:  The cart girl was MIA.  We saw her at the range of all places and that was it.  Otherwise, the whole closing down thing is a big head scratcher.

Bar/grill:  Looked nice with a good view of the Eighteenth and Tenth.  A nice patio too.  Their wraps were awesome.

Clubhouse:  Same.  Nice with a good selection of stuff and friendly staff.

Practice area:  Very big range with free balls.  A larger putting area.

Getting there:  10 minutes from the Hotel Hershey.