Berkleigh Golf Club

6,835 yards, 137 slope from the Blues

Course:  Located in Kutztown, PA, Berkleigh GC is a former private track that is now open to the public.  Robert White designed the course.  White, a Scotland native from Carnoustie, was the first President of the PGA and founded the American Society of Golf Course Architects.  He has designed a number of courses on the East coast, including Richmond County CC on Staten Island and Rockland Country Club in Sparkill, NY.  White also fostered a Scottish influence on many courses in the U.S. at the turn of the Twentieth century, assisting many in making the voyage and settling here in the golf industry.  Berkleigh was the first course I have played designed by White, but I came away very impressed.  And I’m not the only one, as Golf Magazine ranked it as the 10th best public course in PA in 2013 while Golfweek ranked it 7th in the same category in 2014.

Berkleigh is a classic parkland course that sets itself apart with sweeping elevation changes, frequent forced carries, smart bunkering and well placed rough.  It doesn’t suffer the typical problem of a lot of parkland courses by narrowing corridors with trees on either side; instead the fairways here are rather wide.  Yet shotmaking, particularly with the long game, are still required here through the use of the forced carries and rough, while angles to the green make many of the approach shots interesting.  The greens are subtle and I found them a touch slow, which seemed to again place the emphasis on ball striking.  This was also certainly one of the larger scale parkland courses out there, and with the elevation changes, produced some terrific scenery.  Because of the larger scale and the classic styling that effuses subtle character, all of which is a great mix of challenge, strategy and serenity, Berkleigh will likely be debuting in rankings mania in a pretty good spot.

I was supposed to play with someone else and we booked for one of the first tee times on a Sunday morning.  When that person wasn’t able to make it, it officially became the earliest round I’ve ever played by myself.  It was actually pretty nice, as I had the course to myself as a single and was able to enjoy the round as the rest of the world started to wake up.

The First is a 375 yard par 4 (from the Whites).  Although the hole appears simple enough as the fairway bends slightly to the right while gradually sloping downhill, it actually requires two very well hit shots for a chance at par due to the rough on either side of the fairway and the bunker fronting most of the green, requiring an aerial approach from most spots on the hole.  A great way to ease into the round without making par generous.

The First

Moving down the fairway

Just in front of the green, off to the right of the fairway

The Second is a 369 yard par 4.  There are similarities to the First, in that it’s a straightaway hole that again gradually slopes downhill to the green.  The fairway is narrower than the First, bringing the trees into play more, and actually, narrows even more as you proceed closer to the green, tightening the parameters of the approach shot.  Bunkers surround the green except on the front, allowing for some low running shots, which also sets itself apart from the the First.

The Second

Approach shot territory
A closer look at the green

The Third is a 135 yard par 3.  Although the green is fairly large, it is the only forgiving aspect of the hole.  Otherwise, you must carry a creek to reach the green, which is surrounded by trees and bunkers along the front on the left and right.  There just isn’t any room for any shot other than some that carries to the hole distance for a chance at par.  The distance to the hole, however, balances the challenge.

The Third

The Fourth is a 490 yard par 5.  The tee shot is straight off to a fairway that immediately juts uphill and cants left to right before apexing and going downhill while dog legging right to the green.  The second shot is blind, but you have a number of options to create for your third, including what type of lie you prefer, whether you want proximity to the green over a longer shot above the green at the apex.  The green is well defended and undulates nicely, ensuring that your work isn’t done just by getting there.  It’s a great par 5.  I’m kicking myself for not taking photos of the green, but I was struggling on this hole, fighting my way to the green.

The Fourth

Second shot territory, with the green off to the right

The Fifth is a 397 yard par 4.  There’s a creek to carry off the tee, requiring a well struck shot, then the fairway heads uphill to a green with a false front and bunkers on either side.  The fairway appears wide, but the rough does pinch both sides, which can make the hole infinitely tougher if you land in it.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory

The green

The Sixth is a 152 yard par 3.  The bunkering and angle of this hole are the highlights, as all bunkers are on the left side of the green, yet you also tee off on that side, coming in to the green at about a 2:00 line.  This brings the bunkers very much into play, forcing a carry over them or drawing the ball and coming in from the right.  It’s a very well done par 3.

The Sixth

Bunkers on the left side

Another look

The Seventh is a 476 yard par 5.  The tee shot is elevated, providing a picturesque view of the hole and surrounding area.  A creek towards the beginning of the fairway takes some consideration for the tee shot as well.  The second shot takes on the fairway that proceeds uphill to a plateau green, making most approach shots blind.  The rough and a few well placed bunkers ensures that only good shots are rewarded for a chance at birdie or par, yet the shorter distance of the hole allows variance in the second and third shot, depending on how you would like to attack to the green.  It’s a nice par 5 and at this point, Berkleigh started to get my attention.

The Seventh

Beginning of the fairway, the the creek in the forefront 

Approach shot territory
The green

The left side of the green

The Eighth is a 364 yard par 4.  Although topography wise it is similar to the Seventh in that you start away from an elevated tee to a fairway that climbs to the green, the Eighth is different mainly because of the green, which favors an aerial approach to carry a prominent bunker in the front.  A creek does come into play as well and this hole is narrower than many we’ve seen at this point.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

Looking back from the green

The Ninth is a 513 yard par 5.  So that’s 3 par 5’s on the front green, yet the distance for each set of nine is virtually identical.  We get another elevated tee shot to a fairway that gradually ascends to one of the more interesting greens on the course.  The green horse shoes around a center frontal bunker and then has bunkers on either side of the green.  The green is also rather shallow, which limits the acceptable area for a well struck tee shot.  The undulations from back to front also make you manage top notch putting for a shot at par.

The Ninth

Approach shot territory

A closer look

The front nine boasts some very good par 3’s and par 5’s, along with some classic yet solid par 4’s.  The bunkering, use of topography and angling stuck out as the highlights, creating a very nice set of nine holes.  Ranking them, I’d go 7, 6, 9, 4, 5, 3, 8, 1, 2.

The back nine starts with the 346 yard par 4 Tenth.  We see a little more creativity and quirk on the back nine, which adds to a strong solid classic routing of the front nine while still maintaining a consistent design theme.  As for the Tenth, the fairway looks straight and flat from the tee, but actually slopes severely from right to left, more so the further left you go.  The green reveals itself over the right to left slope, protected by a run off and deep bunker on the right side.  An interesting hole that was pretty fun.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory
The green

A closer look at the bunker and run off area

The Eleventh is a 384 yard par 4.  The tee shot here is tricky inasmuch as a ridge makes the shot blind and there is a creek on the side of the ridge that seems to take driver out of play.  You could hit to the top of the ridge, which would give you a nice look at the green (albeit a long shot), or you can figure out what gets you short of the creek.  Just make sure you consider roll out, since the ball will like hit the downslope on the other side of the ridge.  The approach is to a plateau green, with a few bunkers around the sides to make sure you can’t simply skip to a par.  The Tenth and Eleventh are a couple of my favorite par 4’s on the course.

The Eleventh

Second shot territory, short of the creek

The Twelfth is a 190 yard par 3.  The pin placement during my round was back left of the green, which made this one of the only par 3 doglegs I have played.  The green curls left and back from the tee around a bunker and adjacent to a tree line, which forces you to consider a draw, or carrying the left side bunker altogether and dropping sharply to the tee.  Considering the length, it is certainly the type of holes that typifies forcing the player to strategize and manage his shot carefully.  It’s another great par 3.

The Twelfth

Approaching the front of the green

The Thirteenth is a 412 yard par 4.  The tee shot is elevated, and partially blind, as the fairway slopes dramatically from left to right and if the tee shot is played correctly, the ball will hit that ridge on the other side, bounce hard to the right and roll considerably towards the green, leaving you with a much easier approach shot.  And in this case, an easier approach is vital because the green is a forced carry over a creek and is protected by what seems to be exponentially more and deeper bunkers than you encounter in past holes.  It’s another all done par 4.

The Thirteenth

The other side of the ridge

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 494 yard par 5.  It’s a dog leg left with the fairway climbing from the tee, then turning until gradually rising yet again to the green.  The fairway is much narrower than we’re used to seeing.  The green slopes from left to right with bunkers on the either side.  Just a solid, classic par 5.

Looking back at the tee, which is a forced carry over the fescue

Proceeding down the fairway

Approach shot territory

Looking back from the green

The Fifteenth is a 182 par 3.  This is all carry over water to the green, which slants a little from right to left and has a bunker on the right to collect those slices.  It’s a nice hole, but I hate it.  I lost a few balls and it ruined my round score-wise.  But, um, yeah, great hole design wise, blah blah blah.

The Fifteenth

A closer look

The Sixteenth is a 350 yard par 4.  Another tough tee shot as the fairway is narrowed considerably from a protruding bunker on the right, which tempts a fade or trying to carry the bunker altogether.  The approach is also tricky as a trench bunker on the front forces an aerial approach that must hold or rolls off into the rough.  A short but tough par 4.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot territory

The Seventeenth is a 339 yard par 4.  The tee shot is yet again blind for the most part, only due to a slight decline to the green.  A well struck tee shot is rewarded with a shorter approach to a wide green, making this a nice hole to pick up a couple strokes.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

The Eighteenth is a 317 yard par 4.  A shorter par 4 than the Seventeenth, but much tougher due to the bunkering, which forces precision on the tee shot and approach.  The green is one of the tougher to hit on the course because of a large bunker in the front forcing a carry, while large bunkers on either side makes sure you nail it straight.  A good example of a short par 4 being more difficult than some of the par 5’s.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The back nine is more creative than the front, has better par 4’s and the par 3’s are terrific, making the par 3’s here one of the best collections of them in the area.  I’d rank them 10, 11, 12, 18, 13, 15, 16, 17, 14.

Generally, I found Berkleigh to be a well thought out course that utilizes the topography wonderfully.  Lots of blind shots, bounces, rolls and lies to consider, all of which also emphasizes a strong tee game.  Visually, yes it’s scenic, but instead of visual intimidation confronting you at each tee, you get lulled into more of a false sense of security with the seemingly wide fairways.  With ample character found with the fairways and bunkers, creating some great approach shots and aforementioned tee shots, I really liked the course.  Conditions are terrific and service was friendly, rounding out the experience.  As far as value goes, you can’t do much better, as you get to play one of the better courses in the state for what some Philadelphia municipal courses charge.

Gripes:  A minor one is you may have noticed my yardages and those on the signs are a little different.  I don’t know why.  You must carry your bag to the range, even if you opt for a cart.  No cart girl, which I could have used with the heat that day.  But these are minor rants.

Bar/grill:  A nice indoor and outdoor area, with an outdoor grill.  There is a larger room that is likely used for weddings, but was entirely dark when I was there, which gave the area a sense of impending doom for some reason.

Clubhouse:  See above.  But it looks great from the outside.

Practice area:  A full grass range and putting green.  A separate charge, but not much.

Nearby:  Unfortunately, my round was a drive there-drive back home ordeal, so I can’t comment on this too much other than saying a Sheetz is close by.

Getting there:  From Philadelphia, you can take the Blue Route, then the Lehigh exit, going west.  You can also take 422 and basically side roads up to Kutztown.