6,446 yards, 137 Slope from the Ross tees
Bedford Springs is generally in southwestern Pennsylvania, midway between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Nestled in the Cumberland Valley among with the Allegheny Mountains, the mineral springs have attracted mankind to the area since the dawn of time. Historically, the resort rose to prominence in the early 1800’s and lays claim to hosting 13 United States Presidents, 7 of which visited during their presidency. The mineral springs and natural cradle in which the valley sits within the mountains is a splendid setting for enjoying the best of the countryside.
What better way to enjoy the countryside than build a golf course, which was almost expected of a resort especially around that time, so in 1895, Spencer Oldham designed one. That course remained in place until 1912 when Tillinghast performed work on it and then in 1923, Donald Ross came in for a remodeling. It is the only course I know of where Ross came in after Tilly. The resort enjoyed its lofty reputation of bucolic luxury for decades, until it fell on hard times and closed completely in the 1980’s. Dormant and languishing, the property sat for a spell until new ownership whisked in and invested in its restoration, returning the hotel to its glorious potential and once again hosting the leader of the free world.
As for the course, it too languished, as Shobers Run Creek and its tributaries would overflow often, which made it impossible to keep up with the necessary maintenance. The locals were devoted to it and guests would still play it because it was there, but like the rest of the property, it was in need of dedicated attention. In 2005, Ron Forse, Jim Nagle and team were hired to do just that. The project was extensive in scope and multi-functional. Realizing that legacy sediment had built up in Shobers Creek and was causing the frequent flooding, the waterway needed to be restored in conjunction with the course. This consisted of digging the channels of the creek to the original depths to allow it proper flow during storms. Environmental wetlands were also placed on each of its sides as a buffer to handle any overflow. While this restored the creek to how it should naturally run through the land, it also ensured the golf course could exist without being underwater half the time. The creek is now how it was 200 years ago. With new drainage and irrigation, the interrelation of course and creek was drastically improved.
The project had to be completed by October 2006 and playable by July 2007. That is a lot to do in a short amount of time so as Shobers Run was restored, Forse and Nagle began their work to the course at the same time.
I had a chance to speak with Jim Nagle about the course and their work. The project focused on restoring what was worth restoring and re-designing where that made sense. The routing was returned to its 1923 version, with the Seventeenth and Eighteenth returned to where they were originally, which had been the driving range up to that point. The driving range was moved to where the previous Sixteenth was and the previous Seventeenth was transformed into wetlands. With all the material from the creek project, most all of the fairways and greens were raised. The greens at 2, 4, 6 and 10 were restored to their original version but it was at this point Forse and Nagle realized they needed to impart their own expertise. Generally, they made the course much bolder than it was before. Always a resort course and perhaps intended as an appendage to the lodging, the milder components of the course could be improved for a more engaging and interesting round, within the framework of the design style of Ross and Tilly. The mounding, most all of the bunkering and several of the greens (including the, “Tiny Tim” Fourteenth), were re-designed. Likewise, all of the greens were re-worked to accommodate today’s green speeds. This is a great example of Restoration that Moves Us Forward – https://golfadelphia.com/2019/05/18/restoration-that-moves-us-forward/ ™. Forse and Nagle didn’t merely restore; they were interested in ensuring the best and most interesting course possible existed when the project was completed. This meant using proper discretion on what should be restored and what could be improved. Just as Tilly and Ross instilled their own work to the course during their time here, Forse and Nagle did the same, all in the name of conjuring the best golf from the land. Morever, the natural habitat was restored along with the course, a symbiotic relationship where both are allowed to flourish in a balanced ecological arrangement. The project won Renovation of the Year from Golf Magazine, Inc.
The course runs lengthwise for the most part, between forested hills, where a maze of creeks (Shobers and its tributaries) twist through the property and hillocks of all sizes create interesting rises, falls and carries. There is rich variety with an emphasis on ball striking and strategy, with lots of different green configurations to the fairways that create an array of angles and the green sites add to this by their clever placement among the terrain. The course is one of the more insightful and just flat out better classic courses within our reach accessible to the public. The boldness, variety and use of the terrain exudes Ross and Tillinghast character, which was orchestrated by Forse and Nagle’s efforts.
Early spring always has remnants of winter mixed in and the crispness of the air the morning of the round was refreshing, almost making me appreciate the last few months in the cold. The course was in glorious condition while the trees were taking their time catching up but it captured the mood of the seasons terrifically. We teed off in grand fashion, as the valley and the run continued to stir awake from their winter slumber.
The First is a 302 yard par 4 (from the Ross tees). The fairway uphill before us, the break in the fairway where the bunkers are probably means something less than driver off the tee makes sense. The upper fairway and green sit higher on the hillside, which moves swiftly from left to right. The movement of the upper fairway means an approach in from the right is probably best but regardless, aiming for the left side on the approach is a good idea. The green is deep and most of it blind from second shot territory. A nice opener that makes you start managing your shots promptly.
The Second is a 178 yard par 3. If you ever wondered just how significant an impact angles can have in play structure, this is the hole for you. The angle from the tee disorients, as Shobers and a tree line beyond are straight out. The green and short grass before it run across the corridor, heading off to the left behind fescue and tall grass. I hit a great shot, right into the wetlands and tree line straight ahead. Adjusting for the angle and what’s in front of you is sorely needed, training yourself to hit into the more blind area. It’s a nicely structured par 3, rewarding experience and perhaps preparation.
The Third is a 577 yard par 5. Running within the interior of the course, the tee placement is well thought out on the right, beside the fairway running at an angle off to the right. There are a few Donald Ross holes I can think of that incorporate this, with the Eighth at Pine Needles coming to mind. All the fairway you want is beside you but figuring out just how much of the tee shot can carry the rough before coming on to it is the decision to make. The fairway is wide and heads straight to the green but wind can come in here with nothing around to send it elsewhere. The donut bunker on the left side is an ode to Oldham I believe while the mounding and shaping near the green focus this longer hole quickly to one of managing sharp contours. The course is starting to stretch its legs.
The Fourth is a 212 yard par 3. If the first two holes can be characterized as shorter more devious affairs, the next two holes are big, brawny and laugh at your feeble attempts to get the ball in the hole. This volcano green was all Ross, a large hill with a green on top. It’s a long shot to that green and there are a few bunkers in the hill to vary the hillside lies. I had never come across such a grand Volcano green, with all the ones I had played up to this point much more compact and requiring short irons. But ones like the are out there, including at the Country Club of Buffalo and Misquamicut. A thrilling challenge, worth the trip alone.
The Fifth is a 562 yard par 5. The brawn continues, as the course revels in showing off its miles of countryside early on. A dog leg right after the tee shot, a healthy turn framed by rough and later on, trees. The bunkers and shaping near the green once again sharpen the approach and the back to front movement of the green should be taken seriously.
The Sixth is a 343 yard par 4. We have made it to the rear of the property. The course is over showing off for now and a shorter par 4 heads across the property as we make our first pass lengthwise. Shobers must be carried from the tee and bunkers are placed on either side as the fairway heads slightly uphill to the green. An easy enough hole, if you’re able to keep the shots straight but for everyone else, things can move quickly the other way.
The Seventh is a 372 yard par 4. Heading back in the direction of the clubhouse, the tee shot here is a bit tighter than what we’ve grown accustomed to and the hillside on the right imparts movement to the left in general. The fairway ends at Shobers and the green is on the other side. The creek cuts in front of therein at an angle, so those taking a line on the right will need to carry a longer distance than those on the left. The mounding and contours near the green are once again evident and indeed resemble the classic character of those prior designers that were here.
The Eighth is a 336 yard par 4. A short par 4 where the tee shot must carry the creek and lots of clubs can work other than driver. The green is a bit different with the bunkers guarding it on all sides and raised from the fairway. Nothing other than exacting approach will do, the green moving right to left and towards the rear.
The Ninth is a 496 yard par 5. Heading back to the rear of the property, the front nine ends with width. A single fairway bunker on the right and long grass are the off fairway factors of note, the fairway eventually ending at a Shobers tributary. The second fairway leading up to the green are on the other side, all of it wide, moving left to right, and sharp contour surrounds to spice up the recovery shots.
The front nine has a nice cadence of shorter strategic holes interlaced with larger grand ones for a well varied set of holes that incorporates the creek very thoughtfully on some of the flatter parts of the property. I would rank them 4, 2, 1, 8, 7, 6, 3, 9, 5.
The back nine starts with the 112 yard par 3 Tenth. A short par 3 with plenty of lurking danger. Teeing off from one hilltop over a ravine to another hilltop, the green moves intensely from back to right with a sharp fall off on the right. It’s a short iron but accuracy is a good idea or you could see a treasure trove of strokes pile up in a very short amount of distance and time.
The Eleventh is a 440 yard par 4. At the rear of the property at the opposite corner from where we began, we head in the direction of home, casually. The fairway after the elevated tee shot sweeps down itself and is interrupted by creek tributaries a couple times until you reach the green, moving right to left and with a large bunker on either side. The tee shot dictates a lot as it’s easy to get carried away and hit it off the face of the planet.
The Twelfth is a 370 yard par 4. We continue to run down the edge of the property back towards the clubhouse. Now back in the valley, the tee shot is level and we can see the left to right tilt of the fairway. That continues to the green, where the mounding and contours on the right get pretty high and the bunkers on the left are below the green. With the width yet wind in play, there’s plenty of room to work with but these spots of trouble come into play more than it appears.
The Thirteenth is a 592 yard par 5. The course is moving use closer and closer to the clubhouse, this hole running in the same direction as the prior two. As a long par 5, the fairway gets a little chippy width-wise, making you work to stay in it as you need each shot to stretch as much as it can. The green is raised from the fairway yet at the base of a hillside, bunkers at each side. The short holes are short here and the long holes are certainly, you know the rest.
The Fourteenth is a 129 yard par 3. The “Tiny Tim” hole, an elevated tee shot to a green that belies the name of the hole, as the size of the green is quite serviceable. The tee shot needs to carry Shobers and a pond, both short of the green. Bunkers line almost the entire circumference of the green as well. The green is where the interest is with its contours and movement, a lot of it more subtle and most vexing if one needs to putt from one side to the other.
The Fifteenth is a 343 yard par 4. The tee shot must carry Shobers yet again as well as the wetlands I imagine are part of that buffer zone to reach the fairway, which is running from left to right almost perpendicular to where we are at the tee. Like the Second, the line taken from the tee disorients, as straight out will only get you so far until you end up in the tree line and rough. There are bunkers and a tree on the left side to complicate those who want to cut a lot of the fairway off for a shorter approach, so those must be carried or the hit around. The fairway winds around bunkers and ramps up to the green, which is not shy about flaunting its undulations.
The Sixteenth is a 571 yard par 5. Now on the other side of the property from where the early part of the back nine plays, we head back to the clubhouse on this edge of the course. The fairway cants from left to right, strongly. A fairway bunker high left influences the entire fairway to tighten and weave around it, so figuring out whether second second needs to stop before it or carry it altogether is one of those command decisions. Bunkers are littered near the green and with everything on the right side well below, the fight to stay left remains through the green.
The Seventeenth is a 165 yard par 3. There are 5 par 5’s and 5 par 3’s, which spices up the routing and magnifies the premium of par 4’s. This final par 3 has a Redan structure in how the green falls to the left towards bunkers on that side and the green is raised from the tee, a short grass area before it sweeping around the bunkers and spilling in to the green on the right. The right edge of the green is a nice line but really anyone going more directly for the pin will need to hedge right to some degree.
The Eighteenth is a 346 yard par 4. A devious finish leading to the clubhouse patio, the fairway dog legs left a bit, swerving and hiding amongst the bunkers on either side, which obfuscates where exactly safe passage can be found from the tee. Either before or after the right side bunker would be my suggestion, the widest part of the fairway being after it, just before it ends altogether at the hill upon which the green is perched. Bunkers guard the hill and are on the right and rear as the green moves from left to right essentially along the same terrain movement we saw at the Sixteenth. It’s a tough finishing short par 4, full of placement strategy and accepting nothing less than care fully thought out precision. Yet just like the opening salvo, the golfer is allowed broad discretion in how he goes about the whole ordeal, closing things out on his own terms.
The back nine has three well placed par 3’s and its closing sequence is solid. The run of holes moving from the rear of the property to the front gets a bit rote on some of the less interesting terrain, but the greens there save the day. I would rank them 10, 18, 17, 15, 16, 11, 14, 13, 12.
Generally, Old Bedford is a strong restored classic that requires an intriguing combination of shotmaking and strategy. Its routing is a delightful dance with Shobers Run that not only comes into play often, but in so many distinct ways throughout the round it is just as much an integral part of the course as the fairways and greens. Forse and Nagle’s work here raised its stature, emphasizing the brilliant character of the designers before them while instilling their own so that it all coalesced. I found the par 3’s to be a very notable collection while the similarities in composition between the First and Eighteenth, where those demands of strategy and shotmaking blend together into a fitting trial for any level and style of golfer, was symbolically artful of the course and hotel in general, whether intended or unintended. Starting with promise and guile, its journey an adventure of excitement and perhaps some despair, yet some how finding a way to finish with that same promise from the start, enduring evermore.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A separate structure from the hotel with an indoor bar and outdoor patio area, large enough to house most any crowd. The hotel is walking distance, albeit a healthy one.
Practice area: The range is a cart ride from the clubhouse but the putting green is close to the First tee.