The first summer that I played golf, in 1974 at the age of 21, my friends who had just graduated from Gannon College, as it was known back then, and myself, who was a few credits short of my degree in accounting – yes, accounting – made our way to Gospel Hill, the first 18-hole course that I played.
It’s 2010, and my inconsistency in the game and the unique par 33-37 course a few blocks east of Station Road have not changed much.
Sure, I play a better game now, but I still can shank, chunk, hit a hideous shot about 30 yards following a perfect drive, swear, say that “I quit,” “I reek,” “I don’t know why I play this game,” then make a par and get that feeling that I can’t wait to play again.
In the 70s, Gospel Hill was one of the few options where a golfer who was not a country club member who wanted to play 18 within a few miles from home could go. Then the course-building boom came in the late 80s and early 90s, with the addition of 9-hole courses like Fox Run, Lake Pleasant, Mound Grove, Crab Apple Ridge (the latter two are now 18). Elk Valley and Green Meadows both expanded from 9 to 18, and so forth. Thus, there were many more 18-hole short-trip options.
I had not played at Gospel for several years until the past Columbus Day, when I joined a couple of guys from the Times-News. Shot an 88 and had fun. It was October, one of my last rounds and best score of the year, which shows the caliber of golfer that I am. Low 90s to low 100s.
To review the course, on Tuesday, July 13, I got together with Jimmy Feeney to play 18. (his brother, Larry, who has been a friend since the 60s while at Cathedral Prep and Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity brother, was unable to make our usual Tuesday morning round). Gospel has a Tuesday special, $24 with a cart, with a sandwich and drink at the turn. Nice deal.
In my mind, the place just never changed. Sure, Penn State Behrend has agreed to buy the property owned by Becky Kathman and Linda Milton, but I was told the course will remain in operation for several years.
Anyway, you make the turn east off of Station Road to Reese, then a right on Steimer, which is like a driveway. You see the same parking lot on the left, with the same clubhouse, the same short walk to the first hole, then the tight 2,230-yard par-33 front with no par-5s, and the 3,300-yard par-37 back with three par-5 holes. Throw in the par-4 13th hole that seems like another five-par. Don’t think I’ve ever reached that green in two, even in my bomber days, when I could smack the dimpled spheroid with a real wooden driver 280 yards once in a while.
Ironically, as the equipment has changed for length, so does the body’s equipment when getting longer in the tooth.
I don’t classify Gospel Hill as ever being a lush course along the fairways, nor have the greens been fast. The greens, which are pretty-well maintained, also don’t have many undulations or tricky breaks. But the average bogey golfer can put up a nice, confidence-building score here, and it’s a comfortable walk or ride with nature.
It was cloudy and muggy when Jimmy and I played. By the way, Jimmy Feeney, who heads up the mathematics department at Mercyhurst College and is the youngest of four of the Feeney brothers,, has improved immensely by playing a lot more. It also helps when you buy some new equipment. About 10 years ago I gave Larry my 23-year-old clubs made for a 6-foot-6 guy, and he still uses them to hit the balls that he finds while spending half of his round searching for lost balls. He has a couple thousand logos, and the scratches on his knees and arms to show for it.
On the 325-yard first hole, the second-longest on the front, tired, aching while failing to stretch – stretching properly would be a stretch for me – I hit a weak drive into the trees on the left and could not find the ball. One shot, one lost egg. I managed a double-bogey 6.
The second hole is the first of four 270-yard par 4s on the front reachable from the tee for any good amateur. I remember in the late 1980s, the EDGA Amateur first round was at Gospel Hill when the tournament was played at three different courses, and the players had to wait on every tee and took about four hours to play the first nine. They flew around the long and open backside with enough time to make dinner, or the last minutes of Happy Hour.
I flailed around the front. I’ve always said that I play Snowflake golf, that no two swings are alike. I’ve been putting better, but not this day. I made nothing, to add to the atrocious short game woes, since I have no touch or confidence in what I’m doing. I had three double-bogeys and six bogeys for an icky 12-over 45. Arthritis. Yeah, that’s a good excuse.
We stopped and got our sandwich and drink. I’ll tell you what, the Kielbasa was very good while washed down with a lemonade. It was key.
Started off the 526-yard par-5 10th with a good drive, good fairway wood, then just missed the green to the left and bogeyed. But I was energized. Swung the club better. A horrible chip led to a double on 11, but I parred the par-5 12th for the first par of the day, had a five on the 458-yard (yeah, right) par 4 ¾ 13th, parred the uphill par-3 16th, and on the 550-yard 18th hole, laid up before the water and was about 15 yards right of the green. Missed a long putt for par, but happily settled for a bogey and another 45 (but only 8-over-par) for a respectable (for me) 90.
Jim Feeney finished with a 46-50-96, with some of those holes that you just can’t do anything right and finish with a snowman (8).
I played the last seven holes at plus-5. For a 20-something handicapper, it made me want to play again soon. Thanks to a relaxing, pleasant outing at Gospel Hill.
– Bob Jarzomski
Gospel Hill Golf Club
4415 Steimer Road (Off of Reese Road, east of Route 430, Station Road)
5,527 yards, par 33-37—70