Beautiful Over Lake.
That’s usually how you are greeted when you call for a tee time for Over Lake Golf Course, located at 10601 Ridge Road, Girard.
Just take Route 20 one mile past Girard, and you can’t miss the well-manicured patch of land on the left.
It has been about four years since I played Over Lake. I remembered plush fairways and a friendly staff.
I consider Over Lake one of the gems of the area. They meticulously take care of the fairways.
During one of my rounds seven years ago, I noticed a course maintenance worker driving something that seemed to place a white substance, kind of like a soap lather, on the fairways. I was afraid to walk on those fairways, but he told me it was OK. I don’t know what it was they put on the course. It was almost like they shampooed the fairway. It was different and an example of how much they care of the course.
You almost never have a bad lie on the fairways. That’s a nice quality this time of year when July and August often lead to hard tracks.
Over Lake is a short, flat par-70 (5,935 yards from the blue tees, 5,672 yards from the whites) that fits 18 splendid, challenging holes in a small amount of space. It is very possible you won’t need a driver until No. 18, the only hole longer than 500 yards.
But that doesn’t mean this is a pitch-and-putt. Enough trees and hazards line the fairways to force you to play it straight. You must execute your shots. There is little forgiveness if you are off target, and you can’t depend on escape routes from off the fairway, but they are possible. The greens are small and very fast.
Over Lake has Thursday morning specials: $18 to walk until 1 p.m., which might have been why it was especially busy for a Thursday morning. Three groups allowed me to play through, and I finished in just more than three hours.
Over Lake is a course you have to finesse your way through, even if you are a high school kid who thinks the game is easy because technology allows you to hit it 300 yards every time.
Disclaimer: I had only played 18 holes this year before this round, and my club distances are at least one club shorter than most players. I also played the white tees, but at Over Lake there are few holes where there is much difference between white and blue.
The first hole is a par-4, 313 yards (white tees). Use the driver and risk hooking onto the ninth fairway, or slicing toward the driving range, will little chance for recovery. On this round, I pulled my 4-wood left, just over the sand trap, and had to try and low-line it below a tree to get to the green. I did, but overshot it, chipped on and three-putted for double bogey.
The first chance to use the driver is the par-4, 340-yard third, which bends to the right. A slice will drop down a slope and give yourself little chance for the green, while a hook will put you in the line of trees and you’ll probably have to punch out. I hit the driver straight, but through the fairway, leaving me using the tree club (3-iron) once again.
No. 4 is a big-league, 410-yard par-4 where you MUST hit two good, long shots just to make the green. It’s the No. 2 handicap hole. Another tree-lined hole, your ball must be straight and long. The fairway slants to the right for the first 200 yards, so just keeping it in play requires accuracy. The green, once you get there, also slopes to the right. If the pin placement is on the right, it is difficult to set up below the hole.
No. 6 is an easy-looking bit tricky par-3. One of the nice things about Over Lake is most of the sprinklers tell you the yardage. However, many of them don’t seem to be accurate. The white tees are listed as 154 yards, but the sign says the blue tees, not many paces behind, is 200-some. Just eyeballing it, I know there’s not 50 yards between the two. The scorecard reads 180 from the blues, which might be more accurate. I chose 7-wood, a 145-to-150-yard club for me, and hit it easy and landed pin-high on the left fringe. Two putts gave me my first par of the day, and I started to find a groove.
No. 13 starts a string of very scoreable holes (excluding 15). It is 273-yard par 4 with a sand trap guarding the green. I crushed my 4-wood to within 80 yards, chipped over the trap and got a par. No. 14 is a 164-yard par-3 over a pond and very parable.
No. 15 takes you back into the woods, a par 4 that doesn’t have great distance, 316 yards, but the fairway is narrow, and the green is the toughest on the course, in my opinion. Miss the fairway, and there is little chance you’ll have a look at the green. The green is convex, meaning if you are not perfect on your approach, or even your first putt, the ball can, and often will, roll far away from the pin. It is easy to three-putt once you are there.
No. 16 is a pretty 489-yard par-5 that doglegs sharp to the left through the thick trees. You can’t see the green from the tee. Big hitters might go too long with a driver, unless they can draw it. The second shot demands a choice: go for it over the water, or lay up and take the 120-yard or more third shot into the green. The water is only about 20-25 yards long. I hit a good drive that rolled but stopped just on the fairway to the right. My 4-wood made it over the pond to within 60 yards.
No. 17 is a short, 270-yard par-4 that is a nice, picturesque shot out of the woods. Water on the left and a big tree on the right forces you to play it straight. Two wedges here usually will do. I went 7-wood to within 110, chipped on and took par.
No. 18, the signature hole, is the longest on the course and the No. 1 handicap, and the one with the most character. You might not have used the driver all day, but a good one is a must here. I hit it strong down the right side of the fairway, but now I had a choice: hit a wedge to lay up in front of the water, and next to the eyeglass bunkers leaving a 140-150-yard approach, or go for it over the water. There is not much room to land on the second shot, even with a good drive.
I was confident enough with my 4-wood to go for it, and hoped for a slice that would follow the fairway that bends to the right. I hit it very solid, but it went straight, over the eyeglass bunkers and well beyond the trees (a slice would have cleared the water). I was far enough past the trees that I hit a 7-iron onto the green.
However, this is one of the most difficult greens on the course. It slopes very sharply back toward the fairway. My ball was well to the right of the pin — which was situated in the middle of the green — but I didn’t give enough break. My putt turned hard to the left and went way downhill and I had a tough par putt back up and missed. I settled for a frustrating bogey, but it did not ruin the enjoyment of my round.
Besides the excellent conditions — even in the heat of summer — and friendly staff, I enjoy this course that makes you think virtually all the way through. Big hitters and high-school-kids-who-think-the-game-is-easy-because-technology-allows-them-to-hit-it-300-yards-every-time can be brought down to size by a course that puts more importance on accuracy than distance. Shorter hitters still have a chance, as long as they are straight. The only drawback is the yardage markers on the sprinklers — a feature I enjoy and one that is not common enough around here — don’t always seem to be consistent with the apparent 150-yard bushes to the side of the fairways or the scorecard. Sometimes I’m not sure of my distances.
Over Lake does not have a website. But its staff is very helpful. Call to find out of they have an outing before booking your tee time.
About the course:
Over Lake Golf Course
10601 Ridge Road, Girard, Pa.
Dress code: collared shirts (they are as meticulous about your attire as they are the course).
Driving Range? Yes
Men’s tees (blue): 5,935, par 70
Women’s tees: 5,081, par 71
Weekday rates: 9 holes $11.50, w/cart $17.50; 18 holes $23; w/cart $35.
Weekend rates: 9 holes $12, w/cart $18; 18 holes $24; w/cart $36.
Senior rates: Mon. & Thurs. until 1 p.m. 9 holes, $9.25, w/cart $18.50; 18 holes $15.25, w/cart $30.50.