Bucks County has wonderful places to enjoy a round of golf, and we at www.golfbuckscounty.com report on those venues. But we recognize there are dozens of opportunities easily drivable for a day trip or overnight stay with multiple rounds of golf.
The editors took one of those trips recently and visited two outstanding tracks, The Links at Gettysburg and Royal Manchester Golf Link. What a trip it was, as each of the courses was better than advertised. Challenging, fun and great on the wallet.
Links at Gettysburg
General George Meade and his union army at Gettysburg expended great efforts to fortify the left and right flanks from attack back in 1863. When Lindsey Ervin was designing The Links at Gettysburg, just minutes from the famous Civil War battlefield, the designer paid great detail to protecting the flanks of the holes he designed on this South Central Pennsylvania gem.
The first shots were fired here in 1999 and the defensive line stands firm over all 7000 yards of it. I played with a long time golf partner and after nine holes head professional Jason Pandoli told us at the turn that the front nine was a warm up and the back nine was the real challenge. He wasn’t wrong.
As seniors we played a combination of white and green tees called Members tees which shrink the course to about 5800 yards with a hefty slope of 135. No matter the tees being played this course demands to be played with a combination of sound thinking and execution. This is not a course for beginners or players who spray the ball.
That said, I was in love with the course after three holes.
Many courses start you out with a couple of relatively benign holes before hitting you over the head with challenges to your abilities. Here the first hole is not really that kind of hole, and then the second hole is a 372 yard killer rated the third most difficult hole on the course. The Links at Gettysburg rocks you right out of the blocks.
I don’t want to go hole by hole in this narrative but the third hole is their signature hole. It is a downhill par three that is 160 yards from an elevated tee and all carry over waste area and a creek to a green set into the natural red rocks indigenous to the area. Miss short and you are wet. Miss long and there is a bunker between the rock wall and the green that runs away from you back towards the creek.
The course winds its way through the natural terrain of the area and the homes built around it are there… butthey aren’t. That is to say they don’t intrude or encroach on the golf course to be a distraction or come into play with an errant shot.
In addition to the outstanding layout and routing of the course there is a lot of water. When I mentioned protecting the left and right flanks I had holes 13 thru 18 as well as number 7 in mind.
The elevated white tee on seven is dramatic and what you see is what looks like a ribbon of fairway squeezed between water hazards. The decision is how much do you want to flirt with or do you opt to play it safe. However if you hit a nice straight safe tee ball two things come into play. First is you have longer route to the green on this 560 yarder (it is 602 from the back tee). The second thing to consider is if you pound that straight drive you run out of fairway around 220 yards out.
As far as the six closing holes you better not be allergic to water. All of them have water and or woods on both sides with forced carries on the 161 yard par 3 15th and the 393 yard par 4 16th with the latter fronting the green.
The Links at Gettysburg is part of what is called the Raspberry Golf Trail that includes 16 top notch courses from central and southern Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and down into Virginia. A membership gets you a free round after three paid rounds at these courses. You can explore that at www.raspberrygolftrail.com. If you just want to visit the Links at Gettysburg go to www.thelinksatgettysburg.com.
The Links at Gettysburg a definate must play and rates 4.4 on our scale.
Well, there’s some controversy about the Royal in Manchester, but other than that nitpicking statement there isn’t much to dislike about this challenging, fun and eye-catching 18 near York, Pa. designed by Timothy Freeland.
There isn’t a tree which comes into play on the course, which is built upon Pennsylvania Power and Light land near the Susquehanna River along rolling hills. Wind is a hazard which can change day to day, and while the greens are sizeable being in the wrong position beings three-putting often into play.
The course winds over the countryside like it has been there for decades but it’s a relatively new course. It has as much teeth a player can want, and shorter tee boxes allow players of all abilities to accept the challenge.
Numbers 4 and 7 are drivable par four tests, and the par-5 ninth is as much a golf hole as you’d like. A perfect drive brings the green in play in two shots, but miss short or to the sides and water is in play, and a long shot gets one into a collection area that means nothing but trouble for a third shot.
Golf Advisor ranked Royal Manchester 42nd as it’s places to play in America, so the golfing public clearly likes the course. At the most recent PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando the course received an award for its conditioning and playability. Why? Royal Manchester’s greens were destroyed in 2015 when a contaminated batch of fungicide was applied.
“It was awful,” explained General Manager/PGA Professional Kieron Moony, who closed the course on June 15, 2015. “Looking back, it was a terrible time, but I made the decision to close the course and take care of the problem full on rather than piecemeal. We had to flush out the bad chemical from the greens, using a charcoal liquid. Then we waited for it to work, and about a month later we cross slit the greens in two directions and dropped A1/A4 Bent grass seed.
“About ten days later we saw germination and we oversaw heavy irrigation schedule to give the grass a chance. It is obviously difficult to grow healthy grass in July and August, so we had to take great care. We continued to overseed until we had full grow in coverage by late October. It was a great deal of work, but the team did a great job and we reopened March 1, 2016.”
A stellar job was done, as the course is better than ever and one wouldn’t notice there had been a problem with the greens. They roll well, and are as dastardly as ever. The time off allowed a couple new tees to be built, adding even more challenge.
“From a design standpoint, our course flows so very well. There are no gimmicky holes, and we attempt to have the course in great shape” added Moony, who advised the York Open is held at the course through 2025. “I believe in stellar customer service, and we do our best to make the visitors happy.”
Visually, Royal Manchester is right there in front of you. There are a couple blind shots…if your tee shot doesn’t crest a hill for instance. But it is not some tricked up layout. The course rewards good shots, and what you see is what you get. An outstanding test worthy of a drive from Bucks County.
Royal Manchester is part of the Raspberry Golf Trail, a reasonable drive from Bucks County and a Must Play destination. It rated 4.2 stars on our 0-5 point scale. Details found at www.royalmanchestergolflinks.com