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Bedford Springs course put back on map

Pittsburgh Tribune ReviewBy Rick Starr
Sunday, July 22, 2007

Many golf courses would be proud to claim either Donald Ross or A.W. Tillinghast as its designer. Bedford Springs Resort Old Course displays the work of both architects from the “Golden Age” of golf course design.

The classic 18-hole course, which just reopened for public play, offers a rare chance to not just study their hole designs, but play them.

Bedford Springs is back on the golf destination map following a $120 million renovation and restoration of the links and 216-room hotel by Bedford Resort Partners, Ltd.

Green fees range from $110 to $135.

The resort reopened July 12 after being closed for almost two decades. It was virtually abandoned in 1986, just two years after the Department of the Interior designated its hotel and spa as a National Historic Landmark.

Located about 100 miles east of Pittsburgh, Bedford Springs Old Course now welcomes a new generation of golfers.

While the hotel dates to 1804 (Vice President Aaron Burr was one of its original guests), golf didn’t arrive on the scene until 1895.

Spencer Oldham built the original 18-hole layout, complete with geometric designs such as the S-curve and donut bunkers, which have been restored on the third hole.

In 1912, while cutting it back to a nine-hole layout, Tillinghast designed a classic little 130-yard par-3 hole (now the 14th hole) which he named “Tiny Tim.”

Ross kept “Tiny Tim” intact when he redesigned the course in 1923. Even Ross couldn’t improve on Tillinghast’s use of mounding, wetlands, a creek, pond and tight bunkering on the short hole.

“Tiny Tim” stretches from 108 to 138 yards, and Tillinghast later wrote about the 13 little mounds on the left, referring to them as the “Alps.”

Bedford Springs superintendent David Swartzel said Ross’ work is obvious on holes No. 4 through 9, which follow the flood plain of Shober’s Run, one of the states Gold Medal trout streams.

“We created a lot of habitat for trout during our construction,” Swartzel said.

While only 6,785 yards from the back tees, Bedford Springs Old Course features five par-5 holes, and five par-3 holes.

The signature par-4 sixth hole, known as Ross’ Cathedral, is cut out of a deep stand of oak and hickory.

“You could pick that hole up and put it down in Ashville, N.C., and you wouldn’t know the difference,” Bedford Springs golf pro Ron Leporati said. “Beautiful is the only word to describe it.”

Architect Ron Forse, whose Forse Design team specializes in golf course restorations, rebuilt every course feature at Bedford Springs, from the bunkers to the bent grass fairways, greens and tees.

“It’s all new, but it’s not a new style of architecture,” Swartzel said.

Forse also reinstated Ross’ original closing holes, which had been replaced by a driving range.

Bedford Springs is the 37th Ross design and 11th Tillinghast layout which Forse has restored.

“These strategic courses are forever enjoyable for every golfer’s ability,” Forse said.

About Donald Ross
No course designer had a greater impact on the American golf landscape in the first half of the last century than Donald Ross.

Born in 1872 in the north Sottish coastal town of Dornoch, he arrived in the United States in 1899 to build the Oakley Golf Club near Boston.

Before his death in 1948, Ross built or designed 413 courses, and his work still can be seen across New England, the midwest, and southeast coast.

Over 100 national championships have been played on his courses.

Courses considered to be among his best include Pinehurst No. 2 in Pinehurst, N.C., Oakland Hills Country Club in Birmingham, Mich., Inverness Club in Toledo, Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., and Seminole in North Palm Beach, Fla.

Given the constraints of train and car travel, Ross never saw some of his courses. He did many designs from topographic maps and blueprints which he studied in his cottage behind the third green at Pinehurst.

As Ross often said, “Golf should be a pleasure, not a penance.”

Design features
Following is a list of design features which Ross repeated in many of his golf courses:

• Very little walking required from one green to the next tee.

• Short par-4s built on uphill ground.

• False fronts and openings to the front of greens to invite run-up shots.

• Fallaway slopes next to greens.

• Deep trouble over the green to punish bold golfers.

• Greens (pushup construction) sloped with the terrain for drainage.

• Subtle breaks hidden in greens.

Source: Donald Ross Society

Local connections
Following is a list of area courses designed in whole or in part by Donald Ross:

• Edgewood Country Club

When Ross designed the 18-hole layout for the private club in 1921, he had to factor in the typical hilly terrain near Pittsburgh.

A total of 13 holes have drop offs behind or alongside the greens.

Edgewood, which was founded in 1898 as one of the first golf clubs in the country, took advantage of its 100th anniversary to go back to many of Ross’ original designs.

Ross’ work clearly can be seen in Edgewood’s par-3 12th hole. A slightly uphill tee shot of about 175 yards must clear the false front of the green and find the right level, or bogey quickly comes into play.

“Once you get to the green, that’s when the strokes happen,” Edgewood pro Pete Micklewright said. “It’s really a classic Donald Ross design.”

Arthur Hills redesigned the areas around Edgewood’s clubhouse in 1990.

• Immergrun Golf Course

The public course in Loretto is owned and operated by St. Francis University and has never been redesigned since Ross built it in 1917. The nine-hole layout was built as part of industrialist Charles M. Schwab’s estate. He attended the college before moving on to become president of Carnegie Steel, U.S. Steel and Bethlehem Steel.

Golfers interested in playing a Ross design can pick up a bargain here – it’s only $8 for a walking round on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Rumors abound at Immergrun, but it’s not true Ross designed it for a left-handed golfer. (It’s true Schwab kept champagne cool in the spring house beside the ninth green, where he would pause with guests before finishing the round.)

• Rolling Rock Club

The private club near Ligonier was originally a nine-hole course designed by Ross in 1917.

Brian Silva designed nine new holes in 1997.

The course is not overly long – Ross’ front nine measures 3,066 yards – but makes up for it with its greens.

In typical Ross fashion, the greens are fast, well contoured and difficult to lag.

“I’d put our greens up against any in the country,” assistant pro Stephen Witcoski said.

Rolling Rock’s par-3 third hole features another Ross signature – hidden bunkers. The three massive bunkers are not visible from the tee.

More info:

Rick Starr can be reached at or (724) 226-4691.

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