For the past several years, we’ve had an annual event of N vs S (North vs. South) where we take the best players from Maryland and pit them against the best players from Pennsylvania to establish the dominance in the field of golf for the upcoming year. If you are a person who’s gone on golf trips with your buddies before, I’m sure you know the drill.
Unfortunately, we have NEVER been able to determine the best players in Maryland or Pennsylvania so it’s always been the same foursome which includes yours truly and three other cronies who get together for a yearly contest. Again, golfers you know what the play is here – a year of trash talking until the next “event”! In any case, we’ve enjoyed Champion Lakes at least two times in the past and decided to give it another go this year.
From the moment we arrived to the time we left, we were treated with a feeling that every person at Champion Lakes was in total appreciation that we were there at their golf course. These folks from just outside of Pittsburgh (just north of Ligonier PA) are truly glad to embody Dick Groat’s saying, “we’re sure glad to have you guys here with us”. If he said it once, he said it a hundred times and he really means it! What a gentleman he is!
So who is Dick Groat you are asking? Well he was a Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop in the 50’s and early 60’s earning National League MVP honors in 1960! While he was traded and did play for some other teams, he is a Pirate to us! He was also an all American at Duke University as a basketball player. Now he’s just an all around great host at a wonderful getaway golf course! To be sitting down with this man, a former great Major League MVP and talking baseball at his establishment is something to behold – and we certainly did just that! I don’t think that any of today’s players would take the time or have the absolutely wonderful human nature to do what he does and make every person he talks to feel right at home.
So what about this place called Champion Lakes? After checking in, we parked our vehicles in the large clubhouse parking lot, loaded our luggage and clubs into our transportation for the next two days – a golf cart – and away we went to the Fairway house. The Fairway House is a wonderful place to stay and is a house just behind the 16th tee box. This is a mighty convenient and great way to spend a couple of days golfing while not having to worry about driving anywhere!
We played 2 rounds the first day and managed to get into the clubhouse unscathed in the early evening. After several hours of talking about the golf and other various problem solving discussions with Mr. Groat and company, we got in our golf carts and headed to the aforementioned Fairway house (which is only a long par 5 away) to crash and get ready for an early morning round the next day. We had mentioned to the gals working that we only would like coffee in the morning before our rounds and they assured us it would be made by 6:30am (which was before our tee time).
We were a bit disappointed when we headed out to play w/o any coffee at the clubhouse but then again, did I mention the wonderful hospitality these folks ALL demonstrated? We were getting ready to tee off on #5 when we noticed one of the gals from the prior night coming at us in a golf cart. She asked, “are you the group staying in the Fairway House?” We acknowledged that we were. She said while pulling out a bag with coffee supplies, “I’ve brought you coffee”, and proceeded to hand us 4 (no charge) coffees! Like I said, they were hospitable!
The golf course itself, for the most part, has a “seems-easy” feel about it. Some of the holes are wide open and you can spray the ball and still have a play to the green. However, more holes are not quite as open and have tree lined fairways or chutes to hit your drive out of which require accuracy with your big sticks. In my opinion, the course rating of 70.1 and slope rating of 126 are a bit low as I think it’s more difficult than that – however, my scores were consistent with what I normally would shoot, so perhaps it was just the coffee? 🙂
The greens are “sneaky fast” and in fact a few that we played just moments after they had been cut were a bit unfair. You know the type where you can’t stop the ball if putting downhill above the hole and sometimes even if putting from the below the hole you get a re-putt opportunity! For the most part, they were fast but fair and rolled great so really there were no problems there, unless you putt as bad as me!
The fairways and rough while not pristine and resort like, were certainly playable and with our preferred lie rule we managed to get around the course OK. The many traps on this course were certainly a nuisance, but then again, you are not supposed to hit into them as often as we did.
A couple of holes to remember when you get up there are #2 which is an open tee shot but requires precision on your 2nd shot into a narrow tree lined alley. Like Mr. Groat says, perhaps 3 good 7 irons is the right play on this hole. Another one is #10 leaving the clubhouse. A long par 4 requires a big drive which had better be down the middle or you will have an inclined lie, followed by a 200 yard approach to a green which has slopes on both sides. The green is tricky as well so a par on this hole is a good score!
The next hole, #11 is a tricky par 3 and requires the proper club selection while considering the wind. Although it’s only about 150 yards or so, don’t be short or you’re wet! Long, left, and right are not really “bail out” spots either so make sure you hit the green! Have fun on the putt as well and make sure to play enough break! The closing hole #18 was – at least to me – a very difficult par 5. A slanted fairway awaits your tee shot from a chute of trees. Misses right are lost balls while misses left will leave you with an inclined lie out of the rough. Unless you hit a really good drive, your second shot will be a blind lay up that you don’t want to hit too far or you’re in the pond which crosses the fairway. It also needs to be left enough and far enough (ie. close to the pond) to give you a look at the green which is blocked out on the right side by large trees. Then your approach is a 150+ yard shot over the pond to an elevated green which is protected by large bunkers. I don’t recall ever getting a par on this hole although I did miss a 6 footer on my last round for what would have been my first one! Rats!
So who won this annual battle of N vs S, you are asking? I’m pleased to say that the South played golf’s version of Mohammed Ali’s Rope-A-Dope. We “allowed” the North to slap us around for nearly every round until the Big Press on #18 for the match! A couple of safe bogeys from team South claimed the Championship and bragging rights for a year, but I’m sure the North would disagree with that conclusion. Too bad – I write the articles so what I say goes! 🙂
The post round festivities occur (from what I’m told) nearly every night with Mr. Groat in attendance. Weekends are more active as can be expected but we will certainly remember our fun night on a Wednesday with the great Mr. Groat and the nice folks at Champion Lakes. They offer a variety of Stay ‘n Play specials check it out for yourself at their website http://www.pagolf.com/ . Rent out the fairway house like we did and see for yourself! Tell Mr. Groat that Lefty from Waggle.com sent you. I can almost guarantee you he’ll respond with, “I am sure glad to have you up here”, and what’s even better, he really means it!