In recent years, there has been a lot of talk in the golf industry about alternative course designs – six-hole loops, practice ranges that convert into par-3 courses, reversible courses, putting courses.
The latest variation: a 4½-hole course in Freeport, Pa. With alternate tees and two loops, it will become a regulation nine-hole course.
This course is being refashioned from what originally was known as Buffalo Valley Country Club. Francis H. “Dutch” Laube Jr., the late chairman and CEO of Freeport Brick, built the course in the 1970s primarily for use by employees of his company, which supplied firebrick to the steel industry. The course closed in the late 2000s.
In 2010 it was bought by Trilogy Golf Development, part of a local commercial and residential construction business operated by Gary Nese and his family. The Neses saw an opportunity to revive the course and build 150 single-family homes on the property, located about 30 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.
Gary Nese, also a retired PGA professional, said the course had good bones; he found some evidence that Robert Trent Jones Sr. had a hand in the layout.
“It had all the hallmarks of a Trent Jones course – big, long runway tees and big bunkering and big greens,” Nese said.
It also was a little too difficult, by Nese’s reckoning. His family softened the course, adding forward tees and widening the fairway corridors. It reopened in 2011 under a new name: The Phoenix at Buffalo Valley.
But The Phoenix’s rebirth was short-lived; the Nese family closed it in 2012 because it wasn’t attracting enough golfers.
Last year the Nese family sold 60 acres – which included the clubhouse and roughly five holes from the front nine – to Mike and Virginia Graff, a local couple whose main interest was in converting the clubhouse into a full-time restaurant. The Graffs opened The Clubhouse on the Hill’s bar in October and the full restaurant Dec. 1.
Then the question became: What to do with those 4½ holes? Nese proposed turning the land into a regulation nine-hole course, with alternate tees and two loops. He reasoned it could be an amenity for guests of The Clubhouse and the community. The Nese family is developing the rest of the land, with hopes now of building 400 residential units, 250 more than originally planned.
This plan will make Mike Graff one of the most unlikely owners of a golf course. “Honest to God, I’ve never been on a golf course in my life,” he said. But he reasoned that a short course is “a perfect course in today’s world,” where many people feel too time-stressed to play 18 holes.
As configured by Nese, the new short course will use the three original starting holes – a par 5, par 4 and par 3. No. 6, a par 4, will become the new fourth hole. The fifth hole will be a par 3, played from the former seventh tee to the old ninth green.
“The nice thing is you can play five holes if you want,” Nese said.
But if players want to keep going, they will loop back around, playing the first two holes from shorter tees as a par 4 and par 3. A new back tee will allow the original sixth hole to play as a par 5 the second time around. The final hole will be either a par 3 or short par 4.
“The unique thing about a 4½-hole course is you’re going to have groups crossing,” Nese said. “That’s why I advised them to do No. 1 as a par 5. If you’re on No. 1 and the group playing the fifth hole has to come back to play the front hole on No. 1, the group in front has precedence. It’s definitely going to need some signage and direction from the pro shop how to navigate those holes. That’s the biggest challenge.”
The Graffs have been mowing the property, but Nese’s firm will need to rebuild the greens. Nese said he expects the course will be ready for play by fall at the latest. Gwk