Hershey has more than just chocolate

The ninth hole of the Links Course at Hershey Country Club

The ninth hole of the Links Course at Hershey Country Club

HERSHEY, Pa. – As anyone who has ever sought comfort in a silver-wrapped Hershey’s Kiss knows, sometimes little things mean the most. Of all the fond memories I took home from a recent visit to Hershey, it’s the stuffed animal summit that first leaps to mind.

THE HOTEL HERSHEY

www.thehotelhersh...>

• 717-533-2171

• The Hershey Golf Collection Package, which includes unlimited golf on all four courses, starts at $432 per night for singles, $588 for double occupancy.

Such is the changed perspective brought on by the presence of wife and child. I’d been to The Hotel Hershey seven years ago as a bachelor. Golf (strong), Chocolate Fondue Wrap treatment in the Chocolate Spa (decadent), afternoon nap (ditto), dinner at the Circular Dining Room (luxe; jackets required); (strong) drinks by the fire in the Iberian Lounge. Flying solo here was A-OK. With a family, however, Hershey is really tough to beat.

So, the summit: As families are wont to do, we scrambled out the door to the Hersheypark amusement park, leaving our room disheveled. The park was a revelation. Dominating the view from the hotel on high, the place looks huge; once there, it’s bigger. I can only imagine what all those wild rides, all those bells and whistles, all those people looked like through the eyes of my 3-year-old son, Ike, though their saucer-like wonder from atop the Ferris wheel gave a good hint. (His analysis of Storm Runner, which launches riders from 0 to 72 mph in about two seconds, was clear-headed enough: “That’s so crazy.”)

We returned to a room that, never mind spotless, featured a diorama-like scene of Ike’s three favorite stuffed animals arranged in a circle on the pillows at the head of the bed, as if engaged in a powwow, and as charming as a Macy’s Christmas window display. Bravo, whoever you are, and indicative of a wonderfully friendly service attitude across the board.

photo

The Hersheypark Ferris wheel lights up the evening sky.

The Hotel Hershey launched “the Grand Expansion” in 2009, a $67 million building campaign that, among other initiatives, transformed the front entrance as well as created a multi-pool swimming complex and a new American restaurant, Harvest. That timing might seem unfortunate but is apropos: Milton Hershey broke ground on his grand hotel in 1932, in the middle of the Great Depression, and he proudly never laid off a worker during that dark economic era. The hotel is handsome and traditional; Hershey Country Club’s two courses, the West and East, also follow that pattern.

The former, built in 1930, hosted the 1940 PGA Championship (won by Byron Nelson) and an LPGA event, the Lady Keystone Open, for almost two decades. Whatever one’s feelings about “signature holes,” the West undoubtedly has one hole that will remain in the mind’s eye when the rest have faded. The fifth hole is a 176-yard par 3 whose green is the front lawn of High Point Mansion, Milton Hershey’s stately limestone estate. That I chose this moment to hit my only well-struck iron of the day perhaps shows that great holes can inspire.

Much of the rest of the front nine is as narrow as a Twizzlers twist, with rough as tough as one, too.

Two consecutive narrow little par 4s, Nos. 3 and 4, are especially capable of yielding big numbers. The back nine lets out the waist a bit, making for a retro-feeling loop that retains sufficient modern-day relevance.

George Fazio designed the East course, opened in 1969, and it also has two nines with distinct personalities. The front features one uphill approach shot after another – not a side to engender candy metaphors. It’s both rugged and oddball. The inward half proves more varied and graceful. Taken together, it was a tough test for Nationwide Tour pros when the Reese’s Cup Classic came to town (1997-2004), and it’s solid enough to keep the country club members engaged with just enough of a fun quotient to fulfill its resort function well.

photo

The West Course's fifth green doubles as the front lawn for the High Point Mansion.

Two other offerings round out the foursome now known as the Hershey Golf Collection: Hershey Links and Spring Creek. The former was known as Wren Dale when this Hurdzan-Fry layout opened in 2003. A dairy farm in its previous incarnation, the bucolic and picturesque Hershey Links looks more like a links than it plays, as at least a third of the holes sport forced carries over ponds, creeks and wetlands. Sadly, torrential rains meant a cart-tour loop on this trip. Even from behind the wheel, the course’s character is apparent: It’s full of personality (and has enough length, and teeth, to have hosted last year’s NCAA Division III Championship). From the water to multi-tiered greens to pot bunkers to runoff areas, there is a lot to absorb and challenge; its differences from either the West or East made it a wise addition to the resort’s golf offerings. Plus, dinner at its excellent Highlands Grill trumped that at the more heralded “farm-to-fork” Harvest.

One of the most fun rounds imaginable took place at nine-hole Spring Creek, known as “the Juvenile Golf Club” when it debuted in 1932 as the first U.S. course made for players under 18. To witness my son’s first time on a course, armed with plastic clubs save a cut-down putter from his Pop-Pop, was priceless. Six-putting from 2 feet away and cheering when the ball plopped into the cup? We should all have such fun. (Oddly, given Spring Creek’s family-centric nature, the only lapse in service came here: Riding mowers on top of us for the first three holes – in midafternoon.)

If the golf portion of Hershey is good, it’s everything else that makes it special. Everything that you wouldn’t do, that is, as a single.

The aforementioned theme park is a blast, at least midweek in the late offseason, when it’s a breeze to get around. (Truthfully, many of the thrill-packed rides look so spectacular – borderline insane – that they surely merit long lines.) At the other end of the spectrum is the Kaymer-esque calm of the Hotel Hershey’s stunning, and kid-friendly, 23-acre Hershey Gardens. This being “the Great American Chocolate Town,” a visit to Hershey’s Chocolate World is requisite, especially when accompanied by a spouse with a sweet tooth. From a Chocolate Making Tour Ride (think diorama-laden “edu-tainment” Disney World rides) to making one’s own chocolate bar (both a hoot and a great keepsake – the custom-labeled tin, anyway, as the “Ikelicious” chocolate bar was gone quick), it’s a fun place to spend a couple of hours.

Fun is the operative word, from golf and chocolate to offerings that, save the family’s presence, I’d have overlooked, such as the bocce, croquet and tennis courts. Perhaps the most surprising thing about “The Sweetest Place on Earth” is the man who built the town, Milton Hershey, whose remarkable biography can be examined at the Hershey Story museum. The man went bust three times before making his first fortune, then risked it all again, before becoming one of the country’s greatest and most underappreciated philanthropists, with a focus on orphans and the underprivileged.

They made a movie about Hershey’s old pro, Ben Hogan. Perhaps the resort’s founder should be next.

– Evan Rothman is a freelance writer from Staatsburg, N.Y.

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