Berkleigh Golf Club has an interesting history in a state full of courses with interesting histories. For one, the course was designed by Robert White, a Scottish immigrant who would go on to become the first president of the PGA.
Secondly, the club was a private institution for nearly a century, before opening to the general public during 2007. Although that would typically indicate financial issues, the club was an active host of the LPGA’s Betsy King Classic from 1996 to 2004, just prior to becoming public.
The current course measures to just over 6,700 yards from the back tees, offering challenges to players in the rolling hills of the region, as well as the occasional creek crossing. Nos. 5 and No. 6 — a short par five and par three, respectively — both feature tee shots over the same body of water. That stream is Moselem Creek, a body that divides Moselem Springs Golf Club — a George Fazio design just a few miles away.
I had been intrigued by Berkleigh for some time as I knew it was a “local” course that hosted an LPGA event from 1996-2004 and had an impressive list of winners including Annika Sorenstam (twice), Se Ri Pak (21-under), Candie Kung and Lorena Ochoa. I also knew it was a course that fell from private ownership to a public course so I was curious to see what effect that might have had on the course.
I went to play it with two friends attracted by it being available on a Monday, having a low fee, and including a cart (it went to 96 degrees Fahrenheit when we finished).
The condition of the course was average with a few tee boxes showing distress. The green speed was among the slowest I have ever played, but not surprising given the recent higher temperatures and little rain. The bunkers ranged from poor to okay in terms of the sand.
The course is laid out to cross over several hills as well as having holes that play down from the tee shot and up to the green. There are perhaps two-three memorable holes, although they are not special. The back nine is much better than the front nine, with the holes seven-nine being a poor stretch due to the holes being both short and flat. The most disappointing aspect of the course is that many of the bunkers lack any interesting shape or depth. Most of the fairway bunkers are relatively shallow and even the greenside bunkers are not deep. Some of the placement of the bunkers make little sense whether one is a long hitter or a shorter hitter. The greens are tiny even if the course is short (6729 yards from the Blue tees are only 6331 yards from the White tees). Even with the many hills, the course essentially plays to the yardage.
Many of the greens have adequate slope although only a few have any interesting internal contours. Several of the greens have some interesting green surrounds but they rarely encircle the entire green, thereby lessening the challenge and interest of the course.
The outward nine lacks ambience due to many holes being close to route 222 (Kutztown Road) which is busy with traffic and large commercial trucks. It can get very noisy. The back nine is away from the road and therefore more peaceful.
Designed by Robert White and opening in 1926, the course is a par 72 (35-37) with the Blue tees rated 72.0/133. The White tees are rated 70.0/131. I thought the ratings to be too high even with the smaller greens as I did not find many areas on the course to be overly punitive.
1. Par 4 – 361/346. Although there are trees lining both sides of the fairway, the fairway is wide tilting to the left. The hole plays downhill and bigger hitters can reach the steeper slope and easily get to within 50 yards. The green is small but easy to read. The most interesting aspect of the hole is if one misses the green to the right there is a sizeable fall-off that can reach nine feet at the back of the green.
2. Par 4 – 413/384. The tee shot needs to carry a hill but a small stream awaits about 240 yards out that is blind from the tee. The two bunkers are on the other side of the stream, one about 310 yards up the right side that makes no sense. The green sits about 20 feet above the stream. The back quarter of the green slopes away from you. There is some nice mounding but only on the right side of the green.
3. Par 3 – 200/190. The most interesting aspect of the best par 3 on the course is the green which is angled to the left like a redan but does not have the shape of one. The bunker to the right of the green is ten yards short of it but set a bit too far to the right. The left side bunker is not deep enough. While I liked the shape of the green it was very slow. There is decent mounding on one side of the green.
4. Par 4 – 433/412. Probably the best hole on the front nine, this hole has another hill about 200-220 yards off the tee although it is much higher on the left side. If one clears the hill they can get an additional 40-50 yards of distance. Bigger hitters might even have to worry about the stream that is also on the second hole, bisecting the fairway about 40 yards short of the green. This is the best defended green on the course with a large bunker on the right front and three on the left side, although all of these are shallow.
5. Par 5 – 529/494. The hole goes strongly uphill from the tee turning to the left. Go down the left side and one could be blocked by the trees while trying to play uphill to the fairway. The green is small so if you hit it you will definitely have a good chance for birdie. The flanking bunkers do not present a strong defense given that one likely will have wedge or less into the green.
6. Par 3 – 208/182. This hole plays downhill from an elevated tee over an early pond with a background of a barn and the remains of a stone house. It is the loveliest hole on the front nine. The green tilts strongly to the left and front and any shot from the right side bunker will have to be deftly managed.
7. Par 4 – 357/350. There is a bunker placed inside the right of the fairway about 215 yards off the tee. Bigger hitters will easily carry it while shorter hitters needs to go to the left of it. A second fairway bunker is on the left about 290 yards off the tee but there is ample room to the right of it. The green is thin but has more depth than it appears. The green has a fronting bunker with a small rise between it and the green and bunkers on either side, but again these bunkers should not be an issue given one likely has a short club in their hands. This green had a bit of internal movement.
8. Par 4 – 347/339. You tee off across the entrance road to a wide fairway with another bunker sneaking into the fairway about 235 yards off the tee. The green is angled to the left and plays away from you so a shot landing short of the green might still roll off the back. The three greenside bunkers are shallow. There is room to lengthen this hole by 60 – 80 yards but it would require extensive tree removal.
9. Par 4 – 325/317. The most heavily bunkered hole on the course with seven including a right fairway bunker and two on the left with all three very much in play off of the elevated tee set off to the left to create a slight dogleg right. There is a bunker set 25 yards off to the right of the green and short of the green behind a tree that had me wondering why it was there. The green has another fronting bunker and then two longer ones. This small green also has some internal movement including a back stop that will bring balls back towards the middle of the green. Holes seven through nine would be better if each were 100 yards longer.
10. Par 4 – 393/375. This hole plays downhill from the tee and then slightly uphill. A fronting bunker with two on the sides is once utilized to protect a steep back to front green but lacking in any internal character.
11. Par 4 – 429/369. This hole plays uphill from the Blue tee but level from the White tee which is far too much forward as it should be at least 400 yards in length. The green is one of the larger ones on the course with three surrounding, shallow bunkers. It is a fairly benign hole.
12. Par 3 – 157/135. From the Blue tee this is a semi-blind shot as the tee sits on lower ground. The hole is well defended with two fronting bunkers and one on the right, although they are all shallow. There are fall-offs down the left side. This could be a good hole if the entire green was raised but as such it is boring.
13. Par 5 – 587/573. This is the best hole on the course as the tee shot needs to thread a narrow opening between a stream that diagonally crosses the fairway about 200-240 yards out. The second shot needs to carry a hill or at least get to the crest of it to have a view of the green. From the crest of the hill one plays downhill but if one carries the hill they will get a favorable roll-out to essentially a flat, short shot. The crest of the hill is approximately 185 yards from the green. As the green sits to the right, going down the right can lead to a blocked line to the green due to the trees coming in from the right. The green has a narrow opening between two bunkers and a third bunker is on the left side. The green lacks any internal character and has no interesting green surrounds. This hole is only strong due to the length and the land movement getting to the green.
14. Par 4 – 403/357. This is an okay hole from the Blue tees but a weak hole from the White tees. From the blue tees one plays downhill across an early stream. The bigger hitters will need to avoid the two shallow bunkers on either side. The bunkers at the green are of a more interesting shape, although still shallow. The hole sits on higher ground but one can roll a ball onto the green. There is a slight internal vertical spine in the green. This hole could be lengthened by 30 yards with some tree removal. The white tees should become the blue tees.
15. Par 3 – 192/155 – Once again the architect favors a green that is angled to the left. This hole plays relatively level with two bunkers on the left side that are a bit deeper than the other greenside bunkers on the course, but still lacking in depth. The green is long but narrow.
16. Par 5 – 479/476. The white tees are placed off to the right creating a dogleg tee shot. This is a mistake as the view from the Blue tee is beautiful going downhill to the stream before rising to the green perched on higher ground. It is the most beautiful hole on the course. The stream is about 265 yards off the tee. Surprisingly there are flanking bunkers about 120-100 yards from the green which are in the wrong location. The green is well defended by four bunkers, including a double bunker on the left front. This hole would be better if played as a long par 4, even if one shortened it by 25 yards.
17. Par 4 – 377/364. From an elevated tee one has to decide if they can carry the stream about 220 yards off the tee. I got “unlucky” and landed in it leading to a penalty drop. Others bounced over it. There are flanking bunkers before the stream and then another on the left side. The hole would be better with a second set of bunkers about 25 yards beyond the stream on both sides. The green sits above you with higher ground to the left side and placed in a bowl that can propel a ball to the right onto the green. There are no bunkers at the green. There is room to lengthen this hole by 40 yards which should be done even if it might bring the eighteenth fairway into play. Much like the seventeenth, this is a nice view from the tee. There is room to lengthen the hole by as much as 90 yards by relocating the green.
18. Par 5 – 539/513. From the final elevated tee this hole plays downhill, then up before leveling off about 100 yards from the green which sits off to the left. The stream crosses before the fairway so it is not in play. The three fairway bunkers are shallow. The nice part to the hole is the green which has a fronting bunker and one on either side. The green has a strong back to front tilt and a fair amount of internal movement as well as a bit of interesting green surrounds. This hole could also be lengthened by 50-75 yards which would improve the hole. As is, the final five holes on the course are decent.
After having played Berkleigh, it is a course of two nines, with the front nine having only two-three decent holes and the back nine having five-six decent holes. The only hole that one might find memorable is the long par 5 thirteenth due to the tee shot and having to carry the rise on the second shot. It is a course that has a few weird placement of bunkers as well as bunkers that do not represent a challenge to try to recover due to their shallowness. The defense of the course would be strengthened with both deeper bunkers and if the shapes were more irregular. Some of the bunkers need to be relocated or added. The greens have sufficient slope but lack any internal character with their overall characteristic being small. It would be a better course if the greens were 25% larger and with more internal movement. There is room to lengthen the back nine by as much as 250 yards, which would create a more unbalanced course, yet a better course overall. As is the course is 3173-3556 and improvements to the length would make it 3260-3750. While length should never be the defining reason to defend a course, on the suggested holes it would increase the interest in playing the hole.