A number of corporations in the United States have seen fit to create golf clubs from their largesse, and few can claim to be sweeter than that of famed chocolate company Hershey. Maurice McCarthy has a rather limited portfolio as a golf course architect, but the West course at Hershey Country Club is certainly the highlight, having hosted the notable 1930 PGA Championship, where Byron Nelson defeated Sam Snead by one shot in the final match.
The club sits above the city of Hershey, however players may want to avoid the idyllic scenery and keep their eyes focused on the course. At the same time, it may be best not to focus too intensely on the many white sand bunkers that litter the green-sides here. Although the course will no longer overpower a scratch golfer with its distance (just more than 6,800 yards from its back tees), these sand hazards will provide the difference between birdie and bogey on any given hole.
The short-ish par three No. 12 stands out the most for this reason: There are five bunkers around the green, as well as three larger ones positioned out in the fairway apron. They almost look like a smiling face...satisfied after eating a local chocolate bar, no doubt.
Designed by Maurice McCarthy in 1930, this course hosted the PGA Championship in 1940 where Byron Nelson defeated Sam Snead. It has held many other professional events on both the PGA and LPGA. It has also hosted a USGA senior women’s amateur event.
On the day I played there on June 25, 2019 the course was also hosting a Pennsylvania junior amateur event.
There are a few nice holes on land that offers more changes in terrain than one might anticipate. The course is routed to take advantage of the rises and falls, although the routing gets a bit cramped around the former Milton Hershey mansion where three holes feel wedged in. However, it was these holes I remember the most as they look and feel a bit different to the rest of the course.
The course is in good condition and has some good green complexes if there is a change in terrain. The green complexes and surrounds are less interesting on the holes where the land is essentially flat. Several of the greens have good slope to them such as the finishing hole, but overall the greens lack interesting inner contours and the green surrounds lack any interesting land features such as knobs or mounds.
For the longer hitters, the course does suffer from a lack of length. There are six short par 4’s under 400 yards and none of the par 5’s are overly long. The longest par 4 is the opening hole at 437 yards. Three of the par 3’s are also approximately 180 yards. To add difficulty for the better players, the course uses trees as it has not done an extensive tree-clearing program.
The bunkering is standard, nothing really exceptional or interesting. The better bunkers are greenside where there is the chance to build them into the side of a hill such as the third or sixteenth. In general, the bunkers are not deep.
Overall I am glad I played the course but would not make a special trip to play it unless one is going to the amusement park or Chocolate World. Other than a few holes, it will not excite you.
The course plays from the Blue tees at 6860 yards, par 73, rated 72.8/134. We played the Blue/White tees at 6657 yards, rated 71.8/133. The White tees are 6480 yards rated 71.3/131. There are four lesser tees including a set of tees at 3842 yards!
1. Par 4 - 437/424. This is a nice opening hole playing slightly downhill as a dogleg right. Due to the fairway bunker on the right, the line off the tee is on the left side. You can land the ball short of the green and it will run onto it. This hole is well-bunkered near the green with two bunkers short left about 35 yards and another short right about 30 yards. The green has two bunkers to the left and four to the right. The right bunkers offer less of a chance of recovery than the left as three of the bunkers are essentially behind the nearest bunker to the green. The green has subtle undulations to it.
2. Par 5 – 568/542. This hole is all about avoiding the trees off the tee. The land rises to the green that it titled back to front. The first bunkers are grouped together about 100 yards from the green on the right. At the green are two bunkers right and one to the left. It is a visually pleasing hole.
3. Par 4 – 354/354. This short par 4 has a lot of defense, from out-of-bounds to the right in the form of North 2nd Street, two bunkers right and two bunkers left in the landing zone. Farther up are three bunkers fronting the left side of the green that sit lower than the green with a single bunker to the right. The green is slightly raised on the right and appears to be elevated on the left. There is a steep fall-off from the back side and left side of the green where one’s ball can tumble down into tall grass. This hole is also heavily tree-lined. The green is one of the better contoured greens as I learned with a three –putt.
4. Par 4 – 307/307. From an elevated tee you play to the narrowest fairway on the golf course. The land rises to the right side where there are a lot of trees while the left side has scattered trees, tall grass and an almost marshy area. The green has a large bunker on the right front while there are two on the left front. There is a slight “bumper” effect to the right side of the green although overall it feels relatively flat.
5. Par 3 – 176/164. This is a nice hole from the back tee where you get a better view of the green whereas from the lower tee you see basically only the front of the hole leaving one guessing a bit at the yardage. The former Milton Hershey mansion sits well behind the green. The mansion is now used by the Hershey Trust Company. You play over low land before the ground rises about 20 feet at 20 yards before the green There is a bunker to either front with the right side extending down to nearly connect with a bunker on the back right. The hole tilts steeply to the front. Going long over the green will lead to a thicker grass.
6. Par 4 – 345/335. This hole plays as a sharp dogleg right over Mansion Road followed by Spring Creek from an elevated tee. It is very easy to hit through the fairway due to the sharpness of the hole and either get caught up in trees, a bunker, or the rough. Those knowing the hole might try to drive over the trees to land left of Spring Creek near the green, thereby eliminating about 80 yards to the hole. If one crosses Spring Creek, they have to cross it again to get to the green. On the right side of the fairway or right rough you have to navigate over or under trees just in front of Spring Creek which snakes its way from 70 yards to within 35 yards of the green crossing the fairway diagonally left to right. The green has three bunkers right and one on the left. Immediately behind the green is Mansion Road. While pretty I did not care for the sharpness of the dogleg. Now that the chocolate factory has been closed, the hole would be improved by moving the tee 80 yards back and to the right of the current location, thereby lessening the severity of the dogleg but bringing the water more into play for players of all abilities.
It is at this point that the more interesting terrain and holes on the golf course end.
7. Par 5 – 530/519. This hole has a heavy line of trees on the right side. On the other side of the trees is commercial development on East Chocolate Avenue and out-of-bounds. The hole is also heavily tree-lined on the left. Bunkers are placed opposite each other for the tee shot and the second shot, although the second shot bunkers should be moved closer to the green by 30 yards. At the green are four bunkers to the left and three to the right. The hole would be better served by combining the bunkers to lower the cost of maintenance.
8. Par 3 – 232/209. Teeing off near the Hampton Inn and Suites behind you, this is merely a long par 3 with a bunker left and two on the right, the first one 30 yards short of the green. The green is flat. This might be the most boring hole on the golf course as it needs a much more interesting green.
9. Par 4 – 389/389. Heading away from the clubhouse although it’s the ninth hole, this hole plays slightly uphill with two flanking bunkers only in play off the tee for the longest of hitters. The green is surrounded by five bunkers with an opening left at the front. It is another fairly boring hole offering a small green sloping to the right. The hole would be improved by moving the fairway bunkers 25 yards closer to the tee and building a larger green. The hole does offer a nice valley on the left side just off the tee but it is not a factor in playing the hole.
10. Par 4 – 422/406. This hole plays as a dogleg right. It has raised mounds on both sides of the fairway but much like nine it offers flanking bunkers on the fairway although these are more in play off the tee. Near the green is a bunker on the right about 20 yards short followed by a bunker set on the front/right and rear of the large green. This is my second favorite hole on the back nine.
11. Par 4 – 354/354. This hole has a fair number of trees on the left side where a single bunker awaits. Fronting the green are two long bunkers as you play into the corner of the property near Mansion Road and the sixth green. Going long will result in out-of-bounds. This small green has a lot of contour to it and might be the best green on the golf course.
12. Par 3 – 180/169. This hole plays uphill and requires an extra club. There are a total of eight bunkers surrounding the green which has a substantial slope back to front. The first bunker is placed at the center of the green followed by two set apart creating a “mouth and eyes” effect. This is the best par 3 on the golf course from a defensive standpoint. The fifth is superior is visual attraction.
13. Par 5 – 568/537. I feel this is the best par 3 on the golf course as the land rolls on this hole. You tee off in a kind of chute/valley. The hole is a dogleg right with an inner corner bunker. After the turn there is a lot of land on the left if you miss the fairway but the land falls away. Before the green is a “animals footprint” of four bunkers about 35 yards short of the green. The green has a fronting left bunker as well as a bunker down the entire left side. The right side of the green has five bunkers. It is a good golf hole.
14. Par 4 – 354/354. This hole offers two flanking bunkers on either side of the fairway that are not in play for longer hitters. At the green is a bunker front left and two to the right. The fairway is very wide. The green slopes to the left. For a short hole this could be so much better with a more interesting green and perhaps cross bunkers. As it is, it is a pushover hole.
15. Par 5 – 501/510. This is the least of the par 5’s on the course, playing straight with two bunkers on the right that are easily avoided. Farther down there is a bunker on the left for the second shot but it is also easily avoided. At the green are two bunkers only on the right. The real defense of this hole are the trees and a mound on the left middle of the green.
16. Par 5 – 517/500. This hole plays uphill as you turn back towards the clubhouse. There are no fairway bunkers but as one nears the green the bunkers explode with two short on the left and four short on the right built into the slopes of the hill. Greenside there are flanking bunkers on both sides. The green slopes to the front. I like how high up the green sits for the approach shot, probably 20 feet, and is positioned on the right side of the hole. There is also a short grass area short of the green offering a chance for recovery. It is a good par 5 and makes one forget the previous hole.
17. Par 3 – 182/182. This is another good par 3 with three bunkers left and one bunker to the right. The green sits above the bunkers on the left.
18. Par 4 – 424/411. My favorite hole on the back nine is the finishing hole which is a dogleg right, heavily lined by trees on the right. There is an outer turn bunker. A bunker is placed 35 yards short of the green on the left. The green is oval with large bunkers to either side and a false front. The green has a slope to the left and back to front.
Hershey West is a decent course although the holes start to feel the same once you have left the sixth hole. Following the sixth hole, the changes in terrain are not as interesting as they are in the first six holes, with the exception of the sixteenth green location. The course would be improved by re-shaping some of the greens to provide more interest. I recall only one green that is sloped front to back and that should be the case on a couple of the short par 4’s and the shorter par 5’s. The bunkering is a bit too similar, and sometimes not placed where it is truly in play. Where this is a dogleg, it is almost always a dogleg right. The course could also be made more interesting by the removal of a few of the greenside bunkers and replaced with knobs or mounding.
Yet Hershey West is a pleasant course, one that members and guests will enjoy playing. I have heard the East is the better of the two courses. There is no course I know of in the area that might be as good as these two as Sunnehanna, Omni Bedford Springs and Moselem Springs are not that close to it. So if one finds themselves in the area, they will be enjoy their game of golf, although they will not play anything remarkable.
The perfect venue for candy lovers as Milton Hershey created a clear golf connection that's worthwhile to visit -- especially with family given the myriad of things when can do when there.
The facility did host the 1940 PGA Championship won by Byron Nelson in a tight match against Sam Snead. In recent years the club hosted the PGA Professional Championship in 2011. One of the more interesting side bar info items is that Ben Hogan was an assistant professional at Hershey to the esteemed Henry Picard before ascending to the head position which he held from 1941-1951. In actuality, Hogan was the "playing professional" and his affiliation provided a clear boost to the overall awareness of Hershey as a prime golf destination. During his association with Hershey, Hogan would win six of his nine major championships.
Amazingly, it was Milton Hershey who built four golf courses during the lean Great Depression time frame. It was Mr. Hershey's attempt to become a prime competitor to what was being carried out at Pinehurst.
The West Course one sees today is the handiwork of architect Maurice McCarthy. McCarthy had done a number of lesser-known courses and his work at Hershey represents the pinnacle of his efforts.
The layout is very straightforward and the opening sequence of holes is quite good. The opening hole is a long par-4 that swings abruptly right in the drive zone. Pity the hapless player who pushes a tee shot right because the trees on that side will simply provide no option but to simply pitch back to the fairway. The long par-5 2nd is a three shot hole save for the longest of hitters. At the 3rd and 4th you encounter two quality short par-4s. The par-3 5th is well done. You commence from an elevated tee and hit to an elevated green. At this point you may notice the aroma of chocolate in the air as the manufacturing plants for the world renown product adjoin the golf property.
The par-4 6th is another short par-4 but this time you have to pay particular attention to Spring Creek which runs parallel to the line of play from the tee.
Things get a bit more intense with the next four holes -- the 7th is another par-5 similar to what was faced at the 2nd. The long par-3 8th is quite challenging -- providing for a small target bracketed by two bunkers on each side.
The par-4 9th is under 400 yards but again the requirement for accuracy off the tee is essential. The par-4 10th ups the difficulty meter even more so -- well defended in the drive zone with flanking bunkers and a smallish green equally defended to the max.
The remaining holes are also quite good but just a notch or two below in terms of overall quality.
The main sticking point for the West Course is that it sports five par-5 holes and the sum total of what they provide is simply adequate. The long 2nd is clearly the best of the bunch. Thankfully, the closing hole -- a par-4 of 424 yards is a good conclusion for the day's play as the green is elevated and defended well with greenside bunkers on both sides.
The West is a good layout but would be even better with an updating of what's there. Possibly even reducing par from 73 to 71 and having an additional 1-2 long par-4s in the mixture. For overall fun times Hershey has been a big time attraction for families to enjoy the myriad of activities that it provides. Golf enthusiasts will enjoy what the West and the adjoining East Course created by George Fazio do offer. However, the bar for golf in this area of Pennsylvania is very high and the West Course at Hershey, while good in certain instances, is more of a supporting player rather than being in a more heralded leading role.
M. James Ward