Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is noted for hosting one of the most devastating battles in American military history. Those in the region hoped to attract visitors for more than just such somber remembrances, one of the instigators for the creation of the public access Links at Gettysburg.
Architect Lindsay Ervin did most of his work in his home state of Maryland, however he learned from working on that region’s western half that the best play is often to use the natural terrain to create memorable golf holes. This occurs on several occasions at Gettysburg, where red rock formations occasionally show themselves from under the hilly terrain.
The first instance is perhaps the most dramatic, as players will shoot downhill to a par three green surrounded by a natural stone amphitheater. A shot too long may rebound back, but a shot too short will end up in a creek fronting the green.
A short par four at No. 8 has a similar appeal, with a red-colored cliff edging the right side of the fairway. A well-placed slice (if such a thing can be imagined) might bounce back. A poorly-placed slice (more common) may end up high above the fairway.
The amazing thing about the Keystone State is how wide a gap exists between the best private clubs and the best public ones in Pennsylvania. Only New York, in my mind, has a wider differential between those two groups. For whatever the reason, the growth of private clubs benefited from reaping the creative juices of a number of stellar architects from the classical period of architecture in the early portion of the 20th century. Public golf development did happen but the totality of what was created was simply pedestrian with just a few exceptions of note.
There are exceptions and The Links at Gettysburg is run that certainly qualifies. I am not enamored with the title of the course because the misappropriation of the tagline "links" is a maddeningly American inclusion that truly is misplaced.
The course is a quality test and architect Lindsay Ervin and Stephen Klein deserve a salute.
The opening trio is a good mixture -- but then you go through the next trio of holes at the 4th thru the 6th where the momentum drops. Fortunately, the par-5 7th kickstarts the challenge with water bracketing the drive zone. The par-4 8th and 9th holes round out the outward side in a sufficient manner.
The inward side is clearly the better side and even though the 10th thru 12th holes is merely an appetizer on the golfing menu the teeth of the layout comes when you arrive at the treacherous long par-4 13th. Warer hugs the left side of the fairways and continues to the green. Generally, this hole plays into the prevailing wind during the playing season and asking golfers to negotiate the 456 yards is no small matter. The remaining holes present an arduous task -- a long par-5, a demanding lengthy par-3, and two stout par-4s come in rapid succession. In sum, you do get a good birdie hole with the 18th but for many golfers the train wreak you endured in getting to that point in the round may be too little too late.
The Links at Gettysburg presents an uneven act of both highs and lows. Scoring opportunities are there at different intervals and need to be seized. The stretch of holes on the inward half clearly are the benchmark in demonstrating one's golfing acumen. As I said at the outset -- Pennsylvania has a thin layer of upper echelon public courses to include on one's radar screen. Heading to Gettysburg provides a clear payoff beyond the homage to those who sacrificed so much in the famed battlefield.
M. James Ward
Off the top of my head, I'm not sure I could tell you what the consensus top public course in Pennsylvania is, or if there even is one. I certainly can for New York: it's clearly Bethpage Black, which I'd be hard pressed to believe is a worse course than anything PA has to offer. Considering the top handful of private courses in PA (Merion/Oakmont) are pretty much equals within a reasonable range to the equivalent in NY (Shinnecock/NGLA/Fishers), I'm surprised to hear that you think the gap between private and public is wider in NY. I'd think it would be the opposite. All that said, if you expand the tiers beyond just a handful of courses, it could very likely render my assumptions invalid.
I stated my comments because of my familiarity with both States since I am a resident from neighboring New Jersey and have played numerous rounds throughout New York and Pennsylvania spanning 45+ years.
The Empire State has the greatest depth of private clubs -- bar none -- in the USA. anyone wishing to say otherwise and I am more than happy to debate that to the max. If one were to take just Long Island alone, I believe a very strong case could be made that would place Nassau and Suffolk Counties alone as easily being among the top ten.
New York's advantage with private facilities comes from a synergy of elements. The Empire States was blessed that as American golf began to flourish the plethora of gifted architects was hitting its stride in a big-time way during the Golden Age of design.
You also had deep-pocketed benefactors who made it a point to scope out the best sites available and have the wallets to pay the freight to do so. There were no environmental roadblocks to see such projects through to completion. If those same projects were contemplated today -- the likelihood of them being completed given the myriad of laws on the books would be a true impediment for quite a few of them.
Public golf was not a real factor early on in New York although you did have a few key blips on the radar screen with the likes of Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx -- the USA's earliest public facility commencing in 1896. The masses were not into golf and the expenditures for government to support such endeavors was nowhere near what it would become after WWII. The rise of Bethpage was a major move to provide the masses a "peoples country club" but such efforts were sporadic at best and the overall architectural heft was more often skewed towards the pedestrian side of things.
Over the last 30-40 years there has been a rise in public golf in New York but the gains in terms of overall quality have been minimal given the sheer array of superior public offerings that opened in other States throughout America. What's really ironic is that when those who live in the immediate NYC area are seeking out a more robust array of public course options, they head to New Jersey to do so. The same for those who reside on the other side of the Delaware in the greater Philadelphia area.
Pennsylvania is fairly similar to New York but there are differences. The depth of private golf is exceedingly good -- one can make a very good case it's the 2nd best in the country. But PA is unquestionably, a distant second in that category to NY. Yet the roster of public courses throughout the Keystone State is nearly par with the Empire State minus the King Kong stature of the Black.