Flying Hills Golf Course

A fun series of links sits amid the condos

READING -- A little shorter than average, a little tougher than average, a few rolling hills, a spot of water, condos to the left, homes to the right.

That pretty much describes Flying Hills Golf Course, which wends through the small, comfortable residential and shopping village of the same name.

It's a fun course, if a little condo encroachment here and there doesn't bother you -- and if you don't mind riding in a cart. Because of the development, the hike between a few of the holes could be a bit much with a bag slung over your shoulder.

Those caveats aside, Flying Hills makes for a pleasant day on the golf course. It has its share of snoozers, but it also has enough engaging holes to satisfy all but the best golfers. It gets a somewhat generous three stars, or ``very good,'' from Golf Digest's 4,200 Best Places to Play.

The most visually arresting hole is easily No. 15, a short par 5 (423 yards from the white tees) that begins from a dramatically elevated tee and plays down to a narrow, tree-lined fairway that resembles a bobsled track. In places, the fairway can't be more than 15 yards wide, but it doesn't matter. All but the wildest tee shot will hit the hill and bound down to the short grass. And because the tee is so elevated, tee shots carry farther, meaning you don't have to be Davis Love 3d to have a go at the green in 2.

The 18th, a 152-yard par 3 that's almost all carry over a small lake, is another head turner. It's a terrific hole with one small problem: A street runs right in front of the tee about 20 yards out. You can be lost in concentration, or right in the middle of your swing, only to have your playing partner say, ``Hold it a second.''

But neither of those is the toughest hole. That distinction belongs to No. 2, a long, tight, slightly uphill par 4, with out-of-bounds looming on both sides -- trees and a road on the left, condos on the right.

The most curious, yet fun, hole is the third, a short (452 yards) par 5 with a sloping fairway that doglegs hard to the right. What makes the hole curious, however, are the two giant utility poles that sit smack-dab in the middle of the fairway, precisely where a crushed tee shot might land. Even though local rules give you relief, the poles are a bit disconcerting.

From there, Flying Hills features several short and mid-length milder doglegs, most with trees or homes or both bordering the fairways. The best of the bunch is probably No. 16, from an elevated tee over a crest, then onto a large, low green tucked back in the woods.

Despite the carry required at the 18th, the best par 3 may well be the 14th, a 160-yarder from an elevated tee over a ravine onto an elevated green enshrouded by trees.

The course, built in 1970 by local developer Bill Whitman, was one of the early efforts at integrating a golf course and a residential community, according to Whitman's son, Byron, an executive with Flying Hills. Today, there are 130 single-family houses, 650 apartments, and about 600 townhouses.

The course was designed by the late Irv Althouse, a superintendent with a few course layouts to his credit, who stayed on for years to tend the course.

The most interesting anecdote from those days, said the younger Whitman, was the day a very young Tom Fazio showed up at his father's office.

"He was right out of design school and offered to do all our greens for $20,000," said Whitman. "We thought it was too expensive at the time. Now, Tom Fazio won't even look at you for less than $1 million."

Originally published Sept. 21, 1997