Honeybrook Golf Club

A work in progress that shows great promise

Honeybrook Golf Club is a very pleasant, reasonably priced, daily-fee course in the farthest reaches of Chester County.

At a glance
Getting there: Honeybrook Golf Club is located at 1422 Cambridge Rd., Honey Brook, Pa. From Route 202, take Route 30 to Route 322 West. Follow 322 West for nine miles. Turn left at Cambridge Road. The course is one- eighth of a mile on the left. (Directions also can be found at the course's Web site, www.honeybrookgolf.com) The phone number is 610-273-0207.

Greens fees: Weekends, $59 to ride or walk. Weekdays $32 walk, $45 to ride. Senior rates Mon.-Thu., $26 to walk, $36 to ride. Thursday is ladies day.

Carts: Walking permitted anytime.

Spikes: Non-metal only.

Amenities: Clubhouse with pro shop and snack bar; grass driving range; putting and chipping green; casual outdoor banquet facility. Outings welcome.

Rating: Great addition to the mid-price market. Solid layout; good condition; friendly, unpretentious atmosphere.

Information accurate as of 8/16/2002

Open for just a week, Honeybrook is anything but another entry in that growing market of 7,000-yard, top-dollar, country-clubs-for-a-day affairs designed by a big-name architect.

Rather, it's the latest addition to another growing category: good quality, mid-priced layouts that hope to appeal to the players who want more than a run-down, $25 public course but can't afford or justify the $100 greens fees at the upscale publics.

The result at Honeybrook is a homey, unpretentious facility, where the clubhouse is being fashioned from an old barn, the 6,341-yard course is first-rate but not awesome, and the greens fees range from $18 (weekday twilight) to $55 (weekends with cart). And you can grab a soda and hot dog at the turn for a grand total of $2.50.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Whom to thank? The Piersol siblings: Tom, the general manager; Ted, the assistant superintendent; and sister Donna Horvath, who doubles as the business manager and chief hot-dog saleswoman.

"It was risky, but we looked at it as something we all could do," Tom Piersol said last week, recalling the decision to give up years of dairy farming to enter an uncertain business they knew little or nothing about. (None of them plays golf.) "And we're all in our 40s, so we decided we could take a couple of bad years in the beginning, if we had to. We plan to be in this for the long haul."

The rolling 165-acre tract, which is about 10 miles from Downingtown, had been in the Piersol family since the 1930s. Tom and Ted, both with degrees in biology from Lycoming College, had spent the last 15 years running the farm, while Donna was the office manager for their father, a veterinarian in New Holland.

By 1994, the brothers realized the farm couldn't generate enough income for their families, but it was too much for just one of them to run. What to do? Sell out to real estate developers and get killed by taxes, or keep the land and build a golf course?

If the crowd there on Thursday - only the fourth day of operation - was any indication, the Piersols made a smart move. Honeybrook has real promise.

For a course that had been open just a matter of days at the time of this visit, it was in commendable shape. The tees, fairways and greens were already grown in. As for the layout, architect Jim Blaukovitch starts you out slow and easy, then works up to the good stuff. The first and second holes are simple, up-and-back par 4s that reveal little of the twists and turns to come.

Although the front nine has its moments - the fifth, a tough par 4 with a blind tee shot and long approach shot over water, is the signature hole - the best Honeybrook has to offer comes late in the outward nine and over much of the back side.

Given the terrain, it's hard to find a hole that doesn't offer some kind of elevation change, which more often than not complicates either the tee shot or the approach. The seventh, for example, plays just 336 yards from the back tee, but it's all downhill, and the short approach shot is over wild grass into a sunken, bowlike green that is virtually blind - even after a bomb off the tee.

Blaukovitch makes the most of another short par 4 on the back, the 314-yard 14th. From the back tees, you're looking at a very tight shot because of trees right and left, and a 200-yard carry over wild grass into a decidedly small landing area. Once you have negotiated all that, the 100-yard second shot is a cinch.

There are a couple of forgettable holes as well, but Blaukovitch makes up for them with strong par 3s, ranging from 168 to 227 yards from the tips. He also doesn't shortchange you on any of the three par 5s, which all go in the 550-yard range and are not reachable by the likes of me.

There's not much water at Honeybrook. The little ponds on Nos. 1 and 2 shouldn't give most people any problem, although the water guarding the fifth green is another story entirely. Can you carry a second shot close to 200 yards?

Like so many farms converted into courses, Honeybrook's front and back nines are quite different as the course makes its way from nearly treeless, rolling pasture on the front into wooded wetlands on the back. Put it all together, and it adds up to a slope of 128 from the back tees.

At some point during the round, you'll probably also realize just how far out in the country you are. The day I played, just as I settled in over my putt at the fifth green, a young Amish woman in a buggy came clippity-clopping down the nearby road. Then, at the 15th and 16th, it was impossible not to get a snootful of the rich and unmistakable aroma of a dairy farm next door. Whew.

"A number of people have commented on that," head pro Michael Spease said. "I'm a little anxious to see what that's going to smell like in summer."

I'm anxious to see what Honeybook will be like in summer.

Originally published April 23, 2000