When a golf course has a name like Iron Valley, you, as I was, might be inclined to dismiss it as probably too far away to be given much thought. You would be mistaken.
|At a glance|
| Getting there: Iron Valley Golf Club is in Cornwall, Pa. From Valley Forge, take the Pennsylvania Turnpike west to Exit 20, then follow Rt. 72 north milea nd a half to Rt. 322. Take Rt. 322 east for 2.6 miles, exiting left at Cornwall. Entrance to the club is 550 yards on the right. Phone 717-279-7409. Web Site: www.ironvalley.com.
Greens fees: Weekend and weekdays $65; after 3p.m. $45; after 5 p.m. $25; Rates include cart.
Carts: Walking is permitted anytime.
Spikes: Nonmetal only.
Amenities: Well-stocked pro shop; snack bar; open-air facility for outings; driving range; putting greens.
Rating: Must-play. Different from anything around Philadelphia. Challenging, well-run, comfortable and unpretentious. Excellent value. Terrific addition to the daily-fee golf scene.
Information accurate as of 8/16/2002
From the moment I stepped onto the first tee at Iron Valley Golf Club last week, I knew I was in for an interesting round of golf. Most golf courses start you out slow and easy, maybe a simple and forgiving par 4 that allows you to make up for that warm-up bucket of balls you didn't have quite enough time to hit.
Not Iron Valley. From the tips, you're looking at 469 yards worth of fairway that cuts a swath through woods left and woods right as it tumbles downward then veers right. Even in the unlikely event that you hammer your first tee shot of the day, you're looking at 200 yards into the green. Good morning!
It only gets better from there.
I've got to say that of all the courses I've played recently, Iron Valley came as the biggest and best surprise. That's probably because I had no real expectations other than a heads-up e-mail from a reader who said he and his buddies had stumbled across this great new course. I'm glad I gave it a try.
Other than the very reasonable $55 weekend/$45 weekday rates, what I think will attract Philadelphia area golfers is that Iron Valley is so utterly different from most everything we have around here.
Designed by P.B. Dye, younger son of the legendary Pete Dye, Iron Valley's front nine is carved out of the Rexmont Mountain, a slab of beautiful tree-filled real estate that sits atop a labyrinth of now-closed mine shafts that once produced iron ore for cannon shot during the Revolutionary War.
Hole after hole is a treat. There are dramatic par 3s. There is a short par 4 that is complicated by a yawning chasm on the second shot.
And then there's the fourth, a 588-yard par 5 that tumbles down, down, down and around a small lake created by a mine shaft that was deliberately caved-in years ago. You stand there over your second shot, drinking in the view, saying to yourself, "Wow."
They will let you walk Iron Valley if you want. Good luck. I wouldn't try it unless I had the stamina of a 19-year-old with a backpack full of water bottles and Power Bars.
The back nine at Iron Valley couldn't be more different than the tree-lined front but it's no less interesting. That's because the front, aptly called the "mine nine," is where they dug ore until 1973. The back nine, dubbed the "tailings nine," is where they deposited the leftover silt. It's almost eerie.
"First time I saw this, I thought it looked like moonscape," general manager George Schneiter, one of nine area investors who own the course, said as we stood on the elevated 10th tee.
To your right, the back nine fans out across part of a gray valley of tailings, interrupted only by the sight of marshes, a man-made lake and lush green fairways made possible by tons of topsoil that was trucked in.
The more dramatic site is to the left, however, where the 10th fairway runs along the crest of the mountain's edge of tailings, which created what was once the largest manmade earth dam in the country. The commanding view of the Lebanon Valley below is spectacular.
The sign at the 10th tee is imposing. "EXTREME SLOPE. ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY, NO ATTEMPT TO RETRIEVE BALL FROM BEYOND DAM BREAST."
Deeper into the back nine, Dye couldn't resist the temptation to create a hole with an island green, much like his father did with the notorious 17th at TPC Sawgrass. Iron Valley's green is smaller, but the hole is shorter, only 124 yards. Still, if the wind whips up, you've got problems.
My favorite holes on the back, however, are the 15th and 16th, a long, uphill par 4 into a treacherous green followed by a narrow, hilly par 5 that wraps around water. Great couple of holes.
It's impossible to come away from Iron Valley without a smile on your face. With the water, the hills, a few forced carries and the difficulty of some second shots, Iron Valley could be a struggle for higher handicappers. Better players will welcome the challenge. Any player will enjoy the scenery.
Originally published July 9, 2000