Kimberton Golf Course

Without pretense: A shot-and-beer kind of course

Originally published Sept. 26, 1999

In a world where most of the new courses these days seem to be those country-club-for-a-day affairs, there's still plenty of room for the working stiff's golf course.

Just ask Bob Hays.

"We don't have any illusions about what we are or any pretensions to compete with the upscale courses," Hays, the head professional, general manager and co-owner of Kimberton Golf Club near Phoenixville, said last week.

"We know what we are and we're comfortable with it -- we're playable, affordable, and we have a friendly, almost family atmosphere."

Make no mistake: If you're a golfer who favors the upscale side of the game, Kimberton is probably not for you.

At a glance
Getting there: Kimberton Golf Club is on Route 23, about three miles west of Phoenixville. From King of Prussia, take Route 422 to the second exit, then head west. The phone number is 610-933-8836.

Green fees: Weekends and holidays, $30 to walk; weekdays, $21 to walk. Weekends after 3 p.m., $21 to walk; weekdays after 3 p.m., $13 to walk. Seniors, $15 to walk weekdays. Add $11 per person for carts.

Walking: Walking permitted any time.

Amenities: Well-stocked pro shop. Putting green. No driving range, though there is a range next door. Snack bar. Outings and leagues welcome.

Rating: Midlevel layout. Affordable, casual, friendly. Good course for beginners, seniors, and middle-to-high handicappers.

Accurate as of Sept. 1999

While the course, like Waynesborough Country Club, is a George Fazio design, it's never going to be a candidate for a PGA stop. And all you need to know about the clubhouse, such as it is, is that it has Old Milwaukee beer on tap.

But Hays, whose family has owned Kimberton since it was opened in 1962, is not about to apologize. If anything, he believes the "everyman" atmosphere goes a long way toward explaining Kimberton 's success over four decades.

"The proliferation of upscale courses is great, but they're not affordable to the vast majority of people," Hays said. "There's real need for a facility like this to get people interested and to grow the game."

Kimberton, named for the small town nearby, was built on what was once Hays family farmland. Hays' father, Bob Sr., was behind the project, rounding up several investors. When word got out that they were building a course, they were approached by Fazio, a Norristown native and former tour professional who was trying to carve out a career as a golf-course architect.

"He had designed one other course at the time, but he hadn't been paid for it," Hays said. "We were the first to pay him."

Fazio's nephew, Tom, now the kingpin in the world of golf-course design, was still in high school, but he pitched in to help his uncle.

Bob Jr. was 12 at the time, but he, too, went to work at the course. After college, he never thought of working anywhere else. When his father retired in 1986, he took over as head professional and general manager. Today, he owns Kimberton with Elizabeth Palmer, whose late husband was one of the original investors.

"This has been my life's work," Hays said.

Everything about Kimberton is meat and potatoes, sort of golf's equivalent of a beer-and-a-shot bar. The combination pro shop and snack bar is casual. The course, while generally flat and heavy on short par 4s, does offer enough in the way of gentle hills, doglegs and water hazards to warrant an above-average 123 slope from the back tees. A glance at the scorecard suggests Kimberton is short - 6,304 yards - but that's mostly because it has only three par 5s.

First-timers looking for a test might be a little concerned after the first two holes. They are both short, flat, ho-hum par 4s. But it picks up at the third with a 390-yard dogleg that can give you fits if you miss the fairway and a second shot over water. The eighth, a rolling par 4 with a pond lurking on the right, can also be devilish if players are not careful.

On the inward nine, Hays favors the 465-yard 11th, a par 5 converted to a par 4, partly because it's the one hole many players can't reach in regulation. It's a good hole, as is the 14th, the longest par 3 at 208 yards.

But the vote for best hole would probably go to the 15th, a 516-yard par 5 that plays from an elevated tee, through trees, onto a sloping fairway, then around to a green tucked into the trees. With very little effort at all, you can walk away here with a double bogey.

The other par 5 on the back, the 17th, also presents many players with the dilemma of laying up safely in front of the pond or going for broke in 2.