NEW TRIPOLI, Pa. -- Once again, family farming's loss is golf's gain.
This time, the piece of property in question is 15 miles north of Allentown, a 230-acre slab of rolling countryside that for generations was the Snyder family potato farm. Now, thanks to the threat of inheritance taxes and advances in modern earthmoving equipment, we have instead Olde Homestead Golf Club, a pleasant, scenic, aptly named links-style loop.
Is it the second coming of Wyncote Golf Club, the four-star links course in lower Chester County? No. Is it a refreshing departure from many of the mediocre public layouts closer to Philadelphia? Yes.
Golf course aside, there's something inviting about Olde Homestead. Maybe it's the quaint, refurbished clubhouse that was the Snyder homestead for the better part of 100 years. Maybe it's the family-oriented, small-town feel of the whole place -- people actually smile and say, "Hello."
Or maybe it's simply the knowledge that Olde Homestead was born as a labor of love, a family enterprise that was the best way the next generation of Snyders could think of to keep the land in the family rather than sell it off to pay estate taxes.
"There weren't a lot of options," said general manager Glen Smith, a former Bell Laboratories engineer, who, with his wife, Sally, a Snyder heir, owns and runs Olde Homestead.
"We could have sold it for housing for a lot of money, but that would have defeated the purpose."
Instead, the Smiths threw caution to the wind. Borrowing against the value of the land, Smith left his job of almost 20 years, as did Sally, a schoolteacher, and they set about developing.
Open three years, Olde Homestead is slowly but surely taking shape. But the Smiths wince every time another big expense comes down the pike.
Just last week, for example, the place was abuzz because a local kid who mowed fairways there last summer got drafted by the New York Mets. His sister still works in the pro shop. His brother still mows fairways at Olde Homestead.
Indeed, even as Smith was playing a round with me, the newest Met's brother drove by on a fine piece of equipment. Smith waved at the kid, then turned and said, "A mower like that -- $38,000."
You could feel his pain.
Because of realities like that, you almost feel guilty quibbling that a fairway landing area at Olde Homestead could have been a little flatter here or 10 yards wider there. You know that to Smith, those 10 extra yards would have meant hiring two guys on bulldozers for three more days at a time when the construction budget was pretty much depleted.
Not that Smith, or architect Jim Blaukovitch, needs to apologize. Given the budget and the topography that climbs upward, then falls off dramatically, then wends through trees on a few holes, they've come up with a playable, pleasurable course.
There are two or three holes that evoke a shrug, but Olde Homestead also boasts four or five very fine holes. Of course, nobody knows the strengths and weaknesses of the course better than Smith himself, and he is constantly toying with what they can do to make it better. Eventually, if money permits, they'd like to add another 18.
As it is, from the tips, Olde Homestead plays 6,900 yards to a testy 132 slope. From the shortest of its five sets of tees, the course goes 5,013 yards and 115 slope. Golf's Digest's Places to Play gives Olde Homestead 3 1/2 stars.
In general, it's a wide-open links-style course that rolls up and down across pastureland, in addition to the added mounding. But trees do come into play on four or five holes, and creeks and ponds can give you fits on four or five others.
Olde Homestead tests you right out of the parking lot. Where most golf courses begin with a rather-benign, straight par 4 to let you warm up, here you are faced right away with a good double-bogey opportunity.
It comes in the form of a par 5, with a small landing area between trees and a creek on the left and a hillside on the right. Because of a small, tiered green protected by trees, traps and a creek in front, only John Daly will be thinking of going for it. Be advised to hit a bucket of balls before starting.
The third, fourth and fifth holes are all long, straight par 4s. The sixth, however, is quite a change of pace -- a 160-yard par 3 that goes from way up high, down through trees on either side to a gigantic, elongated green.
The seventh, a 351-yard par 4, is a complete departure from the rest of the course. From tee to green, it is enshrouded by trees, with a creek and protected marshland slashing across the fairway to test the accuracy of tee shots.
On the backside, Nos. 10 and 11 -- both short par 4s -- wrap around a small lake and provide ample opportunity to get into trouble. The middle of the back, just as the middle of the front, is meat-and-potatoes golf across hill and dale.
The 16th, a par 5, is the No. 1 and most picturesque hole. From high atop a bluff, the tee shot is over scruff and marsh to a fairway far below. From there, the hole turns left and works its way back uphill.
If you hate to ride in carts, Olde Homestead may not be a course for you. This is the foot of the Blue Mountain we're talking about, and it's quite a hike across some serious elevation changes.
But if you like to get out of the city, if you like a warmer, small-town, wholesome feel, Olde Homestead is worth a try.
Originally published June 7, 1998