Twin Ponds Golf Club

Gilbertsville course is short but sweet

For the last year or so, one of my regular golf buddies has been trying to get me out to the course he played growing up, a little family-run, no-frills operation called Twin Ponds Golf Club.

"I'm telling you, you'll like it," he'd promise.

"I'll get around to it," I'd tell him. The no-frills part didn't bother me. Out beyond the suburbs, there is a whole world of small-town, no-frills courses that are terrific. What gave me pause about Twin Ponds was that it's only 5,588 yards, which to me is woefully short. Why bother?

At a glance
Getting there: Twin Ponds Golf Club is at 700 Gilbertsville Rd., Gilbertsville, Montgomery County. From Route 73 in Gilbertsville, follow Gilbertsville Road past Bermont Motors. The course is 1 1/2 miles on the left. The phone number is 610-369-1901.

Green fees: WWeekends and holidays: $38 with cart, $28 to walk. Weekdays: $30 with cart, $20 to walk, twilight (after 4:30 p.m.) $12.

Walking: Walking permitted anytime.

Amenities: Small, sparsely furnished pro shop; casual, inexpensive snack bar; practice range (must supply your own balls); picnic area for 200.

Rating: FA short course, but charming and challenging. Excellent for short hitters. Easy to walk; a good course for family golf. Very affordable with a no-frills, friendly atmosphere. Worth a try.

Last week, my buddy finally persuaded me to give the course in Gilbertsville, Montgomery County, a try, and I'm glad he did. I'm definitely going back.

If Twin Ponds comes up short in yardage, it's long on personality and panache. There are wide-open holes and there are tight holes with tree-lined fairways. A few holes are flat, but most are gently rolling doglegs that play into small, bunkered greens. Six ponds are scattered around the course, but they are not especially imposing.

It's not a difficult course. Even from the back tees, the rating is 65.5 and the slope 111. Still, there is enough charm and challenge to make you happy.

As for the length, yes, Twin Ponds is short. But there are four par 5s - the 14th tops out at 573 yards, uphill and usually into the wind - and you will reach for the driver on most every hole. The course's lack of length comes more from its six par 3s and its healthy assortment of short par 4s. Granted, big hitters might not need more than a short iron into several of the par 4s, but you'd better be accurate.

If there is a bottom line, it's that Twin Ponds is ideal for golfers who want a good course, a challenge, but who can't handle those tracks full of 440-yard par 4s over water and wasteland.

"We like to say it's a fun course - you can miss a shot and par the hole," owner Ron Hoffman, 70, said last week.

It was back in 1963 that Hoffman, whose father and grandfather had operated a dairy farm on the property, decided that the farming life held no future for him and his wife.

"I'd never played a game of golf in my life, but my brother-in-law had started to play over at Arrowhead," Hoffman said. "He said, 'Why don't you build a golf course?' "

Hoffman decided he had heard dumber ideas in his life, even if golf wasn't as hot as it is today. He called in Leon Sell, not exactly a career architect but a man who had recently expanded Spring Ford Country Club in Royersford from nine to 18 holes. Sell now lives in a house off the sixth hole.

Hoffman, who is recovering from a yearlong bout with cancer, can still be found at the corner table in the casual clubhouse that was once a barn.

"Used to have 70 head of cattle right here in this building," Hoffman said. "When I got mad at the cattle, I could kick them. I can't kick the customers."

Son-in-law Ron Boyles is the superintendent. Hoffman's daughters, Marcia and Sheila, who will one day inherit Twin Ponds, run the small pro shop and cook in the snack bar. Oh, the snack bar. Domestic beer runs toward $1.75; hot dogs are $1.50, hamburgers $1.80, cheeseburgers $2. A game of pool is 25 cents.

Those who get too full of themselves around Twin Ponds run the risk of finding their names on the plaque by the snack bar. "Twin Ponds Dummy of the Week," it says.

A round of golf is also easy on the wallet. The price on weekends with a cart is $38. You can walk anytime, and it's a very walkable course. Weekdays to walk costs you $20; after 4:30 p.m. it drops to $12.

Not surprisingly, Twin Ponds has its share of regulars, most of whom come from the surrounding area, as well as from Allentown and Bethlehem. Weekend mornings can get crowded, although Hoffman said it thins out after about 1 p.m. Weekday afternoons, the leagues swoop down.

"Tell people to call before they come," Hoffman said.

It's not a bad call to make.

Originally published April 29, 2001