With a name like Whitetail Golf Club, you half expect to encounter the occasional deer grazing at the edge of the rough or the woods just beyond.
I never did.
But that doesn't mean that Whitetail, a daily-fee layout just north of Bethlehem, was a disappointment. Truth is, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was that Golf Digest awarded Whitetail a very respectable 3 1/2 stars in its latest edition of Places to Play, so it deserved checking out.
What I found was a casual, comfortable small-town place with a welcoming feel and plenty of course for most levels of golfers. Also not to be overlooked are Whitetail's very palatable greens fees: prime-time weekend rounds with a cart are $45; weekday walking rates are as low as $22; while seniors, juniors and twilight players get off even easier.
Designed by Jim Blaukovitch, a Lehigh Valley architect who is making a name for himself, Whitetail is well-conceived and well-maintained. At 6,432 yards from the back tees, it's certainly not the longest track around, nor is it the most difficult. Although it plays to a 128 slope from the back, Blaukovitch has made sure that you have to take some nasty hacks to get yourself into deep trouble. Fairways are forgiving, bunkers are less than plentiful, the rough is manageable, and there is little water and almost no forced carries.
Of course, Whitetail was never intended to be the severest of tests.
``We didn't want to build a new course and make it super, super punishing,'' Whitetail general manager Chad Kulp said. ``It was designed to be a course most everybody could play and enjoy.''
That said, Whitetail is no pushover. It hosted the Eastern Pennsylvania Amateur a couple of years ago, as well as a Nike Tour qualifier. The assistant pros in the Philadelphia Section of the PGA thought enough of the course to hold their championship there in 1997.
Still, after a very pleasant loop last week, I came away feeling that 3 1/2 stars were fair for the facility overall, but it struck me as about a half-star too generous - at least in terms of the challenge. For 3 1/2 stars, you ought to suffer more for a misplayed shot.
By way of general description, Whitetail's strength is its mix of short to mid-length par 4s, most confronting the player with twists, turns, hills or combinations thereof.
The fifth hole comes immediately to mind. At 352 yards, it's hardly intimidating. But it's downhill from the tee, and a lake comes into play on the right side in the driving area, just at the point where the hole doglegs left. Although the second shot is only about 100 yards, another lake looms to the right of the green. Only two par 4s on the course exceed 400 yards, making for a lot of short- and mid-iron approach shots.
Unquestionably, the two best holes on the course are par 5s. The eighth - Kulp calls it the signature hole - is quite a sight from the highly elevated tee that provides one of the panoramic views of the surrounding farmland. From there, the hole tumbles ever downward before curling right and upward again, then down again. At 602 yards, even big hitters will be playing their third shots into this green.
The other toughest test is the 14th, a 508-yard par 5, with a blind chasm on the left that chokes the tee shot landing area to about 10 yards. Hit it long here off the tee and even a dead-center tee shot bounds down and out of bounds. The second shot is another beast - over the chasm - into a green that's 250 yards away because of the layup shot off the tee.
The 18th is also a fine finishing hole: It's straight, but 422 yards uphill. You'll work for a par there.
A couple of other interesting footnotes about Whitetail. There's the free bag of range balls with greens fees. Kulp's theory is that it helps get you loosened up and ready to play, which leads us to Whitetail's slow-play policy.
Hold up the course and initially you'll get a polite warning; a second infraction and you'll be asked to pick up your ball and move to the next tee. Three strikes and you're out. You'll be asked to leave the course, although you'll be given a prorated gift certificate to return at a future date.
Originally published in 1999.