Several years ago, when my children were little and sneaking away for a round of golf was a rare, guilty pleasure, a buddy told me to meet him on the first tee that Saturday morning at Woody's.
|At a glance|
| Getting there: Wood's Golf Center is at 559 W. Germantown Pike, Norristown. Take Germantown Pike west from the Norristown exit (#25) of the Pennsylvania Turnpike about two miles. Wood's is 4 1/2 west on the right. Alternate directions from King of Prussia, take 202 North through Norristown, make a left onto Germantown pike, golf course is 2 miles on the right. The phone number is 610-279-0678.
Greens fees: Weekends and holidays, $14 to walk. Weekdays, $11 to walk. Weekdays for seniors, $9 to walk. Carts are $13.
Carts: Walking permitted anytime.
Spikes: Metal not permitted.
Amenities: No pro shop. Par-3 course. Driving range, heated outdoor stalls. Putting course. Snack bar.
Rating: A Montgomery County institution. No frills. Big, popular complex.
Information accurate as of 8/26/2002
To say I was disappointed, even dismayed, when it turned out that Woody's was an overcrowded par-3 course, with a chip-and-putt, a driving range, and a miniature golf course as part of a sprawling complex, would be an understatement. I couldn&'t believe that this was how I was using up one of my precious few rounds that summer.
My attitude has changed considerably since those days. I no longer look down on the Woody's courses of the world. I regard them as integral and valuable parts of the golfing landscape. While on the road, covering golf tournaments, I have been known to pull off the road in Mississippi at 11 p.m., at the first sign of the magnificent glow of the lights, to pound a large bucket of balls at a driving range.
In addition to the sheer fun of them, Woody's and the like take a burden off of regular golf courses, welcoming novices, seniors, women, minorities, and people just messing around.
"We get a lot of people just starting the game," said Jena Wood, who works behind the counter at Woody's and is the granddaughter of founder John "Woody" Wood and the daughter of Pen Wood, the current owner. "We see them for a year or two on the range, then on the course. Then we don&'t see them much."
Places like Woody's - technically Wood's Golf Center at 559 W. Germantown Pike in Norristown - are the door to golf for a lot of people. Woody's is also a place where I can learn to hit a new club or drop off my son and his buddy for a Saturday-afternoon loop of their own. For the guys in my group at the par-3 course last week - I met three retirees on the first tee - it's also plenty of golf course as age takes a little off their tee shots.
Woody Wood himself laid out the course and, even as par-3 courses go, it is not a towering achievement. Greens tend to be small, round and flat. Bunkers are few. There is one pond, but it's not very threatening as ponds go.
What teeth Woody's has comes in the form of distance. Five of the 18 holes measure more than 200 yards, with one stretching to 246 and another to 228. For a lot of golfers, anything more than 200 yards is a short par 4.
They do 40,000 rounds a year at Woody's, so good luck finding a blade of grass on the tees in the summer. And at the end of the day, the greens can look as if they took a shelling.
During any round at Woody's, you never know what you&'re going to encounter - teenagers goofing around, old men just glad to be alive, upright and outdoors, or beginners so raw, the rangers have to explain the most basic rules and etiquette. There are, however, always the regulars.
"We have always had a consistent senior-citizen crowd because of the reasonable rates and the length of the course," Jena Wood said. "On weekends, we get a lot more women now. And a lot of Koreans and more minorities."
Woody's doesn&'t take tee times, so weekend mornings at the height of the season can see a 90-minute logjam that looks like a committee meeting at the United Nations.
"It can be awkward because, a lot of times, you&'re pairing people who don&'t speak English," said Jena Wood, who spends many of her weekend mornings mixing and matching singles and twosomes to create foursomes. "But a lot of people meet and end up playing together more or keeping in touch."
More and more, Wood sees better golfers turning up at Woody's because they don&'t have time to devote the better part of a day to a round at a full-blown course.
"It's kind of a trend in the industry," she said.
From her perspective, Woody's is on the downside of Tigermania.
"The year he came out was really big for us and everybody," she said. "It has kind of leveled off."
Oh, well. Saturday night will still be crowded.
Originally published Nov. 12, 2000