Originally published October 12, 2003
We were on the 12th tee one day last week at Hideaway Hills Golf Club, where one of the Pocono Mountains meets the sky, when hitting the next golf shot suddenly didn't seem as important as the spectacular view and the fall colors.
"Not bad, huh? " Joe Wallace said, smiling.
I didn't know Joe Wallace from Adam's house cat when he left a phone message for me a few weeks ago. He sounded like a regular enough guy: works in baggage for an major airline, a public-course golfer who seems to have played almost every course in the region.
When I called him back, Wallace, 59, told me there was a course in the Poconos called Hideaway Hills he wanted me to try. He had stumbled across it a while back and had quickly fallen in love with it. It was as good or better than any course he'd played around Philadelphia, said Wallace, plus it was affordable ($57 prime time, $44 weekdays) and it was carved out of 300 acres with all kinds of personality.
"Trust me," Wallace said.
Four days ago, on a warm, clear day made even better by the rich, fall colors, it was time to put that trust to the test.
I'm glad I did. After more than four hours, up and down hills, pausing every hole or so to admire the view, I, too, became a fan of Hideaway Hills . Not a fan like Joe Wallace is a fan, but a fan.
Hideaway Hills has the kind of holes, shots and spectacular vistas that only mountain courses can offer.
At the 7th, a 217-yard par 3, it is a 135-foot vertical drop from tee to green. At the 10th, a dogleg par 5, the drop from tee to fairway is 161 feet. At the par-3 12th, more of the same.
Not every hole is so severe. Most of the par 4s and three of the four par 5s are hilly, or sloped, or contoured, but they are quite manageable.
By my count, there are half a dozen or more holes that are quite good, another handful that are intriguing, and one truly lousy hole: the 11th, a 344-yard lazy dogleg with a fairway so steep in all the wrong places that it needs a good bulldozing.
"Ah, the 11th," David Farda, grandson of owner Joe Farda, said with a knowing, almost apologetic nod.
One other hole, the 320-yard 13th, a narrow, uphill trek with a pushed-up, ledgelike green that overhangs a punishing wall of wild grass and gopher holes, struck me as a bit bizarre.
"People tend to love this hole or hate it," Wallace said.
After one round (double bogey, almost broke my ankle searching and flailing away in the wall of wild grass), I was leaning toward hating the 13th, except I thought I could probably birdie it next time.
All in all, the playability and pleasure of Hideaway Hills are a tribute to Joe Farda, 78, a home builder and entrepreneur who conceived of and more or less built the course himself 10 years ago.
As Farda, who emigrated from Italy at 14, tells the story, he was sitting in a restaurant in Palm Springs in 1991, looking out over a golf course, when it dawned on him what to do with that 300 acres he owned back home.
At the time, Hideaway Hills was still Honeymoon Hideaway, a struggling 36-room retreat that had come with some beautiful but undeveloped property. Farda was not an accomplished golfer, but he had played enough great golf courses that he believed he knew good holes from bad.
"All my life, I've had visions of things I want to build," said Farda, who also has built hotels, restaurants and homes. "I could picture the holes I wanted to lay out back home. "
The finished product, at 6,933 yards and a 72.7 rating/127 slope, is not the work of such famed designers as Fazio or Flynn, but it is thoroughly enjoyable and challenging.
Serious fans of golf-course architecture most likely will sniff at Farda's somewhat basic green complexes and simplistic bunkering. Plenty of golfers, though - Joe Wallace among them - are just as likely to wave off that kind of criticism as snobbery.
These days, Hideaway Hills is still a popular stop for weddings, receptions and banquets; many guests and partygoers stay over in one of the old honeymoon cottages.
As the course has begun to draw loads of golfers from Philadelphia, New York and North Jersey, weekend golf packages also have become popular. ($149.05 per person for golf Saturday and Sunday, plus room. )
The bottom line is, for all but the most discriminating golfers, Hideaway Hills is a treat worth trying.
Contact staff writer Joe Logan at 216-854-5604 or email@example.com.
If you go:
Getting there: Hideaway Hills is off Route 209 in Kresgeville, about 30 minutes north of Allentown. Take I-476 north to the Lehighton exit, for Route 209. Follow Route 209 north to Kresgeville; watch for the sign for Hideaway Hills .
Web site: www.hideawaygolf.com.
Greens fees: Weekends and holidays, $57 with cart; weekdays, $44 with cart. Off-season (beginning Oct. 20), twilight and replay rates available.
Carts: Walking is permitted but cart fees are included. Caution: It's not walking-friendly due to the terrain and distance between some greens and tees.
Amenities: The spacious clubhouse is casual and comfortable; weddings, banquets and outings are welcome. Overnight golf packages are available. The pro shop is moderately stocked; driving range, putting green.
Rating: A secret in the Poconos. It's a fun course, playable, plenty challenging for most levels of players, with dramatic views and elevation changes. It's worth trying.