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History slams into the present at stellar Bedford Springs Old Course in Pennsylvania

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Bedford Springs Old Course - Hole 1
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No. 1 at Bedford Springs Old Course is an uphill par 4. (Tim McDonald/WorldGolf.com)

BEDFORD, Penn. - I'll put the Bedford Springs Old Course up against the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland any day of the week except Sunday, when the Scots let the old girl rest. We Americans golf on Sundays.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, St. Andrews was redesigned by Old Tom Morris, but Bedford Springs was redesigned by Donald Ross and redesigned by A.W. Tillinghast. Not to mention it boasts seven dead presidents.

"It's got a good pedigree," said Bedford Springs Director of Golf Ron Leporati.

The Old Course dates back to 1895 from a design by Spencer Oldham, making it one of the oldest golf courses in the country. St. Andrews can date the beginnings of its golf back to the 1500s, but Morris didn't start working his magic 'til around 1863.

Tillinghast redesigned the Bedford Springs golf course in 1912, shortening it to nine holes, and then Ross came around in 1923 and re-worked it again, restoring it to its original 18 holes. At that time, it was hailed as one of the best in Pennsylvania.

Ron Forse, a well-known restoration architect, began renovating the course in 2005, using old aerial photos and his knowledge of old-school architecture, and the course re-opened in 2007 to more than a little fanfare.

Indeed, the golf course is like a green, living museum, a grand old dame refreshed from a treatment at the resort's ritzy, new spa and a dip in the healing mineral waters that has drawn people to the resort since the late 1700s.

'Plenty of Ross' at Bedford Springs Old Course

There's plenty of Ross here, in at least 11 holes, particularly No. 6, named "Ross' Cathedral." It's a beautiful, downhill par 4 with artful bunkering and a two-tiered green. Standing on the elevated tee boxes, it's like looking down at a painting.

"That hole is textbook Donald Ross," Leporati said. "You look out at that hole, and it could be Pinehurst, with the fairway shaping and the bunker placements."

Tillinghast's influence is seen on at least four holes, including the most famous, the "Tiny Tim" 14th, a pretty par 3 over water with small moguls and bunkers to either side of the green. It's a design Tillinghas duplicated at least 100 times on other courses in his career.

Bedford Springs Old Course: The verdict

With all these revered names behind the Old Course, you can pay your respects here, but you can also have a blast playing this course designed by the old masters and updated with the latest technology.

It's 6,795 yards from the back tees and in great shape, with its superb, wall-to-wall bentgrass, the Mercedes of putting surfaces, and the bluegrass and fescue rough. They've let the native grasses grow wild in certain parts of the layout, which is tree-lined in spots and open in others.

The layout is routed around Red Oaks Lake, and wooden bridges take you over the Shobers Run Creek, a tributary of the Juniata River, which crosses the fairways several times.

The golf course has five par 5s and an excellent collection of five par 3s, including "Tiny Tim" and No. 4, "Volcano," with its mini-mountain green; at 223 yards, it's rated the hardest hole on the course. No. 10 is also a beauty, where you hit from an elevated green over a valley to a two-tiered green with a high shelf in back.

Wait a minute: There's also a 610-yard par 5 that's named, appropriately enough, "Long."

The course is open to the public with preferred tee times for resort guests. The practice facility is good, with a dual-ended driving range and short-game practice area.

The course is designated a National Register Historic District for being "one of the best remaining examples of spring resort architecture."

Green fees range from $100 to $155, and the course does around 11,000 rounds a year, so it's usually in tip-top shape.

Bedford Springs Resort

The Bedford Springs Resort (www.bedfordspringsresort.com) is actually older than its golf course, and it sports that grand, classic resort look, with antiques spread throughout the properties and rocking chairs on the wide verandas.

People first started coming here about 200 years ago, drawn to the reputed healing qualities of the eight mineral springs, including seven sitting presidents. In fact, President James Buchanan spent 40 summers here and used it as his "summer White House" while he was in office. He also took the first trans-Atlantic cable in the lobby.

The resort, an hour and a half from Pittsburgh and two hours from Washington D.C., got a $120 million renewal and expansion re-opening last year. It sits high in the Allegheny Mountains and Cumberland Valley on 2,200 acres, with 216 guestrooms and suites.

The new owners made sure the old-time resort had all the modern amenities. That includes a state-of-the-art conference center, and a 30,000-square-foot "Springs Eternal Spa," which includes a dip in the old mineral waters those presidents used to enjoy.

It also includes an aquatic center with an outdoor pool and a heated, mineral springs-fed indoor pool. There is also on-property trout fishing and 25 miles of hiking and biking trails.

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Bedford Springs Old Course - Hole 6Bedford Springs Old Course

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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