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How sweet it is: Hershey's chocolate land gives family golfers time to play

Chris BaldwinBy Chris Baldwin,
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Milton Hershey's Mansion Green
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The fifth green at Hershey CC West is Hershey mansion's front lawn. (Chris Baldwin/WorldGolf.com)

Hershey, Pennsylvania has been home to the famous Hershey's chocolates for over a century. It also draws raves as a golf destination though, routinely getting rated one of the best family golf vacation spots by leading golf magazines.

HERSHEY, Pa. - Want to know the best thing about the tour at Chocolate World your kids will insist you go on?

It's 15 minutes. Total. Including time to browse the mammoth gift shops (yes, that's plural - and add some extra time if there's a grandmother in your group), pick up some special edition Hershey Kisses you cannot buy at your local store (don't miss the mint truffle Kisses) and a little rumination on how a man could build a town from candy bars, you're talking an hour, max.

Just try this at Disney World and see what happens. You won't even be off the Monorail after an hour.

This is what makes Hershey, Pennsylvania a great little family golf destination. The glossy magazines will tell you it's because this town with a chocolate smell in the air boasts a big amusement park, plus Chocolate World and a fair share of outdoor activities to go with good golf. All true.

But what truly gives Hershey an edge is this: You'll actually have time to golf.

Don't laugh. That's hardly a given in many self-branded, great family golf spots.

"In Disney World, they even have these breakfasts with the characters now," dedicated golfer - and father - Daryl Berger says. "And all the kids know about it. So you have to get these special reservations and get up at the crack of dawn to get out there and have bad pancakes with some college kid dressed in a Goofy outfit.

"Literally every minute of your day can be filled up with something for the kids. And you don't want to miss anything, because you don't want to deprive your kid of some great rite of passage that all the other kids are experiencing."

Berger shakes his head. He's taking putts at Hershey Country Club, taking his time before a round. His family's in town and everyone's happy. That's because the kid attractions in Hershey don't take up an entire day.

"Here, I have time to golf," Berger laughed. "It's beautiful."

Somehow, you think Milton Hershey would approve. The man behind Hershey's chocolate built this town for the employees of the world's largest chocolate manufacturing plant, which opened in 1905. He also encouraged Hershey Country Club to build the fifth green of its West Course right outside the front door of his mansion.

Is it any wonder that Children's Garden at the vast 23-acre Hershey Gardens can be experienced in about an hour, too?

Of course, these quick attractions would mean little if there weren't great golf courses. Hershey Country Club has two itself in its inventive 77-year-old West Course and its newer (1970) bunker-bully East Course.

If you need a third course, you play Wren Dale Golf Club. You probably won't need a third course, but you still might want to take a crack at Wren Dale's fescue grasses and ravines.

And there, you have Hershey golf for all intent and purposes. Three courses. You want to understand that too when you read all those golf magazines touting Hershey as one of the top family golf destinations.

This is not a place where you stay for a week and keep finding new things to do. It's a great spot to stay for a weekend, long or short. It's Port St. Lucie, Florida with chocolate fever.

Hershey's location - it's about an hour and 40 minute drive from both Philadelphia and Baltimore, an easy Northeast golf trip - makes it ideal for these quick getaways.

Golf in Hershey, Pennsylvania

One of the modern legends of Hershey is that the entire town smells like chocolate. On many days, you're supposed to be able to drive in and know you're there from your nose even before you see any sign.

Alas, on the days of this visit, you could not smell anything sweet. Just good old Pennsylvania countryside fresh air.

"Don't worry," more than one local soothed. "We'll turn on the smell machines for you tomorrow."

Truth is, you're not going to mind. There's a refreshing lack of pretentiousness about Hershey. Sure, there are giant character candy bars on top of Chocolate World's sign and there are dancing cows on the "simulated" factory tour (no one gets to see inside the real thing). Sure, Hershey Country Club West is the showiest old course you are ever going to find - with one jaw-dropping tee shot after another on holes three through six.

Still, everyone's relaxed about Hershey's place in the golf vacation universe. No one is claiming it's the greatest place on earth (except maybe the very expensive and very stuck-up Hotel Hershey). Then again, even the Hotel Hershey has a Chocolate Spa.

Kids may love this place because it seems geared to them with Hershey Park, an amusement park full of coasters, including the new Fahrenheit (97 degrees and falling fast!) Adults may think it's a little strange when they think about being in a town where everything from the high school to the lower-level pro hockey team is owned by the Hershey Corporation.

But after that fleeting moment subsides, you're just going to be happy you found a place this slow-paced in the middle of the East Coast's harried frenzy. Well, that and delirious that you can do the kids' stuff and still have plenty of hours left over for golf.

"It's genius!" Berger roars.

Hey, no one said golfers have to try for Parent of the Year every trip.

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Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

 
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