History Repeats Itself at Iron Forge
Links to the Past on Display at Penn National
Historians, prophets and charlatans, alike, will tell you history repeats itself.
Way back in 1966, architect Edmund Ault — influenced heavily by the style of courses built in the 1950s and early ‘60s, designed a classic northeast-style layout: long off the tee with tree-lined fairways and large, contoured greens. That 18-hole gem, known now as the Founders Course at Penn National in Fayetteville, PA, set the standard for high-quality, daily-fee golf in the Mid-Atlantic.
In the early 1970s, Ault hired a young course designer named Bill Love to join his firm. Love worked hand-in-hand with Ault on many layouts while also developing his own unique style. When a new course was planned for Penn National in the early 1990s, Love was the natural choice as architect.
Love set out to design the new course, Iron Forge, to fit the land and to celebrate and capture the origins of the game. At the same time, he wanted to craft a challenging venue that would contrast the style of the Founders Course. The end result, now more than 50 years later, are two of the most different, challenging, and highly-rated courses at one golf facility you’ll experience anywhere.
Iron Forge is part of the fabric of the 1,200 or so acres that comprises Penn National. Unlike the Founders Course which was cut out of heavily forested land, Iron Forge is nearly treeless and starts in the foothills of South Mountain and gently blends into rich, open farmland. It lays lightly on the rolling property, and recalls the open links-style of play often associated when niblicks, mashies and spoons.
From and aesthetic standpoint, Iron Forge treats golfers to a visual feast as they take in sweeping vistas and the beauty of the Pennsylvania countryside. Starting near the Michaux State Forest, the layout makes a single loop passing up, down and occasionally sideways through a variety of terrain and elevation changes. Mounds and knolls, tall fescues and native grasses add to the distinctive Scottish flair.
From a playing standpoint, Iron Forge provides players of all skill levels different experiences. Wide fairway corridors are straddled by gentle perimeter mounding that tends to “contain” errant shots and makes the course fun for the higher handicapper. For the more astute and back tee lot, the length of the course and the location of bunkers and other hazards require a balancing act between risk and reward off the tee and on approaches, especially when the wind becomes a factor. Water challenges play on four holes including a lake guarding the heroically reachable par-5, No. 11 named “Gambler’s Choice.”
One other playing note. Beware of the mysterious “mountain effect” that takes control from holes No. 4 through No. 11 — when lining up putts, your eyes might tell you different but the speed and breaks on the greens are controlled by South Mountain.
History buffs will also want to take a few minutes to check out the small lime kiln which was uncovered during the course’s construction. It is located behind the No. 9 green and has been faithfully preserved. You’re welcome to check it out and learn more about early iron making and its role in the area’s history.
In short, Iron Forge is one of the best examples of an inland links-style layout not built across the pond a hundred-plus years ago. The course is at once a blend of modern golf with finely manicured conditions and of ancient golf with its bones laid bare to the forces of nature. It is this combo of old versus new that reminds us how golf has come full circle since its beginnings along the seasides of Scotland.
Penn National Golf Club & Inn is located just 20 miles west of Gettysburg and 90 minutes from Baltimore, MD, and Washington, DC. In addition to its two 18-hole championship courses both rated four stars by Golf Digest, the stay-and-play destination facility features a 52-room historic inn, excellent bar and restaurant, and expansive clubhouse. And if playing golf in the tranquil Amish countryside is not reason enough to visit, perhaps the attractive weekday and weekend promotional offers available only to TeeTime Golf Pass members will convince you Penn National needs to be on your must-play list.