My friend had family business to attend to so I cut away to try to find myself an afternoon tee time. I didn’t have a lot of options if I wanted to play a “new” course. It was late in the day and my friend would like to join me to play nearby Bedford Springs, so that one was out this time around. There wasn’t much on my way home that I had played so I was looking at heading North or East. For a few hours on Sunday I thought about playing deeper into Pennsylvania on Monday so I headed north and stopped at Down River. That gave me some time to decide what I wanted to do on Monday. Down River was convenient if I wanted to play some more golf or just head home after the round.
I booked a 3:15pm tee time and got there a few minutes beforehand. The parking lot was packed when I rolled in but that wasn’t a huge surprise considering the number of golfers out during my morning round! I prepared myself for a longer round but it didn’t turn out that bad. I trailed a quickly moving threesome around the course and turned the car on at 6:45pm! I never had a group behind me so I took my time and wandered around the course. I always like to include my green fee in my reviews, and it was $30.
The first thing I noticed about Down River is that it could use a drink! You’ll see from the pictures that there isn’t much green to the course, which is unusual for a Pennsylvania course from my experience. The course was as firm and dry as it looks in the pictures. I played the Blue tees which are 72.3/127/6900 and the course probably played only 6500ish. On one hand I liked being green high on all the par 5’s in two, including the ones over 550 yards! However, on the other hand I got some thin lies and had to chip wedges from 80 yards so that I didn’t blade them over the greens. I don’t mind a ground game as that can be fun, but there just wasn’t much of a way to get anything close. If you miss short of the greens then there are some gaps to run it up. There is no doubt in my mind that Down River would play better if it was softer. Although if it was soft, then the distance could pose a problem as there are some long holes!
For the most part the fairways and tees were fine while the greens were the highlight of the maintenance. They rolled well and were quick! I blasted multiple putts by and had to be defensive even on the uphill ones. Every chip or putt had that extra three feet of trickle! The bunkers looked as nice as can be with tidy rake marks and the one that I was in was firm, but playable when I took a mighty swing from it. The green complexes had greener and slightly more juicy rough surrounding them so it appears the course seems to be using the water that they have efficiently. After some heavy rains I’m sure this place will be looking better!
When it comes to the setting of Down River, I think it has some charm! The location is great for golf considering that the surrounding area is mountainous. The course is laid out on flatter land near a bend in the Raystown Branch Juniata River. That is a mouthful, but basically the river that runs by the course is a tributary of the Juniata River. For those geography nerds reading the Juniata River is a tributary of the Susquehanna River and that one empties into the Chesapeake Bay!
All that said and I never saw the river from the course! The vegetation was thick and the course was probably (smartly) set back a hundred yards for when the water gets high. Although I expected some river views, the course is in a valley and the mountain views made up for the lack of any river views. No matter where you are, you will have views of the nearby ridgelines.
The design itself has some charm too! From what I’ve found the course was designed in the 1960’s and is what I think of when I hear the term “country club”. Most of the holes are parallel to each other and the tees are close to the greens. On a busy day this created some distractions, but Down River would be a good course to walk. The fairways are partially tree-lined which means that you need to drive the ball straight in hopes of having a birdie putt. I hit some crooked drives and had to get creative going under, over, and around the trees in hopes of getting to the greens. Almost every green slopes from back to front which is a classic feature from that time in course design.
Even from the Blue tees, I thought the course was there for the taking when it comes to score. I slashed a few shots around and still was able to leave myself par putts using my short game. Aside from a couple holes with internal out of bounds, there isn’t much trouble at Down River. The biggest difficulty at the course are probably going be the greens and a few long holes. The greens are mixed sizes and rise higher the farther you get towards the back. That means if you go for a middle or back pin and miss left or right your chip is going to be tough. Short is the best place to chip from while over the back of the greens is the worst spot you can leave it.
Down River isn’t a destination course like Bedford Springs, which is one that is still on my list. It caters to the locals and does a good job with that! Down River offers affordable golf with a good design and a chance to find the ball and play it again. If you get done at Bedford Springs and want to add another course to your list then I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this one!
#1 (390 yard par 4):
#2 (240 yard par 3):
#3 (500 yard par 5):
#4 (425 yard par 4):
#5 (165 yard par 3):
#6 (565 yard par 5):
#7 (380 yard par 4):
#8 (390 yard par 4):
#9 (400 yard par 4):
#10 (385 yard par 4):
#11 (415 yard par 4):
#12 (395 yard par 4):
#13 (220 yard par 3):
#14 (505 yard par 5):
#15 (215 yard par 3):
#16 (420 yard par 4):
#17 (550 yard par 5):
#18 (340 yard par 4):