I don’t mess too much with milestone courses, but I knew that after two new courses yesterday I’d be sitting at 599 eighteen hole courses played! I’ve played some nine hole courses and nine holes at eighteen hole courses, so technically I’ve already hit that 600 mark. But, I’ll officially be counting Iron Forge at Penn National as my 600th different course played!
And let me say, Penn National was a worthy spot to celebrate this golfing achievement! If you read at all about Mid-Atlantic golf courses, you are bound to stumble across the courses at Penn National. There are two courses here, and both have been on my Mid-Atlantic wish list since moving here in 2012. We were scheduled to play the Iron Forge course in the morning and the Founders course in the afternoon. More on our afternoon plans at the end though.
The Penn National courses are part of an on-site resort and from what I’ve heard, it is a good setup. My friend has a friend who did a stay and play here and there were plenty of out of state plates in the parking lot. From what I gathered from the staff, they help out with a lot of buddies trips! However, we were just there for the day and our green fee was $60 for a weekend morning time, which I booked through a third party site.
The Iron Forge course is the newer course, opening in 1997. The Founders course is an Ed Ault design while Iron Forge is a Bill Love creation. While playing the course, I didn’t realize that Bill Love designed it. After while reviewing other courses to his credit, I discovered some that I enjoyed, including Cranberry Highlands and Hunting Hawk. He also has designed Laurel Ridge in Northern Virginia, which gets some love in the golf community.
The best thing about Iron Forge is the land that it is set on! The resort is in Fayetteville, set close to the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The mountains are on one side, while plenty of rolling farmland is on the other. According to Penn National’s website, iron ore was mined here in the 1880’s and then the land was used for agriculture.
It is a bit of a drive from the clubhouse to the first tee and likewise back after the 18th hole, and the course doesn’t return to the clubhouse until you are done with the round. But, I tend to think that not returning to the clubhouse after nine holes allows a designer to get more creative. And, Love certainly took advantage of the prime location in his routing! The course has just the right amount of elevation change and offers great views of the area. Even after 20 years, homes haven’t crowded the course. From the elevated tee boxes, I could see for miles even on a cloudy day!
I played the blue tees which are 71.6/130/6602. From there, the course is more difficult than you may imagine just looking at my pictures! If you look at the pictures, you’ll see wide fairways, plenty of rough, and very few trees in play. I’ve read some reviews that call Iron Forge a links style course. I’ll concede that when it comes to looks, the course has the “links” look but I think “modern” is the best word to describe it. And don’t buy the bit about no trees, I took an unplayable lie after ending up under a tree to the left of the 9th hole! Iron Forge reminded me of Wyncote when it came to the look, just with more water in play.
The course’s challenges are definitely consistent with a modern design. The greens are extremely difficult and there is a sea of bunkers to grab wayward shots. I’ve been chipping great recently but struggled around the greens here. Every chip needed to land with the right height and spin to end up close to the flag. My friend and I had to die chips at the crests of ridges and land them on downhill slopes. Overall, the greens have very few flat spots on them and I misread my share of putts. I won’t say the green complexes were my favorite, but if you play the right tees at least you should have enough short irons for some birdie looks.
The only thing that had me scratching my head about the resort status were the super slick greens and deep rough! That rough was no joke and all I wanted to do was advance the ball! I think those two things made the course more difficult than it needed to be, especially when your target market isn’t just low handicaps. Other than those quibbles, I don’t have any complaints about the maintenance! The greens were smooth and fairways and tees were lush.
I think the most memorable holes on Iron Forge are the par 3’s. The course starts out with an easy par 5 before some tough holes, including the 201 yard par 3 3rd. The 3rd plays uphill about half a club and what made it so special to me was the view from the green, looking back towards the tee! I got a great picture of that farmland I mentioned earlier. And, who doesn’t love a nearby silo?!
The 6th and 13th are two other par 3’s worth mentioning. The 6th is 176 yards and likely the signature hole at Iron Forge. It plays ever so slightly downhill to a green with water on the right and severe mounding on the left. It really is a green you don’t want to miss! I watched a couple golfers chip from left of the green and they ended up in all sorts of places. The 13th is one of the best looking holes, as it is downhill about a club with the mountains in the background.
After our morning round, we were scheduled to play the Founders course in the afternoon. We scraped that idea after seeing group after group set to go out before us. I’ll add that the resort seemed to pack in the golfers like you’d find in Myrtle Beach. So instead of playing the Founders course, we had a nice lunch on the patio and got on the road early, for our roughly three hour drives home.
Even though we only played the Iron Forge course, I liked what I saw there. I enjoy courses that are open off the tee and that have views, and Iron Forge has both. The course was in great shape and I’d encourage you to check out Penn National if you get the chance!
#1 (516 yard par 5):
#2 (440 yard par 4):
#3 (201 yard par 3):
#4 (403 yard par 4):
#5 (362 yard par 4):
#6 (176 yard par 3):
#7 (513 yard par 5):
#8 (388 yard par 4):
#9 (385 yard par 4):
#10 (386 yard par 4):
#11 (497 yard par 5):
#12 (311 yard par 4):
#13 (179 yard par 3):
#14 (337 yard par 4):
#15 (384 yard par 4):
#16 (193 yard par 3):
#17 (561 yard par 5):
#18 (370 yard par 4):