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Field guide: A $25 green fee for a course with America’s first island green

What do you get when you see a $25 walking greens fee for a course built in 1910? Low-rent fun. Old-school quirk, blind tee shots, moat holes, tiny fast greens and the perfect amount of scruff and charm make Galen Hall an amazing experience.

Back in the day, this was the place to be. Even Sinatra often visited and stayed in the now long-gone grand hotel. The course’s par-3 15th Moat Hole is its signature, and it is believed to be America’s first island green. In 1917, A.W. Tillinghast came here to Wernersville, Pa., from nearby Philadelphia to add nine more holes to the nine Alexander Findlay laid out.

Galen Hall in Wernersville, Pa., is about 75 miles northwest of Philadelphia. Christian Hafer

So, for $25 on a summer weekday, you can play a cousin to Winged Foot, San Francisco Golf Club, Bethpage Black and Philadelphia Cricket Club. You can hit nearly every club in your bag and play an original Golden Era design. That’s what makes places like Galen Hall worth visiting. The course is approachable, affordable and provides a window into the way golf was in a bygone era — an experience for which today you’d usually have to pay hundreds of dollars.

Christian Hafer
Christian Hafer

But be forewarned — the walk up 17 and 18 is a bear. The course weaves around and dips into a valley for the majority of the back nine, meaning you need to crawl back up on the way home. The tradeoff comes by way of a cool par-3 finisher.

While Galen Hall is a bit of a trek (it’s about 70 miles northwest of downtown Philly), it’s well worth a visit, especially for an early-morning excursion or twilight round, when you get the best light of the summer. The course is in great condition — especially for the rate — and the experience will make you want to hunt down other cool and quirky tracks.