The gravel road, just wide enough for two cars, might have done it. Or the sight of just one car in the parking lot at the end of that path. But the sign on the clubhouse door most certainly told us we were in for something, let’s say, distinct.
On a piece of paper, in blue letters, underneath the course logo, it read:
“We are on the course. Please call. Thank you.”
So we did.
“Hey, we’re at the clubhouse here and the sign said to ca …” my friend said.
“Grab a cart, stay on the paths today and I’ll be back when you’re done,” the friendly voice on the other end said. “Enjoy!”
And that was how we began our first full day on a recent fall golf trip in the Poconos. Over two and a half days in northeast Pennsylvania, we found three breweries and a liquor store that sold only candy and beer. We learned that Wawa can fuel both the car and the soul. And we pegged it at five courses. One of which told us to hit away and they’d see us after 18. And featured the tiniest greens I’ve ever seen outside of a produce department.
Let’s look back at my new favorite fall golf trip.
The weird thing is, our sign-in-the-window, tiny-green course was maybe my fourth favorite of the five we played. That gives you some indication of the depth in the area, of which there are about 20 courses within an hour’s drive from where we stayed, in Blakeslee.
My No. 1, also in Blakeslee, was Jack Frost National, a par-72 that plays to 7,256 yards from the tips and 6,297 yards from the third set of tees, which we hit from. To be transparent, we played this on a 55-degree Thursday morning, with dew on the ground, hot coffee in the cart and colored leaves on the trees, so even a putt-putt could win out here. But JFN’s playability through the mountains, and the 169-yard, par-3 11th, which plays downhill and next to a waterfall, won points, too. A nice routing touch, which the amiable starter told us, was that you’ll never see another hole other than the one you’re on — just you, your ball and the mountain trees.
My No. 2 was Blue Ridge Trail Golf Club, a 27-holer in Mountain Top, which we played after Jack Frost. (The Ridge Course’s par-5 7th stood out, with a middle-of-the-fairway bunker about 100 yards from a downhill green creating some afternoon thinking.) No. 3 was the Blue Shamrock Golf Club in Palmerton, which has four sets of tees but five on the scorecard — you can also choose the “combo” option, which mixes the second and third sets of tees. It was here, too, where hot dogs were self serve and the menu also included something called hot bologna. (“What’s … hot bologna,” my friend asked a woman in the clubhouse. “The way you asked that, you’re not from here, are you,” she responded, before explaining that it’s, yes, bologna that’s hot, with a bit of pickle-ish taste.) And No. 5 was the Mount Airy Casino Golf Course in Mount Pocono, a 6,572-yard, par-71 whose 18 mimics Sports Illustrated’s “The Best 18 Holes in America.”
Which brings us to No. 4, Stone Meadows Golf Club in White Haven, the course that began this story. So much to love here. First, we had planned to play just nine, but with the course entirely to ourselves on this Wednesday fall morning, we got around in an hour and played the back. Second and third, you don’t need a driver, because no hole is longer than 445 yards from the middle tees, and eight of the first 12 holes were sharp doglegs. Then there were the greens.
Only in a post office would you see this many postage stamps. (I tried to capture them with a few phone photos; they are images one and two below.) But here’s the thing, too: When we drove back, Stone Meadows, we agreed, might be the one course that would stick in future trips. It had a home-course vibe, if that makes sense.
And yes, we did eventually pay for our round after hopping on after our phone call.
We kept it buddies trip simple here — spicy Italian sausages on the grill on Tuesday night, burgers on the grill on Wednesday night and beer brats on the grill on Thursday. Three times, we went to breweries — Poconos Brewery Company, Barley Creek Brewing Company and Lanahu Ales. And we loaded up on supplies at Harmony Beverage, which sells not only what’s in its name, but candy, too. (As I’ve described in this space before, I’m the son of a meat butcher and was born in Milwaukee, and though I’ve moved away from home, I don’t stray far from it when I eat and drink.)
To start our days, we ate our breakfast sandwiches and drank our coffee at Wawa. To its visitors, it’s a gas station. To its faithful, it’s an institution. I now know why. This is the convenience store your mother warned you about.
How to get there
For me and one of my friends on the trip, Blakeslee (and our AirBNB) was less than a two-drive from New York City. Our other friend drove two hours after a flight to Philadelphia; other airport options include those in the NYC area, Wilkes-Barre Scranton and Lehigh Valley. (Another plus, for those who dabble in this sort of thing, is that sports gambling is legal in Pennsylvania, and there may or may not have been bets placed on that week’s Sanderson Farms Championship.)
And then we drove and flew back. Ahead of writing this, I texted the gang to say that I was. And it was the trip all over again. There were comments on Jack Frost and Blue Ridge. And hot bologna and Wawa. And on planning next year’s trip. The best fall golf trips not only cap one year, which this one did, they tide you over to the next year, which this one has already well begun to.
We’ll go back in 2022. We have to. We know a course in the Poconos that will let us on with just a phone call from the 1st tee.
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