KUTZTOWN – In the fall of
Lerner, the Golf Channel personality, penned a sentimental column for his
network’s website headlined, "Requiem for a Country Club."
If the club in question, Berkleigh Country Club,
midway between Allentown
was known at all to golfers in the Philadelphia area, it was likely as the home
for nine years to the LPGA’s Betsy King’s Classic, until the tournament died in 2004. But to Lerner, who grew up in Allentown, Berkleigh
was where he spent his youth, found a second family of the members, honed his
golf game and twice won the club championship.
Sadly, with his column, he was
writing an obituary for a club and a course that was designed by Robert White,
a native of St.
and the first president of the PGA of America.
"Berkleigh Country Club died last
column began. "It ended by auction
– pin flags, tee markers, club championship boards, hole-in-one plaques
and kitchen equipment."
Lerner recalled the good times, and the
good people, from his Berkleigh youth, and he dutifully listed all the circumstances of
modern life that led to its membership dwindling to the point of no return:
Financial pressures, busy lives, cheap gym memberships, the lure of the
internet and 300 cable channels, moms who work, dads who spent their Saturday
mornings at Little League games and soccer matches rather of on the golf course
with their buddies.
"People die at 81, not lush golf courses with
rich history," lamented Lerner.
But by then, it was too late for Berkleigh. The club had been sold -- lock, stock
and gently rolling 300-acre golf course to the Lehigh Cement Co., which operated a
limestone quarry adjacent to the course. Oh, the cruel fate that awaited.
But, lo and behold, two years later,
lives on. Whether we have the golfing gods are to thank for the reprieve, or
the cement company, in March 2008 Berkleigh was leased to Jack Eckenrode, a golf professional and
entrepreneur who also owns Fox Hollow Golf Club in Quakertown.
Renamed Berkleigh Golf Club, Lerner’s
old haunt is now in its second season as a family-operated, mid-priced ($55 weekends, $45 weekdays, plenty of
off-peak rates) daily-fee course.
The region’s golfing landscape is better for it.
Berkleigh’s proud old clubhouse may seem a
little bare these days, and a little less country clubby, but the golf course
is no worse for the wear.
What makes Berkleigh such a welcome addition to
the daily fee scene is that it’s such a comfortable old shoe of a course,
regardless of the level of your game.
It’s got enough oomph to make it interesting for low handicap players,
yet it’s plenty playable for women and seniors.
At 6,835 yards, par 72, with a course rating of 73 and
slope of 132,
is above average in every measure that matters. That, plus the club’s proximity to the outlets in Reading,
probably help explain why the Betsy King Classic was a favorite stop for years on the LPGA tour.
One of the charms of Berkleigh
is that if you are a hapless sprayer of the ball, the course offers mercy and
forgiveness. Most fairways are
wide open, and you’d have to really work at it to knock a ball OB; in fact, Berkleigh
is the kind of course where you can play 18 holes and never lose a ball.
There is a minimum of forced
carries; only one hole plays over a pond, and nearly every green is at least
semi-open in the front, allowing folks who struggle to get the ball airborne
the chance to run it up to the hole.
Depending on which set of tees you
choose, trouble tends to come in the form of a creek that traverses the course,
forcing a decision on several tees as to whether to lay up or bomb away. The other main defense is the bounty of
greenside bunkers. Also, you won’t sprain your wrist hitting out of the rough.
For the Betsy King, they used to flip the
nines, no doubt because they wanted to finish with the big, uphill par 5 that Berkleigh
members (and you) will play as No. 9.
No question, the front nine at Berkleigh, with three par 5s and several stout
par 4s, is tougher than and superior to the back, which has only one par 5 and
a couple of uninspired par 4s.
For my money, one of the more
appealing aspects of Berkleigh is a quality that raters for Golfweek call the "walk in the
park." A good golf course, gently
rolling hills, tree-lined fairways, flowers, the right price, what’s not to