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Course Review: Birdsfoot has lots of holes to chirp about

Sunday, June 01, 2003

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Like a lot of good golf courses that seem to be soundproof, Birdsfoot Golf Club is tucked away on some old farmland in Freeport, about three miles from Route 28. The property is so remote, so isolated, that the only noise louder than birds chirping is mowers cutting the fairways.



dot.gif Balls:

dot.gif Holes: 18

dot.gif Par: 36-36-72

dot.gif Yardage: 5,232 (red); 5,686 (white); 6,146 (blue); 6,547 (black); 7,047 (gold)

dot.gif Greens fees: $42 weekday, $48 weekend (includes cart); walkers pay $9 less per round

dot.gif Discounts: Senior citizens, $35 (includes cart), Monday-Thursday

dot.gif Course rating: Not available

dot.gif Slope: Not available

dot.gif Driving range: Yes

dot.gif Locker rooms: No

dot.gif Spikeless shoes: Mandatory

dot.gif What's good: Tees and greens, No. 4, second shot at No. 15

dot.gif What's bad: Washout in No. 12 fairway, semi-blind tee shot at No. 7, holes 5 and 14 too close together

dot.gif Course conditions: Fairways are in very good shape for a new course. Contoured along rough for definition. Striping adds to aesthetics. Rough is a little spotty and ball might have to be moved in some instances, particularly at No. 12, where washout has inhibited growth. ... Greens are outstanding. Have a lot of variety, allowing for different pin positions. Ball rolls smooth and with good speed. ... Tees are near immaculate, especially the back ones. Will wear as play increases, but there are three and four tee boxes on every hole, allowing for variety. ... Bunkers have brown sand, a nice touch on a links-style layout, and present favorable lies.

dot.gif How to get there: From Downtown, take Route 28 north to Exit 18 (Slate Lick). Turn right on Route 128, follow approximately 2 miles to Furnace Run Road. Go 1 mile, course entrance is on left.

dot.gif Approximate driving time: 50 minutes.

What the balls mean:

-- Excellent,
-- Good,


It is here, about 50 minutes from Downtown, that the design firm of Ault, Clark & Associates sculpted the latest of upscale public courses in Western Pennsylvania, a layout so diversely interesting and challenging that the weekday greens fee ($42) looks like a blue-light special.

Birdsfoot -- named for a flowering ground cover, birdsfoot trefoil, that permeates the property -- is more than just a curious mix of links-style and parkland holes. It has holes that go around lakes, holes that traverse a ravine, holes with fairways that wind through trees and holes with a tree in the fairway. It even has a hole that was pictured in Golf Magazine (No. 15).

What's more, Birdsfoot has course conditions that belie its adolescent stage, testament to the wizardry of superintendent Tom Bettle, who formerly worked at Quicksilver and Deer Run. The tees are perfect, the greens are immaculately smooth and the fairways are almost without flaw, a surprising quality for a course that opened just two weeks ago.

Sure, there might be a rough spot or two off the fairway. And the fairway at No. 12, a downhill 466-yard par 4, has had problems with washout. But those problems are easily corrected with time.

Otherwise, Birdsfoot is ready to play ... every challenging hole. Lots of rolling, mounded fairways with plenty of links-style holes on the front and enough trees on the back. The course starts with a 445-yard par 4 (the last 170 is uphill) and ends with a 477-yard par 4 (the last 200 is downhill). In between, you have a 602-yard par 5, a 322-yard par 4 and a par 3 over a steep ravine that is listed as 215 yards but plays much longer into the prevailing wind.

And there's no easing into your experience at Birdsfoot, no cupcake holes before the course starts to bare its teeth.

The first four holes will test your game, and that includes No. 2, a 602-yard par 5 -- 502 from the middle tees -- that doglegs around a lake. And the fairway narrows at the bend, even if you have the distance to carry the ball that far.

All that does, though, is get you ready for the next hole, the best on the course.

It's a 458-yard par 4 with a rolling fairway that doglegs slightly to the left. The right side is banked, the left side falls off into trees, and it's pure golf. If the wind is blowing -- it always seems to blow at Birdsfoot -- hit your best two shots and hope to make par. It's the No. 1 handicap hole on the course, and for good reason.

The quarter of sterling holes ends with No. 4, a 172-yard par 3 nestled in a corner of the course, looking like it was stolen right from South Carolina. No matter which tee you play, your shot has to flirt with the lake that guards most of the angled green. From the back, it's all over water. It's the best par 3 on the course, though certainly not the most difficult.

That would be No. 9, which is 180 from the middle tees (blue), 215 from the back. Miss the shot and your ball will find a ravine deep enough to hide Mellon Arena. What's more, the green is large enough that a back pin position will require some type of utility club -- or even fairway metal -- for a low handicapper. It is the second-most daunting tee shot on the course.

The first is the tee shot at No. 13, a 505-yard par 5 that has the double whammy -- uphill and through the trees. And it all the starts with the tee shot, which must carry at least 180 yards to reach a narrow fairway that wants to run to the right. If you accomplish that, your second shot has to be even more precise because the fairway gently narrows at the 150-yard marker. From there, it's still a demanding carry to an elevated green that is fronted by a sand bunker.

Typically, par 5s that measure 505 yards are not among the toughest on the course. But this one is, rated as the No. 2 handicap hole.

The 13th begins a three-hole trilogy that is every bit as good as Nos. 2-3-4. The 14th is a 432-yard par 4 that has an elevated tee and a narrow landing area. The 15th is not as long -- 373 yards -- but the second shot plays slightly uphill to a green framed by trees and sand bunkers. Fittingly, the picturesque setting appeared last fall in Golf Magazine.

This is what you get at Birdsfoot, a course destined to find its way among the best public venues in Western Pennsylvania.

If only they could get those birds to stop chirping.

Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1466.

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