Remember the 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing”? If you do, you’ll know what I mean when I say Baby would be right at home at Skytop Lodge.
This is a vintage Poconos lodge, but don’t let its rustic appeal fool you. The visionaries who built this idyllic retreat had golf in mind from the start: Construction of the course (1926) predates the lodge by a year.
Today, the course and lodge — plus several well-appointed cabins and a new inn that offers both clubhouse and guestrooms — preside over a 5,500-acre nature preserve suitable for all kinds of pursuits, including hiking and fishing. There’s even a spa for golfers (and other guests) who prefer to soothe world-weary muscles and psyches in pampered comfort.
Designed by Robert White, the Scotsman who was the first president of the PGA, the course plays 6,656 yards from the tips — not very long, but Skytop is still a challenge for every caliber of golfer.
New holes (7 and 8) were added recently to make room for a driving range. Amazing as it might seem, driving ranges on courses like Skytop are a relatively new concept. Very few of the famous courses built during the Roaring Twenties had driving ranges in their original plans. Many added them only within the past 25 years or so.
Skytop rates in Golf Digest’s “Places to Play,” and it’s well worth the hour-and-a-half drive from either New York or Philadelphia.
(408 yards, par 4)
A starting hole is important. It not only sets the tone of the course, but reveals its personality as well. At Skytop, the first hole is also the first-ranked handicap hole. It serves as an adequate warning of what lies ahead. The difficulty is in the tee shot, where the out-of-bounds lies to the left (my tee shot landed about five feet from the OB stakes, right next to our cabin), and the wooded area lies to the right. Basically, a ball straying to either side is in trouble. In addition, the green is surrounded by traps, so any degree of error may cost you a stroke. At 408 yards from the blue tee and 389 yards from the whites, you need a decent drive to offer you a controllable distance to the green.
(541 yards, par 5)
Ranked as the fifth handicap hole on the course, this is a monster. From the tee box, you need a near-perfect shot to the landing area. Any shots slightly left are in the woods, and vulnerable to a drop of about three to four feet. Shots to the right end up in a rocky area, which is difficult in its own right, let alone damaging to your equipment. The battle continues with your second shot, which must be straight. This is a long and narrow fairway that starts from the elevated tee box to the valley below, and then climbs to the green. Three near-perfect shots are required to reach the green, which has bunkers protecting it. This is the most memorable hole on the course.
(455 yards, par 4)
Yes, boys and girls, this is a par 4 and as I reflect back on it, I can see why it is so difficult to make par. The hole is fairly straight, and tee shots should favor the left center of the fairway. Shots to the right may roll into the woods and high ruff. Most golfers will still need a wood to get to the green and, of course, this can add to the margin of error. Nobody in my group was on the green in regulation. Looking at the scorecard, it’s clear this resulted in the highest average score for the group. The best option for most golfers is to play this hole smart, keeping the ball centered and in play.
(484 yards, par 5)
When you make your way to Hole 9, you are back on the original course. Similar to the holes on the first nine, this one is a killer. A slight dogleg right and a sloping green cause any shots right to roll farther right and, depending on the spin, off the course and into the woods. Shots left have no hope, and those big hitters who blow their shot to the left through the fairway are greeted with more woods, rocks and about a hundred thousand sand balls. So , it’s best to hit a clean shot to the center and keep control. From there, the hole is a very gradual uphill to the green. Your second shot is a straightforward fairway wood, and there is enough room to let it rip. The green is slightly elevated and protected with bunkers on both the left and right.
(288 yards, par 4)
Although it is rated as the 18th handicap hole, this one is a hoot, as it moves from an elevated tee box over a lake to a sharp dogleg to the right. Big hitters can nearly make the green, and there is a margin of error to the left. However, a shot to the right will put you in jail, since the entire side is wooded and slopes to the creek that feeds the lake. A very narrow bridge — carts can barely fit — crosses the lake. There is a trap on the left that catches balls approaching from this side. The green is fairly straightforward, sloping toward the back.
(210 yards, par 3)
All the par 3s at Skytop are long, the shortest being 182 yards from the blue tees. This is the longest, and on a windy day even big hitters will be pulling out their drivers. From the tee box, the fairway to the green rises slightly. All four of our shots came up short for close chips to the green, which ran toward the back, where it is a bit elevated. Bunkers protect the right side of the green.
(435, par 4)
Listed on the card as the second handicap hole, this is reachable in two perfectly hit shots. There’s really no gimmick here; what you see is what you get. It is a straight and long par 4. At the green, bunkers guard the right and left sides, and we found that putts were running true. If you can keep your ball in control and manage to be on the green in regulation, this is a birdie waiting to happen.
(364 yards, par 4)
This is a great finishing hole, because you have to be selective in your tee shot. Keep your driver in the bag and go for a three-wood or a five-wood. A pond comes in at about 230 yards from the tee box. In addition, you need an accurate shot to avoid the wooded areas both left and right of the landing area. Your second shot — between 90 and 130 yards — has to cross the pond to an elevated green that sits about 30 to 40 feet above. Club selection for the second shot is also key, because you need to hit the green. Any short shots will just roll down the hill.
Skytop, PA 18357
tel 570 595 8910
THE BEGINNING OF AUTUMN in America offers a time to savor the last precious moments of summer against the countryside’s mosaic of reds, yellows, oranges and purples. Before long, the chill of winter will enter the air and the trees will grow barren. This is not news to most of us. Indeed, leaf peeping has become ubiquitous. Most states have 24-hour toll-free hotlines to keep you informed of nature’s progress ... and then there’s the traffic. It seems the entire population of New York City and Boston climbs behind the wheels of cars on congested New England roadways. Thus we’ve tried to avoid the mainstream routes so you can truly appreciate the kaleidoscopic splendor. After all, a fall foliage road trip provides more than a mere drive. It also incorporates picking apples, tasting cider and hot doughnuts and leaving your vehicle behind to take a much-needed scenic walk to a lonely waterfall, where autumn’s colors reflect off the water.
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