One of the beauties of golf is being able to play a wide variety of courses and face any number of different kinds of shots and situations.
Every course has plusses and minuses and it's fun to compare and debate the merits of different courses and styles. We are fortunate in this area to have courses built for every level of golfer and several that are unique in their features.
You can definitely call Piney Apple Golf Course unique.
Tucked into the rolling hills in northwest Adams County, Piney Apple is family-built, family-owned and family-run and perhaps because of that, it just has a different feel to it.
The course is not pretentious or expensive.
It is not long.
It is a bit quirky, but it's fun to play. And if you're hitting the ball straight you may very well post a good score.
Piney Apple has been a work in progress since 1964, mostly the work of L. Walter Hayes Jr., and it's never been in better shape.
“This is the best we've seen it,” said Peg Buch, Piney Apple's general manager and daughter of Hayes. “For August, we've had a lot of rain, so it hasn't dried out.”
What's striking about Piney Apple is that the man who built it, Hayes, did not play golf. He'd never worked on a golf course. He did not draw up plans and didn't consult much with anybody.
And it was likely the fact that Hayes was involved in a bad accident that led to his vision to build a course.
Hayes worked in construction and did farm drainage work on the side. He was seriously injured when he fell under a low boy and the vehicle ran over his back and leg.
“He was laid up for a while,” Buch said, “and he had a lot of time to think.”
What Hayes thought about was what to do with the acres of land his father had purchased. It had been used to grow tomatoes, then for open-range turkeys. A lot of the land (35 acres) was being used for an apple orchard, and eventually
several more acres were used as a Christmas tree farm.
He wanted to do something different and he decided to build a golf course.
Hayes started construction in 1964 and the first nine holes did not open until 1979. Those holes included the current No. 1 and Nos. 4 through 7 and No. 9. No. 2 was the current No. 14 and No. 3 used the same green that's used now, but it was a par 5 up the same hill No. 1 goes down. The No. 8 fairway used to be where the parallel driving range is now, but it uses the same green.
Buch said, “He just looked at the layout of the land and tried to picture how the holes should be. Sometimes he did that while laying awake at night. He did make a few changes (in the land). Like there was a ravine on No. 2 and a stream that he diverted.”
In the early 1990s, Hayes got the itch to expand the nine-hole facility. It wasn't feasible to do the second nine holes all at once, both financially or logistically, so Hayes added them a few at a time.
First he added what are now Nos. 10 and 18, so it was an 11-hole course. Then Hayes added Nos. 11, 16 and 17 to make it a 14-hole adventure. Finally, in 1999, Nos. 12, 13 and 15 were completed.
On the front, the old par 5 No. 3 became a short par 4 (second hole) and a par 3 (third hole).
“It was a family project,” Buch said. “We put in a lot of hours and did a lot of rock picking.”
Over the ensuing years, the grass has grown in and the course has matured. There are a few ponds, but perhaps the most difficult hazards are the grown-up Christmas trees that line many holes and are quite capable of swallowing your wayward ball.
No. 6 is an extreme dogleg left that requires an exacting tee shot. No. 11 is a 366-yard par 4 with as narrow a landing area as you'll find this side of a U.S. Open. No. 13 is a par 3 that plays just 104 yards from the tips. And No. 16 may be the shortest par 5 around — 361 yards — but there is a wetlands area and many trees to avoid on the tee shot and the green is surrounded on the back and right side by water.
And a bulldozer used to construct the course stands sentinel behind the green.
Walter Hayes and his wife are not in good health, so Buch and her family run the operation. She is the general manager and her son Cory is the superintendent. Her husband Tony and daughter McKenzie pitch in when needed.
It is not easy to run a golf course.
“It's time consuming,” Buch said, “but we're trying hard. We know we're off the beaten path and we don't have a restaurant here, but we're thinking about setting up a food trailer.”
She said the course had 10,500 rounds played on it in 2011 and around 12,000 last year because of the relatively warm winter.
“Weather is a big factor in everything,” she said. “The winters get long if there's no money coming in. And we don't have irrigation, so we need rain. All we can water are the greens and tees. And we usually don't water the tees until the golfers come in asking for hammers to put their tees in the ground (we think she was kidding).”
The family is trying to make a go of it. When possible, they have plans to re-work a few tee boxes, perhaps return No. 8 to its previous route and add more black top to the cart paths.
Walter Hayes was proud of his humble creation and the Buch family is trying to do its best to preserve it. —————
Ed Gotwals can be reached at 262-4755 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Piney Apple facts
Location: About 40 minutes from Chambersburg near Wenksville in Adams County.
Yardage: Blue — 5,635 yards; White — 5,186; Black — 4,325.
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