BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – (Editor’s note: What follows is the tenth installment of a ten-part series dedicated to identifying Lebanon County’s top ten golf holes, which last appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz during the summer of 2016. Based on an informal survey of the locale’s top amateur players, the countdown strives to feature the ten truest tests of golf, rather than naming the most popular or most difficult holes.)
True greatness can stand the test of time.
There have been approximately 126 golf holes built in Lebanon County since Number Eleven at Lebanon Country Club was constructed in 1920. None have turned out to be its match.
While the overall landscape of Lebanon County golf has continued to evolve over those 93 years, one thing has remained the same. The Lebanon Country Club’s Number Eleven has been, and still is, the finest golf hole in Lebanon County.
Local golfers know what they like, and when they find it, they’re very loyal.
“You’d have to say that one of the things that makes it a great hole is the difficulty of it,” said Lebanon Country Club head golf professional Sean Smythe. “Standing on the tree, you see some trees, and a rock wall along Royal Road. It’s just a little sliver of fairway at the top of the hill. And you think, ‘what do I do here?'”
So, exactly what is it that local players like about LCC’s Number Eleven? They like the intrigue. They like the adventure. They like the challenge.
“During the normal course of play, maybe five percent of players are seeing the flag on their approach shot,” said Smythe. “Most are hitting their second shot blind.
“Everybody compares hole number eleven to hole number twelve,” Smythe continued. “The thing about eleven versus twelve, on eleven you have to hit a couple of good shots to navigate it. Twelve looks better, but eleven is harder.”
“It’s a great hole that forces you to challenge the out of bounds fence to obtain the best angle into the green on your second shot,” said Chris Gebhard, an LCC member and two-time Lebanon County amateur champion.
Once nicknamed ‘Blind Ambition’, Number Eleven is all 417 yards of a par-four. Now that doesn’t seem all that long, but the landing area for one’s tee shot is all up-hill and becomes more narrow the farther it goes.
Trees jutting out of the Royal Road rock wall from the left, and others slanting in from the right, seemingly come together at the top of the fairway hill. And players have to hit their drives well over 250 yards – and straight – to even sneak a peak of the top of the flag stick.
“I would say you have to hit a tee shot 250 to 270 yards to see the green,” said Smythe. “One thing about it, it’s all carry, because of the uphill slope. Some of the bigger hitters have had 100 yards into that hole. But you’re not sure where the hole is until you get to 150 yards, and even then you don’t see the whole green.”
Players aren’t above walking away from their tee shot and up the slope to discern exactly where the green and flag are. Some are content to hit their approach shot to the vicinity of where they think the green should be, and hope for the best.
“If you’re lucky enough to have the specific yardage, you can hope to get it to the front of the green,” said Smythe. “The green slopes from front to back. Of course if you go long, good luck. As far as the size of it, it’s fairly small. The front left is higher, and it’s kind of a slide down from the left front. And there’s big mounds in the front.”
The Lebanon Country Club is Lebanon County’s original and oldest test of golf.
“Coming into the club, I couldn’t say I knew the history of Lebanon Country Club,” said Smythe, who took over from Mike Swisher as LCC’s head pro a few years back. “I knew it existed and it looked like the gem behind the stone wall. It had a good reputation of being a very good club. When you drive down Oak Street, it’s like, ‘Hey, I’d like to play that place.’
“When I got here, all those things proved to be true,” added Smythe. “And I still have a very good feeling about the place.”