BY JEFF FALK
REXMONT – (Editor’s note: What follows is the seventh installment of a ten-part series dedicated to identifying Lebanon County’s top ten golf holes, which last appeared on Lebanon Sports Buzz in 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.)
What sets Iron Valley apart from many of the other golf courses in the locale is that it is carved from woodlands that surround a one-time mining operation. But the process of designing golf holes from the unique lay of the land was, to say the least, a challenge.
The course itself is a result of that unique landscape and the fruitful mind of world-renowned golf course designer P.B. Dye. And no hole at Iron Valley encapsulates the creativity of Dye and his use of the sloping land, than Number 13.
In one way, the 588-yard, par-five Number 13 goes up before it does down. Players are faced with a blind tee shot uphill, before it slopes drastically downward to an elevated green.
“The hole is designed so neat,” said Bill Neiswender, the head golf professional at Iron Valley. “It is my favorite hole on the golf course, by far. To me, it’s a genius hole. When I look at it I think, ‘What was he (Dye) looking at it when he was laying it out?’ It just has all the elements of a really, really cool golf hole.
“There’s not one hole (at Iron Valley) that’s a sleeper,” added Neiswender. “You’ve got to pay attention all the time. And Number 13 is a prime example of that.”
“Number 13 is a medium length par-five that can be reached in two with a good drive and second shot,” said Tony Deraco, a former Lebanon County amateur champion. “But drive too far left and you’re in the hazard and too far right you’re in high grass or trees. The hole plays downhill from tee to green and slightly doglegs to the left. The green is narrow and slightly elevated from 100 yards to the pin, with bunkers on the right. If your approach is too much left, you are in the water, which borders the entire left side of the hole, after your drive.”
Unable to spy the green from the tee, players are encouraged to aim to the right of a red rock in the middle of the fairway. While the right of the fairway is not without its challenges, players definitely want to avoid going left.
“I was playing with Dave Suereth one time and he hit a really good drive down to the edge of the ropes (the boundary of the landing area for drives),” said Neiswender. “He decides to go for it and hits his second shot. It starts out really good, but goes a little left and ends up in a bunker. And he goes, ‘I hate this hole.’ And I told him, ‘No, that’s what makes this hole great.’ He’s two feet from having an eagle putt, but instead is in a sand trap trying to make par. It’s a perfect risk-reward hole.
“Everything slopes to the water,” Neiswender continued. “On 13, if you hit a bad drive, you can still make par. You have options.”
The best approach to Number 13 is to start out right and stay right. Even on one’s second or third shot, it is best to enter the green from the right, despite the presence of a medium-sized sand trap.
“A good golf hole makes you think about every shot,” said Neiswender. “You’re looking at your drive thinking, ‘I’ve got to put this here.’ A good golf hole requires a certain level of expertise to pull it off. You can’t drift. You can’t just go through the motions.”
Built in 2000, 7,026-yard, par-72 Iron Valley is Lebanon County’s newest 18-hole golf course and attracts players from far away as Philadelphia and Baltimore. But because of its degree of difficulty, players should expect to shoot a score that is some ten shots higher than their averages.
“I always try to make it very friendly for everyone,” said Neiswender of the ‘Iron Valley experience’. “I hear people say, ‘I want to bring my foursome, but they don’t want to get beat up.’ That’s one thing guys don’t like. They want to know they can go out and shoot a certain score.
“But I think a lot of guys like the challenge,” continued Neiswender. “For the most part, they’re a little intimidated, a little in awe. But for the most part the golf course sells itself. I get a lot of ‘What a nice track. What a nice golf course’.”