after legendary golf architect Donald Ross built the Volcano—a.k.a. the 4th
hole of the Old course at Bedford Springs Resort in sleepy Bedford, Pa.—the
217-yard par-3 still kicks butt. The last time I visited the resort, I played
the Volcano from the tips simply to get the full effect. You're faced with an
intimidating uphill shot to a green that's perched atop a steeply sloped hill.
(It's like hitting to the top of a volcano, hence the name.) On the left, a
bunker is cut into the base of the hill. You're dead if you go in there. I
can't imagine how players escaped that trap in 1923, when Ross redesigned the
Old course—almost five decades before the invention of the 60-degree wedge. ¶
Then there's the green, which is no bargain either. A sharp slope splits the
putting surface into front and back tiers, so good luck finding the correct
level with a long club. Clearly the Volcano is a big-boy hole. ¶ My first
attempt began promisingly. There was a stiff breeze in my face, and the pin was
all the way back, so I'm not too proud to admit that I choked down on a driver,
which I hit pretty solidly. My ball landed on the lower tier and kicked into
the back fringe. Not bad. I was paired with Ron Leporati, the head pro at the
Old course, and he played a superlative driver to 15 feet.
The hole was cut
precariously just above the crest of the slope leading to the top tier, so I
applied the touch of a surgeon on my downhill putt, which trickled to a stop
two feet above the cup. Hmm, make that the touch of a sturgeon. Ron did a
double take when my ball suddenly unstopped (there's no other way to describe
it) and shamelessly rolled 25 feet onto the lower tier. Ron made his par. Put
me down for a double bogey.
I got a rematch
with the Volcano the next day, playing in fog so thick that I couldn't see the
green from the tee. But I was on a roll, having blindly birdied two of the
first three holes. My good fortune ran out at the Volcano, where I snap-hooked
a three-wood into the rough below the green. I pitched onto the back of the
green, then blew my downhill putt eight feet past and missed the comebacker.
The Volcano is
without a doubt the meanest par-3 without a water hazard you'll ever screw up.
And it has always been thus. "Since 1923 the Volcano has been the hole
people talk about," says Ron Forse of Forse Design, who along with Jim
Nagle and Frontier Construction resurrected the Old course last year.
"Supposedly a retired doctor used to sit at the hole and watch players go
through, rewarding them with cash if they made a birdie."
Forse has a
passion for the game's history, and before working on the Old course, he had
updated Ross classics such as Salem (Mass.) and Wannamoisett (Rumford, R.I.)
country clubs, as well as A.W. Tillinghast gems Newport (R.I.), Brooklawn
(Fairfield, Conn.) and Sunnehanna (Johnstown, Pa.).
Forse was a good
choice for a step-into-the-past project like the Old course, because to
understand the course's significance, you first have to understand how deep
into our heritage the resort reaches.
thicker than honey in Bedford, which is nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of
south-central Pennsylvania. Fort Bedford, captured in 1769 from the British in
a sunrise raid by James Smith and his Black Boys (so named for their painted
faces), still stands on the banks of the serene Juniata River. President George
Washington, commanding 12,000 militiamen, came to town in 1794 and stayed two
nights at the Espy House (also still standing) while putting down the Whiskey
In 1806 Dr. John
Anderson built a small stone hotel in Bedford to take advantage of the alleged
restorative powers of the many mineral springs in the area. As the reputation
of the springs grew, so did Anderson's hotel, and by the middle of the 19th
century Bedford Springs Resort was one of the world's most renowned spas, its
finely decorated hallways running longer than a filibuster.
For more than a
century the posh resort was the place to summer. The U.S. Supreme Court sat on
the grand veranda one hot August day in 1855 to deliberate over the Dred Scott
case, one of the few times the justices ever met in session outside Washington,
D.C. Three years later President James Buchanan received the first
transatlantic telegram, from Queen Victoria, while staying at Bedford Springs,
which he annually turned into his summer White House. Six other sitting U.S.
presidents were guests at the resort.
By the mid-1900s,
however, the popularity of sprawling summer resorts and mineral springs had
waned, and in 1986 Bedford Springs Resort was closed and abandoned, although
the golf course remained open. Enter, in 1998, Bedford Resort Partners, Ltd.,
with a bold restoration plan. At $90 million, the partners' proposal was no
mere face-lift. It was a total reinvention (with a price tag that eventually
rose to $120 million). The project took almost two years to complete, and when
the hotel grandly reopened last July, it featured long white balconies,
timeless decor and a rare 39-star (circa 1865) American flag behind the front