The Last Round

A few months back, I wrote about the impending closure of my childhood and almost lifelong golf venue, Blue Ridge Country Club, in Harrisburg, PA.  Last week, with my sons, Max and Jack, I visited Blue Ridge again, likely for the last time.

Right out of the gate, the memories returned.  The former Sports Lounge, now turned pro shop offered a great view of the first tee, as several familiar and unfamiliar faces teed off in the groups preceding our time as we kibitzed with old friend and long time (for one last year) head professional Pete Micklewright in the shop.  Pete now has 5 grandkids! I made sure to point out my “ink” on the club championship plaque to the boys.

With much of the clubhouse largely unused, the locker room and 19th Hole areas were eerily quiet.  No longer was there any activity around the overgrown and deserted tennis courts.  There was no activity at the empty and secured swimming pool and no chaise lounges awaiting the Sunday Afternoon pool goers.  I only observed two club staff members the entire time on property, Pete and the gentleman assisting him with carts for the golfers.

When it was our turn to go, both the boys hit tee shots to the spots I used to hit them when I last played there about 7 years ago.  I hit an ugly hook into the left rough and though I played a good shot to in front of the green didn’t get up and down.  Not surprisingly, the course seemed longer than before as the boys insisted I play the tips, but of course I’ll attribute that to the wet conditions rather than the battle with Father Time.  I refuse to acknowledge that I can’t fly it to all the downslopes anymore.  The fairways were excellent and the greens true and smooth as ever with putts still breaking away from the mountain.  Even the bunkers were better than I last remembered, although the greens had become smaller, the victims of mowing practices presumably designed to save on maintenance.  Many previously maintained areas of the course have been allowed to grow over and one errant tee shot was even lost in an area heretofore offering a recovery option.  Watching my now taller than me sons play the course as intended was fun since they didn’t hit it as far 7 years ago.  Seeing benches, ball washers, signs and other accessories no longer being cared for was sad.  My fondest takeaway was what a great walk “The Ridge” was with its gentle terrain and beautiful backdrop of Blue Mountain to the north, and the still good greens.

As we played the 8th hole, I sent my motorized trolley to #9.  Alas, it hit a bump and ran into a tree, knocking a battery connection loose and I had to push the rest of the round.  That reminded me of the time playing with Max that the same trolley hit another bump enroute from #11 to the 12th hole and veered into the pond.  Max never lets me forget watching me chase the cart (unsuccessfully) and pulling a hamstring in the process.  We kept playing.

A staple of the Blue Ridge schedule was an event known as The Isaacman Open, a golfing family reunion for a true golfing family.  Interestingly, it was being played the day we visited.  The Isaacmans sported several generations of golfers at Blue Ridge and I played with one on my high school team and Max played with another on his high school team.  I played several of them in club championship matches through the years and enjoyed numerous friendly rounds with several of the clan.  Knowing it would be the last “I.O.” at Blue Ridge was sad and I only wish I could’ve stuck around to visit with more of them than a quick hello on the course.  Max got to say hello to Ben Henig after several years.

We played in a group behind Mike Kanoff, a Harrisburg golfing legend, now 74 years young and still walking the course and splitting fairways with his ever accurate tee shots.  It was great seeing Mike and Stu Magdule who shared with me his pride in shooting his first even par round of 72 at “The Ridge” earlier this year after so many rounds.  As one would expect, I inquired about some of the characters I remember from my days at “The Ridge”.  Some guys hadn’t been heard from, others were a bit down and out and some were doing well.

Regrettably, I didn’t play particularly well that day, shooting 82 but played some quality shots on the back nine and just missed making a closing birdie on the tough 18th.  Max and Jack both birdied #17 and while I enjoyed a cold beer in the pro shop afterward, the limited food service still available prompted us to visit another old haunt, nearby Christopher’s Pizza for a late lunch, followed by a stop at nearby 3 B’s ice cream for another Harrisburg treat (as if I needed that).

Like any course closure, there are questions.  The Harrisburg Area has experienced 6 course/club closures in the past 10+/- years.  Where will golfers play?  Will golf in the area die?  Time will tell.  For now, so long to “The Ridge”