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Chisel Creek Golf Club: A Weekend In Amish Country

By Jay Mankus, Contributor

LANDENBERG, PA - Along the winding country roads of Route 896, north of Newark, Delaware, you begin to see the gentle transition from Delaware to southeastern Pennsylvania. As you proceed north on 896, rolling hills, open landscapes and historic farms line your way into the town of Landenberg.

It is here where Chisel Creek Golf Club has been etched out of these rural hillsides. This Bill Hirsch design is nestled upon an area that serves as a gateway to the Amish Country. While Chisel Creek is located off of Appleton Road, Route 896 North takes you through the heart of Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Lancaster County is home to one of the largest Amish populations in America, a place, where in many cases, time has stood still.

Since the Amish do not want be influenced by advanced technology, they still use workhorses for transportation and farming. Though each religious sect is different, most Amish communities prohibit using electronic machines to do their daily chores, or in most cases tilling their land.

Although you may not see any horse(s) and buggies on your way to play Chisel Creek, just north of Landenberg, Route 896 is filled with an authentic Amish experience. Horse and buggies will often back up traffic or fill up church parking lots on Sunday mornings. Even in the middle of summer, you will see boys and girls in wool clothing riding wooden scooters down the street. Or if you are lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a farmer tilling his land with a horse like farmers still do in third world countries.

Besides these sights, there is so much to do in Amish country. Along Route 896, from Landenberg to Strasburg, is one of the best stretches for antiques in Pennsylvania. Barns, buildings and homes are filled with thousands of pieces of handcrafted furniture.

Prices vary, but the selection is truly awesome: cario and china cabinets, bedroom furniture, dry sinks and kitchen cabinets, tables and rocking chairs, all kinds of deck furniture, quilts and much more. While not all of these antique shops are marked, you will be overwhelmed by the quantity and high quality of merchandise. If you are an impulse buyer, you might need to rent a UHaul after an afternoon of antiquing.

As the weather warms up, this stretch of 896 also provides an amazing assortment of food. Fresh vegetables stands abound, highlighted by freshly picked corn on the cob and if you look hard enough, you may even find some home-made ice cream.

If you have kids with you, take them to ride the train to Paradise, Pennsylvania in Strasburg, a 30 minute car ride from Chisel Creek. Perhaps a visit to the Toy Train Museum just down the street may be more suitable for younger children. Sandwiched between both tourist attractions is the Red Caboose Motel, a great place for lunch or to spend the night.

The Red Caboose Motel combines trains, history and style in one of the most unique motels you will ever see. Patrons can experience what it is like to spend a night in your own personal caboose. Each caboose is different in size, color and shape, stretching around the parking lot in an oblong rectangle.

If spending a night in a caboose seems a little too risque, why not try one of the bed and breakfasts located in nearby Avondale and Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. However, if your trip to this area is limited by time, try staying in one of the many brand name hotels in Newark, Delaware. For traveling purposes, Newark is located just off of I-95, a hour from BWI and Philadelphia International Airports and is the most direct way to Chisel Creek from the south.

Wherever you decide to stay, a day in Amish country is not complete without playing a round of golf at Chisel Creek Golf Club. When you consider the quality of the course conditions for a facility just nine months old, and the price: $36 during the week & $49 during the weekend and holidays, Chisel Creek is the most affordable public upscale facility in all of southeastern Pennsylvania.

Except for the lack of a clubhouse, which will begin construction in September 2001 and open by the 2002 season, any comparable course in this area will cost you an additional fifty dollars to play 18 holes of golf. Whereas, if you play a round of 18 in the morning at Chisel Creek, you will have an entire afternoon to experience Amish country with more money to enjoy all of the nearby attractions!

As for Chisel Creek Golf Club, I was amazed at how consistent the conditions were for such a new course. The bentgrass tees, fairways and greens are in excellent shape, as is the rough which is usually the hardest aspect for new courses to grow and maintain. Only minor glimpses of the 12th & 18th fairway show signs of Chisel Creek's youth as a upscale golf facility. In fact, the only areas that I saw which look like it needs more time to mature is the practice facility and the cart paths which will likely be paved once the clubhouse is complete.

Most of these minor patches of unsettled turf occur along the banks of Chisel Creek, which meanders along 12 of the 18 holes. Chisel Creek winds down toward a valley which forms the island green 3rd hole, a short par 3, before leaving the course in front of the 4th tee. The 168 yard downhill third hole is the first of two signature holes at Chisel Creek Golf Club.

Above the banks of Chisel Creek is a steep rise which flows across an open space toward a heavily wooded area. While not a true links course in the traditional sense, this open space generates enough wind through the middle of the course to give you a links course atmosphere. Meanwhile, several large, mounded and deep fairway bunkers protect landing areas that must be avoided from the tee. However, if you do find the sand, these bunkers are fair and filled with a Floridian like fine white sand.

If there is a theme which rings through Chisel Creek, it is the combination of large sloping greens that are often elevated. These targets must be missed in the right places or else disaster is lurking in the wind. Since Chisel Creek is a meek 6,317 yards from the tips, 6,002 yards from the white tees and 4,842 yards from the front tees, these greens level the playing field.

Depending upon where the pin is, you do not want to miss the hole on the short side. With the combination of elevated greens and severe back stops, being long is not where you want to be. Take my advice, unless you hit the pin on a chip or putt, it is nearly impossible to get up and down when you miss these greens on the short side. After you see the mountain that runs through the 6th green or the valley of sin which lies along the front left portion of the 8th green, you will get the picture.

Meanwhile, Chisel Creek's length is somewhat deceiving since two of the three par 5s on this par 70 are practically unreachable. The 515 yard, par 5 7th hole is a perfect example, as water comes into play 215 yards from the teeing area. Chisel Creek runs down the entire right side, runs across the fairway about 200 yards from the green and is joined by another creek which forms a peninsula fairway as a lay up area. When you add a thick row of trees along both sides of the fairway and a sharp dogleg to the left near the green, only the lucky will be able to get on in two here.

Beside number 7, trees line holes 10-15 with the exception of the 13th hole. These holes serve as the outward perimeter of the course and if you include holes 7-9, is the hardest stretch of holes at Chisel Creek. After 7, 8 is the longest par 3 on the course, 212 yards from the tips slightly uphill. Nine is the 3rd longest par 4 at 435 yards from tips, but longest on the front at 420 yards from the white tees.

The 515 yard, par 5 10th hole is the signature hole on the back nine. Wide open from the tee, the 10th gradually gets narrower as trees hug the fairway as you approach this green. Players must avoid a creek which crosses the fairway on your second shot, out of bounds on your left, a thick forest on your right and a tricky elevated green which is more uphill than it appears.

After a breather on the short 11th hole, players face the tightest par 4 at Chisel Creek. Out of bounds left, a forest to the right and a creek that is reachable from the tee places a premium on accuracy at this 395 yard hole. Players must also look to avoid the deep front bunker at number 12 which guards this elevated green.

The 13th comes back toward the center of the course while the 14th scoots along a back portion of Chisel Creek. From the tee, the 189 yard, par 3 14th hole is the most impressive looking links style hole at Chisel Creek. A rock wall protects a long oval green from this portion of Chisel Creek. This rock wall creates an English burn effect, while the severe sloping green has a backstop that even a scot would be proud of.

The final hole in this stretch is the 459 yard, par 4 15th, the longest and number one handicap hole at Chisel Creek. Beside the length, 15 climbs to the highest point on the golf course and is guarded by trees down the left side. The only comforting thing on the 15th tee is the wide bail out area down the right side.

With a balanced set of holes: 3 par 3s, 4s and 5s on the back nine, this is by far Chisel Creek's best side. Meanwhile, the front nine lacks continuity. After the first hole, you cross the main entrance. Between the second green and third tee there is a long walk by foot, if you are walking the course. The 3rd and 4th holes are great holes, but are followed by somewhat bland holes, 5 and 6. However, 7-9 are solid golf holes which prepare you for the final 9 holes.

Aesthetic views from the 3rd tee and from the 4th green do help you overlook some of the visual weaknesses on Chisel Creek's front nine, while reminding you that you are near Amish country. The most spectacular view at Chisel Creek is from the par 3 16th tee, overlooking the entire golf course as well as adjacent country farms.

As you end your round at Chisel Creek, you will play my favorite hole. The Old Course at St. Andrews has the Road Hole, #17 while the 18th at Chisel Creek is what I call the Barn Hole. This 523 yard par 5 is reachable in 2, but players who fade the ball or hook the ball from the left side have to carry their tee shots over the corner of a large barn. This barn is adjacent to a cart path that runs down the left side of the fairway.

Since 18 is downhill off the tee, players who can fly the barn will land on the down slope of the fairway, leaving a shot under 200 yards to a uphill green over a wetland. Shorter hitters will have to lay up short of Chisel Creek, leaving you with a 150 yard shot uphill to very tricky green. However you play 18, it is a fun finishing hole!

If you want to experience a piece of history, a place rich in culture and a challenging new golf course, come to Chisel Creek Golf Club and make it a weekend in Amish Country!

Green Fees: $36 Monday-Thursday
$49 Friday-Sunday and Holidays

Chisel Creek Golf Club
P.G.A. Professional: Keith Welter
13 Chisel Creek Drive
Landenberg, PA 19350
Phone: (610) 255-3961

Jay Mankus, Contributor

A former golf standout at Concord High School in Wilmington, Del., Jay Mankus graduated from the University of Delaware with a degree in Recreation & Parks Administration. Before graduating, Jay spent time as an intern at a golf club in the east suburbs of Cleveland specializing in golf course maintenance and design.

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