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They're golfing here in Allentown!

By Darryl Berger, Contributor

ALLENTOWN, Pa. - The image many have of the Lehigh Valley was set by the lyrics of Billy Joel's 1983 hit 'Allentown'. While many of the factories in Allentown and Bethlehem have been shutdown, the Lehigh Valley is flourishing with a more high tech economy and population boom. There's also been a golf boom that's provided a wide range of options for residents of and visitors to Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley.

Perhaps the most heralded trio of courses in the region belongs to the Saucon Valley Country Club. The Old Course there has been the site of Champions Tour majors in recent years. The Grace Course is harder and even more highly rated. The courses were built by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation for their executives. The Lehigh Country Club also represents a top line private course. The classic layout was routed by William Flynn who designed Shinnecock, site of the 2004 US Open.

You'll need a membership, or an invite to play the above courses. But the Lehigh Valley provides lot of great public options as well. Let's take a look at some of the best.

Must Plays

Center Valley Club

The course provides two distinct experiences on the front and back nines. On the front, it's decidedly linksy, while the back plays more parkland. Liberal use of mounding, especially on the front, helps shape the holes. The putting greens also provide a challenge with some featuring wild undulations. A stream and several ponds bring the water into play on about half the holes. The course is located in Center Valley just a few miles south of Bethlehem.

Olde Homestead Golf Club

The course was designed by noted regional architect Jim Blaukovitch. It incorporates the features typical of his designs, holes that challenge the par shooter while not beating up the bogey golfer. A front side par 3 and a back nine par 5 feature 'nose-bleed' tees. The course plays fairly open, but there's enough water and waste areas to keep you honest off the tee and on the approach. The course is in New Tripoli about 15 miles north of Allentown.

Whitetail Golf Club

Another Blaukovitch design. This course is in Bath about 11 miles north of Bethlehem. This course plays easier than Olde Homestead and doesn't have quite as many dramatic holes. Still it's become a regional favorite.

Southmoore Golf Course

This course is also located in Bath and it too is a Blaukovitch design. It's easy to tell Jim Blaukovitch has had a major impact on golf in the Lehigh Valley with all his courses opening in the 90's. The course plays up and down it's rolling terrain and features some interesting par 5s.

Locust Valley Golf Club

The course spent several decades as a private club after opening in the 1950's. The traditional layout is tight. If your tee ball is wild, you'll spend a fair amount of time punching back into the fairway. The course features a couple of very good long par 4s on the front nine. It also has a great finishing par 4 that requires some local knowledge inorder to know how much of the dogleg you can cut off. A miscalculation will wind up in one of two ponds that sit at the bend of the dogleg right. The course is in Cooperburg about 10 miles south of Allentown.

Bethlehem Golf Club

This is an above average muni. The strength of the course is a variety of demanding long par 4s. The bargain prices and quality golf turn the golfing public out in large numbers. Play off times or be prepared for a long round. The course is usually in better than average condition for a municipal layout.

Best of the rest

Wedgewood Golf Club just outside Coopersburg is a shortish 27-hole offering. Also just outside of Coopersburg is Tumblebrook Golf Course, a 9 holer with a fairly good pedigree. It was designed by Donald Ross. Allentown Municipal Golf Course underwent a major renovation in recent years, but it's not quite on a par with the Bethlehem muni. Woodland Hills Country Club in Hellertown would not be mistaken for a private club, but it's a decent public course. Riverview Country Club and Morgan Hill Golf Club, both near Easton are new on the scene, but are candidates to break into the Must Play column.

Where to stay

There's a wide assortment of accommodations. The best resource is the Lehigh Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau (www.lehighvalleypa.org).

Where to dine

Carnivores can head to the Steakhouse at the Sterling Hotel on Hamilton Street in Allentown. The meat is served up in Victorian dicor. Looking for something different? Looking for a taste of New Orleans in the Lehigh Valley? The Raubsville Inn on Canal Road in Easton offers a Cajun cuisine overlooking the Delaware River. And when visiting the Lehigh Valley you've got to stop at a Yocco's (they've got five locations) for one, or more, of their famous hotdogs.

Off course

After a morning on the links, you can cool down at Dorney Park and Wildwater Kingdom (www.dorneypark.com). They have standard amusement rides and a large water park. The kids will also enjoy a trip to the interactive Crayola Factory in Easton. That's where they make the famous crayons. You can get more info by calling (610) 515-8000.

Fast fact

Before achieving Rock Star status, Billy Joel toured local colleges in the Lehigh Valley and some of his first commercial radio play was heard in the Allentown area. Then following the release of the song 'Allentown' at least one local radio station refused to play it saying 'it didn't accurately portrait the city.'

Darryl Berger, Contributor

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