Berkleigh Country Club

By Joe Logan
Reviewed on January 1, 2012
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KUTZTOWN – In the fall of 2007, Rich Lerner, the Golf Channel personality, penned a sentimental column for his network’s website headlined, "Requiem for a Country Club."


If the club in question, Berkleigh Country Club, midway between Allentown and Reading, was known at all to golfers in the Philadelphia area, it was likely as the home for nine years to the LPGA’s Betsy King’s Classic, until the tournament died in 2004.  But to Lerner, who grew up in Allentown, Berkleigh was where he spent his youth, found a second family of the members, honed his golf game and twice won the club championship.


Sadly, with his column, he was writing an obituary for a club and a course that was designed by Robert White, a native of St. Andrews, Scotland, and the first president of the PGA of America.


"Berkleigh Country Club died last week," Lerner’s column began.  "It ended by auction – pin flags, tee markers, club championship boards, hole-in-one plaques and kitchen equipment."


Lerner recalled the good times, and the good people, from his Berkleigh youth, and he dutifully listed all the circumstances of modern life that led to its membership dwindling to the point of no return: Financial pressures, busy lives, cheap gym memberships, the lure of the internet and 300 cable channels, moms who work, dads who spent their Saturday mornings at Little League games and soccer matches rather of on the golf course with their buddies.


"People die at 81, not lush golf courses with rich history," lamented Lerner.


But by then, it was too late for Berkleigh.  The club had been sold -- lock, stock and gently rolling 300-acre golf course to the Lehigh Cement Co., which operated a limestone quarry adjacent to the course. Oh, the cruel fate that awaited.


But, lo and behold, two years later, Berkleigh lives on. Whether we have the golfing gods are to thank for the reprieve, or the cement company, in March 2008 Berkleigh was leased to Jack Eckenrode, a golf professional and entrepreneur who also owns Fox Hollow Golf Club in Quakertown.


Renamed Berkleigh Golf Club, Lerner’s old haunt is now in its second season as a family-operated, mid-priced  ($55 weekends, $45 weekdays, plenty of off-peak rates) daily-fee course.  The region’s golfing landscape is better for it.


Berkleigh’s proud old clubhouse may seem a little bare these days, and a little less country clubby, but the golf course is no worse for the wear.


What makes Berkleigh such a welcome addition to the daily fee scene is that it’s such a comfortable old shoe of a course, regardless of the level of your game.  It’s got enough oomph to make it interesting for low handicap players, yet it’s plenty playable for women and seniors.


At 6,835 yards, par 72, with a course rating of 73 and slope of 132, Berkleigh is above average in every measure that matters.  That, plus the club’s proximity to the outlets in Reading, probably help explain why the Betsy King Classic was a favorite stop for years on the LPGA tour.


One of the charms of Berkleigh is that if you are a hapless sprayer of the ball, the course offers mercy and forgiveness.  Most fairways are wide open, and you’d have to really work at it to knock a ball OB; in fact, Berkleigh is the kind of course where you can play 18 holes and never lose a ball.


There is a minimum of forced carries; only one hole plays over a pond, and nearly every green is at least semi-open in the front, allowing folks who struggle to get the ball airborne the chance to run it up to the hole.


Depending on which set of tees you choose, trouble tends to come in the form of a creek that traverses the course, forcing a decision on several tees as to whether to lay up or bomb away.  The other main defense is the bounty of greenside bunkers. Also, you won’t sprain your wrist hitting out of the rough.



For the Betsy King, they used to flip the nines, no doubt because they wanted to finish with the big, uphill par 5 that Berkleigh members (and you) will play as No. 9.  No question, the front nine at Berkleigh, with three par 5s and several stout par 4s, is tougher than and superior to the back, which has only one par 5 and a couple of uninspired par 4s.


For my money, one of the more appealing aspects of Berkleigh is a quality that raters for Golfweek call the "walk in the park."  A good golf course, gently rolling hills, tree-lined fairways, flowers, the right price, what’s not to like? 



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Swoop[1/4/2012 1:22:21 PM]
I attended and played on the golf team at Kutztown back in the early 80ís. Although not our home course (Rich Maiden was, an article in itself), the Berkleigh pro at the time, Steve Snyder, was kind enough to allow our team to play Monday afternoons. Conditions were outstanding at the time and we were the only ones on the course. Probably played it 30 times, a joyful golf memory. I returned this summer for the first time since and found the course to be in really good shape. The greens didnít quite have the speed they did 30 years ago, but were very consistent, there were putts to be made. Jack Eckenrode is providing a great product at the right price point. Just a very playable golf course, all pretty much right in front of you. Try to catch it after a dry spell for best playability, it can get soft and the rough can get nasty. And donít hit it left on #11 (only blind shot on the course). Iíll definately go back again this year.
Steve[8/13/2009 6:11:28 AM]
I think the Reading area offers great value for public golfers. Reading CC, Galen Hall and Berkleigh are all quality courses and are very reasonable. Weekday rates for seniors like me are in the $30-35 range. During a recent play at Berkleigh I received a $5 coupon for my next visit. As you point out in your review, holes 16,17&18, all short par4s, are not very demanding but nevertheless reward accuracy of the tee and good approach shots to the green. The 18thgreen is very challenging. I keep forgetting to play the elevated back tee on 18, Next time. The course plays at about 6400y from the white tees but doesnít seem that long because of some downhill tee shots. Of course, uphill apprach shots follow. I played there last year and the condition of the course is much improved, particularly the bunkers.
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