There are golf courses, and then there are golf courses. The Pennhills Club, located just outside of Bradford, PA is one such of the latter. A beautifully designed 6,400-yard Par 70 coupled with a clubhouse reminiscent of that signature, Frank Lloyd Wright-esque early-1900s architecture makes The Pennhills Club one of our area’s diamonds in the rough. There are golf courses. The Pennhills Club is a golf course.
In the 1920s, the North Penn Club brought in noted golf course architect/historian/journalist Walter J. Travis to design an 18-hole course. Travis, renowned for his visionary designs, also laid out the plans (amongst many others) for the Orchard Park and Westchester Country Clubs. When the North Penn Club merged with the Country Club of Bradford in 1937, The Pennhills Club was born.
Now armed with a new name, a beautiful course and a significant member base, The Pennhills Club made a power move and commissioned Clifford C. Wendehack to design its clubhouse. Pennhills remains an elite company when it comes to its brethren clubhouses Wendehack designed … have you ever heard of Wingfoot? How about Bethpage? Also, Park Country Club just north in Buffalo.
Any successful business will share this mantra with you: change is necessary. You can’t expect to stay complacent and remain at the forefront of the game. Pennhills, now in a dogfight with other clubs in the area for members, realized this. In April 2013, they brought in Jake Northrup - a young, driven and energetic PGA-certified professional.
Northrup, a native of Ellicottville, came home after working at the Hempstead Golf & Country Club in Long Island. Hempstead, a high-end club, was vital to Northrup’s experience in running a tight ship.
“I’m used to a certain kind of operation because of the time I spent with Metro (metropolitan-based demographic) clubs,” Northrup said. “I know the way those clubs are - first class. That’s kind of how I’ve always worked them. Bringing in fresh insight with some new energy.”
Diligently working to bring in larger tournaments, Northrup landed the Blaisdell Pro-Am Invitational, slated for Monday, Aug 18. With a $20,000 purse, the tournament is one of the biggest Pennhills has had - and first pro-am - in over 15 years.
“I’m detailed in every aspect of the tournament planning,” Northrup said. “I have to be. You’ve got 300 members at the club, each one turning to me to make sure everything is running smoothly. But that’s part of the entire process - building relationships, building trust, making sure the members know everything is taken care of.”
A big factor in building relationships is Northrup providing private lessons. When you can establish a connection with someone, whether it’s on the course or in the pro shop, you’ve already overcome one of society’s biggest social blocks. You can’t expect to immediately have someone trust you - you’ve got to work for it. Northrup, along with his duties as head pro, has been doing just that.
One very cool thing Pennhills did was hire Hover Shutter Productions (of Pittsburgh, PA) to come and do an aerial, video tour of the Front 9. Hover Shutter, which uses a remote-control helicopter with an HD camera attached, allows you to view the course from a bird’s eye view before you play.
Northrup was adamant that much credit is due to Dennis Platko, the course Super. After the horrendously cold winter we had and how deep the frost penetrated the ground, many area courses weren’t even able to open at all this summer. But thanks to Platko, Pennhills is in superior shape - allowing Northrup to confidently bring in larger tournaments.
“We could do everything else right, but if the course isn’t in good shape, then it wouldn’t matter,” Northrup said. “Dennis and his crew have been putting the hours in to ensure the course is in tip-top shape, which is one of the main factors why membership has been growing. We wouldn’t be where we are without their work.”
Hosting events such as the wrestling and hockey outings for Bradford High School and the Zippo Open (which benefits the local SPCA) adds a different dynamic to the Club. Jena Mosher, Director of Member Services, said remaining true to the Club’s original mantra is what keeps them successful.
“We’ve remained a private course and club,” Mosher said. “We host tournaments, but that allows us to stay private for our members. The Pennhills Club was founded on a set of ideals, and we want to make sure that we stay true to those. Bringing Jake onboard was big for us because he adds a fresh perspective on how a course and club should be run. As a younger guy, he connects with the younger families and younger golfers - which helps foster the growth for the future.”
The Pennhills Club is more than just a golf course. It’s a history-laden, beautifully-designed club nestled in some of the nation’s best landscape. It’s a golf course.
For more information on The Pennhills Club, head to its website at www.pennhillsclub.com or give them a ring at 814.368.6159.