An Opening Hole: Galen Hall Golf Club

In which first holes are examined. Today’s is the Galen Hall Golf Club’s 331 yard first in Wernersville, PA.

Galen Hall Golf Club started play as part of the Galen Hall resort in 1912. Alex Findlay designed the original nine holes with additions by A.W. Tillinghast in 1917, which expanded the course to eighteen holes. After the acquisition of land on the western edge of the property, William Gordon reconfigured the golf course in 1955. All three architectural contributions are represented in some way to this day. Perhaps most famous for one of Tillinghast’s two “Moat” Holes, Galen Hall is a golf course worthy of repeated study.

Opening hole at Galen Hall Golf Club
The Inviting Opener at Galen Hall (Photo Courtesy: Joseph Bausch)

Hole Description

The teeing areas on this opener are a gentle reminder that Galen Hall pre-dates the era of a designed staging area with room for golfer traffic and cart parking. The back of the tee is no more than three steps away from the professional’s shop door. All sense of crowding is gone once the golfer steps on to the tee itself. The fairway yields plenty of width to all manner of wayward shots, only truly framed by the out-of-bounds stakes marking the course boundary down the left side of the hole along the public road. Three shallow bunkers flank the right side roughly 200 yards from the tee and are a vestige of the original second hole, which played as one shot running in the opposite direction parallel to the first fairway.

The gentle down slope into a rolling fairway further welcomes the golfer to play away with some freedom. Interrupting the fairway, just within reach of a good drive, is a deep swale that blinds the golfer to the hillocks and bumps just in front of the green, which rises on the up slope on the opposite side of the small valley. The severity of the green is notable from the tee (and to those approaching on the public road into the golf course from the south-east).  While small, the contours fall sharply from left to right with a critical divide running a third of the way from the right edge. Shots played into the left portion will feed into the middle portion of the putting surface while those leaking over the right divide trundling off the edge.

Putting Surface View
The small and severe first green (Photo Courtesy: Joseph Bausch)

Strategy and Tactical

The temptation to go-for-broke and reach the putting surface from the tee shot is very real given the downhill nature of the hole and wide, inviting playing corridor. This provides the earliest possible opportunity for gaining a stroke on the course or an opponent and consideration of this strategy is a worthy exercise. Tactically, executing this strategy requires a strong shot favoring either a right-to-left ball flight or the left side of the hole to capture the slope correctly to kick the ball on to the putting surface. Anything landing short is subject to the rolls and bumps in the approach area described above. Many golfers find themselves walking to the next tee with a five on the card after playing their first shots into this area due to the uncertain nature of the ground and the execution troubles it presents for the subsequent shot. Playing from such rolling ground so early in the round is a keen mental hazard and the ability to catch a mentally-unprepared, yet physically-gifted, golfer in this manner represents one of the higher-levels of golf defense, as well as a method to subvert any distance advantage.

The arguably more prudent strategy is to play out to the right side of the corridor near the three shallow bunkers. Here, the ground is flatter and still far enough back of the target to allow a full shot into the major slope of the putting green.  Gaining this putting green in two full shots in this manner requires a combination of both execution and sound thinking.

Concluding Remarks

The nature of the two distinct strategies described above make for an engaging opening hole for any round or match. Rewarding different styles of well-executed play is one feature of any well-designed golf hole and the first at Galen Hall represents a fine example of this concept. Any reader with similar experiences to share on the hole should comment on this post.

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