A History Of The Penn State Golf Courses
The sport of golf is one that transcends time. Equipment may change as technology rapidly advances, but the objective will always remain the same: hit a little white ball into a hole in as few strokes as possible. This universally cherished game has made its presence felt right here at Penn State, all thanks to a handful of ambitious men with a dream and a plan.
That dream came to fruition in the form of the Penn State golf courses, but the storyline is much deeper. The courses represent something greater, something that carries meaning. The history of the courses can be felt and seen by those who brave the challenging layout, each hole a reflection of the men who worked to create it. This is the story of the Penn State Golf Courses, from its illustrious past to its present.
The Penn State Golf Courses consist of two 18-hole tracks: The White Course and the Blue Course. At 6,344 and 7,172 yards in length, respectively, — with the White boasting fairways as wide as 60 yards — these magnificent courses have undergone a series of renovations and reconstructions since their inception.
The Penn State Golf Courses came from humble beginnings. Located to the west of Atherton Street, R.D. Pryde and Bob Rutherford laid the course’s foundation the course’s first nine holes in 1921 — conveniently located near the site of the school’s brand new gymnasium, more commonly known as Rec Hall. Pryde served as the brawn, if you will, helping to lead the project with his leadership and ingenuity. Rutherford collaborated with Pryde, but served the project in a different role. Rutherford was the operation’s supervisor, but held another important responsibility: Rutherford was tasked with growing the game of golf throughout the Penn State community. This was no small undertaking, but Rutherford was able to hold true to his word by gathering young players and forming a team — Penn State’s first golf team, coached by Rutherford himself. With the precedent set, major changes were about to come in the following year.
Prominent golf course architect Willie Park Jr.’s innovative eye caught hold of the Penn State Golf Courses — which had rapidly grown in popularity thanks to Rutherford’s leadership — in the fall of 1922, leading to a large-scale renovation that included nine additional holes being added to the course’s layout. For those unaware, Willie Park Jr. is no average figure. The two-time Open Championship winner helped build a number of world-renowned courses, including Sunningdale Golf Club near London, Weston Golf and Country Club in Toronto, and Maidstone Golf Club on Long Island. Park Jr.’s elaborate renovation opened to the public in 1926, and has stood the test of time ever since. According to present day Head Professional Joe Hughes, Park Jr.’s original design — dubbed the “White Course” — still remains untouched on holes No. 6 through No. 14.
“When walking to the top of No. 6 on the White Course, you’ll see a commemorative plaque talking about Willie and the work he’s done here,” Hughes said. “The hole itself used to be a downhill par three, but when we made some changes with West Campus moving in, that’s when it became the par five that it is today.”
Hughes, Head Professional at the Penn State Courses since 2002, is well-versed in the course’s illustrious history because he lives and breathes it every single day. Being in the position that he’s in, Hughes also knows a thing or two about how the course got to be where it is today.
After the construction of the Blue Course by Penn State alumni Ferdinand Garban and James Harrison, Park Jr.’s vision had come full circle. The White Course would be complemented by the Blue, with the White operating its clubhouse in the basement of Rec Hall. Despite numerous renovations, the course’s layout was not yet complete.
With Penn State’s decision to expand campus westward, the Penn State Golf Courses needed to shift accordingly. In 1994, nine new holes were constructed by the firm of Ault and Clark to accommodate the shift, which included the construction of the Walker Clubhouse, named after former Penn State University President Eric Walker. With the new clubhouse came a new logo — one that currently stands as the iconic symbol of the Penn State Golf Courses.
“The Grass and Flags logo came about because there once was a time when we were managed by Penn State Athletics, but then came in Student affairs and business services,” Hughes said. “Once we left athletics, they told us that the logo of the Nittany Lion was an athletics branded logo, and that they would prefer that we not use that logo. So, in the mid 1990s, the Grass and Flags logo was implemented with the help of the Penn State golf coach, along with our representative from New Era.”
We now arrive at the present day, with the course’s final product finally complete. Being a golf course on a campus of over 40,000 comes with its advantages, but it’s Hughes’ mission to ensure that the course maintains an almost-symbiotic relationship with the student body, as students make up a large part of the course’s annual rounds.
“The students are awesome, and the energy that they bring is phenomenal,” Hughes said. “Come football weekend, there is no environment like this campus in the country. And it’s that energy that the students bring to our golf course, just having that element of camaraderie of getting together and chasing that little white golf ball around. We want to make sure that students are able to play at this facility for a very fair price, as they make up over 50 percent of our rounds. We even created the Lion Limo to pick up students near the practice green by the edge of campus. It’s our mission to market ourselves as best we can to the student body.”
Hughes is incredibly passionate about his facility, be it the scores of practice amenities, its use as a testing facility for Penn State’s Professional Golf Management program, or the sheer challenging nature of his two championship-level courses. But at the end of the day, these courses mean something to Hughes on a personal level, because it represents all that he’s worked for in his career.
“I think you get a sense for my enthusiasm, and it’s not fake,” Hughes said. “I treat this location, and myself, as a resource and a tool. There’s so many resources on this campus, and being on such a large platform, it’s incredibly important to utilize those. It’s exciting that I don’t have time to exercise these resources, because I’m so busy in other areas at the facility. The bottom line is that I love coming to work every day because of the challenge that is there of motivating the community, promoting it to the students, and just utilizing our resources. I’m just so proud of what we’ve accomplished here.”
Hughes has been blessed with the opportunity to work at such an iconic facility, and be able to represent the illustrious history that preceded him. The Penn State Golf Courses are a treasure, one that all should enjoy. If you haven’t had the chance to experience it, go. If you’ve never once picked up a club in your life, try. Golf is a game that lasts forever, and the Penn State Golf Courses — with all that’s been implemented since Pryde and Rutherford set their plan in motion — serve as a perfect place for those to learn this incredible game.
I myself have been fortunate enough to experience and learn at these courses, and they’re memories I won’t soon forget.
The game of golf is synonymous with all the good life has to offer: friendship, relaxation, learning, and a feeling of accomplishment. The Penn State Courses stand out as a staple in this wonderful community, and it’s all the product of a few great men, and their will to impact the community around them.