FREEPORT, Pa. — I’ve played Birdsfoot Golf Club about a dozen times over the past several years, but I never knew the origin of that distinctive name until I happened to pick up one of those handy old-school yardage books in the clubhouse last month.
Turns out birdsfoot is a type of plant, a trefoil legume, and it’s most at home in dryland pastures like this one that overlooks the Buffalo Creek valley.
It’s an appropriate mascot for this roller-coaster ride of a course just off Route 28, north of Freeport. While the hardy plant produces reliable ground cover and a host of pleasant yellow flowers, it’s also been known to swallow golf balls with no trouble whatsover.
Much like birdsfoot the flowering plant, Birdsfoot the course catches your eye to a degree that you hardly notice the beating you’re taking.
This far-flung place, run by Travis Lindsay and operational since the turn of the 20th century, has taken on something of a legendary status among some of my golf acquaintances and me, but I’ll admit it’s not perfect.
In particular, my trip back in June revealed greens that were prickly and bumpy. With the limited traffic this spring due to COVID-19, I expected better from a course that once earned 4 1/2 out of five stars from Golf Digest.
The surfaces were much better for my return visit in August, but it’s not like I wasn’t coming back. That’s because, from tee to green, I’m not sure there’s a public course in the region that brings it consistently like Birdsfoot.
By ‘it,’ I mean a level mix of aesthetics, difficulty and design intrigue. To be blunt, there aren’t a lot of birdie holes out there. The first hole is blessedly straightforward, but that 74.4 course rating from the tips tells an accurate tale.
Only recently have I been able to stop gawking at the views and lock in on trying to hit golf shots. It’s a tall task, especially on the scenic-outlook teeing areas on Nos. 2, 3, 6 and 7. If you’re into landscape views to go with your par-chasing efforts, Birdsfoot will be your kind of place.
After a links-like, open front side populated by mounds and ridges, the slightly more tree-lined back starts with three brutes. That backstretch concludes with the meaty par-4 12th, a three-story-downhill dogleg right that opens with one of the more breathtakingly intimidating tee shots you’ll encounter. Check it out in autumn for the full watercolor effect.
If there’s a respite from the Birdsfoot gauntlet, it’s the par 5s. Each side features one that’s gettable with a decent tee ball. No. 2 is a true three-shotter, but 5 and 16 measure around 500 yards from the back boxes. (No. 13 isn’t terribly long, but uphill all the way. Take your five, hopefully, and move on.)
There are also a couple of par 4s that should leave you just a wedge or short iron, if not necessarily a red carpet to birdie land. No. 6 is drivable on a good wind day, but outside that you’ve got to have your full swing on point.
As for the par 3s — hold onto your butts. And hit a few extra long irons on the range, if you have the opportunity.
No. 17 frequently gets the postcard treatment, with its craters-of-the-moon bunkering in front and birdsfoot-laden backdrop, but Nos. 4 and 9 sport forced carries of medium and long varieties, and No. 11 features an ‘island green’ in a sea of sand, with only a narrow runway to scoot a low-lofted club up, if that’s your game.
Birdsfoot goes right to the edge, but I bet you’ll take your punishment with a smile. If you can leave your fantasies of a career round behind, there’s not a more invigorating hike in western Pennsylvania.
Speaking of hike, despite the expansive feel, the routing is quite compact and thus conducive to us walkers. The only bad climb is between 17 and 18, but by then you’re eager to hoof it for the grand finale, a double-fairway slalom to the house.
Topographical terror or bullish bonanza? It can be both.
What was once the Lindsay Family Farm is now a rough-and-tumble playground for any golfer willing to make the trek up Route 28. Combine the challenge with reasonable rates — especially during the week or offseason — and you have a course you simply must experience.
PGN’S ON COURSE
With the help of the lovely and talented Mike Darnay, we at PGN present a two-minute tour of the property:
PGN Value Rating: 4 of 5
Birdsfoot Golf Club
225 Furnace Run Rd.
Freeport, PA 16229
35 miles from Downtown via Pa. Route 28 North
Scorecard (All tees are par 72)
Gold – 7,044 yards, 74.4 rating, 137 slope
Black – 6,703 yards, 72.0 rating, 134 slope
Blue – 6,106 yards, 69.2 rating, 132 slope
White – 5,611 yards, 66.4 rating, 112 slope
Red – 4,800 yards, 68.5 rating, 123 slope
Read our other PGN Course Reviews, including Butler’s Course, Totteridge, Moon, Frosty Valley, Murrysville, Grand View and Ligonier CC!