ELIZABETH, Pa. — I grew up west of Downtown and I currently live just a couple exits up the Parkway North, so the Mon Valley is about as far from familiar as it gets for this guy, at least in our region.
But I kept seeing our photographer Mike Darnay rave on Twitter about Butler’s Golf Course in Elizabeth, located snug between the Monongahela and the Youghiogheny, a few miles south of McKeesport.
I’m glad I made the winding trip down Route 51, because this is one of the better golf values I’ve experienced in Pittsburgh.
Not only are there 36 reasonably-priced holes on this rolling piece of property, there’s also a grass driving range, four-hole practice course, full-service restaurant, bed and breakfast, and — new for 2020 — a combination golf simulator/sports bar/rec room called The Loft.
I’ll direct you to the facility’s website for more, but as for the tracks themselves, I consumed them in two servings, bookending a recent weekend with a round at each of the two full 18-hole courses.
Considering the rather docile terrain it’s laid out upon, the older 18 — called the Woodside Course — is predictably a more back-and-forth, traditional-style layout.
By modern standards, Woodside can get a little cramped. Six of the first seven par 4s are under 400 yards from the back tees and three of the par 5s are 500 or shorter, but in original designer John W. Butler’s defense, the course was finished in 1928 — a year before the Great Depression.
But every inch of space was put to work on Woodside, and there are more than a few interesting approaches, mostly to the handful of elevated greens. I found the surfaces quick and true on the first week of June, amplifying the subtle slopes. Refreshingly, there are no mini-golf-esque tiered greens to be found here.
Just when I was ready to call Woodside a relative pushover, the final three holes smacked me in the mouth. All par-4 doglegs, they try to take back what the golfer grabbed on a mellow stretch from the 10th to the 15th.
The newer 18, the Lakeside Course, might be the best value in Pittsburgh golf.
Three days after sampling Woodside, I walked Lakeside for $22(!) on a Monday afternoon. For a shade over a dollar a hole, there’s more than enough course for most, and with better variety than the older 18.
For one, elevation plays a much larger role on Lakeside, which — fear not! — features water on only a couple of holes. Despite that partial misnomer, there’s more than enough to keep golfers of all abilities fully occupied. (And if you’re hoofing it, you’ll easily clear your calorie and/or step goal.)
Particularly on a borderline-spectacular back nine, bring your abacus to figure out yardage adjustments as you scale hills and descend into swales carved by the Youghiogheny tens of thousands of years ago.
For another, the back is nearly 500 yards longer than the front, as Lakeside transforms into a toughy before you realize what happened. The par-5 10th, which climbs up what could double as a ski slope, sets the tone. Hope that front nine warmed you up properly.
It bears mentioning that I found a few greenside bunkers to be devoid of enough sand to play proper explosion shots, and the pitch-and-putt 13th feels like an afterthought. In the latter case, I was OK with the brief respite, as the previous two par 3s require mid-to-long irons into heavily-guarded greens.
Although those bunkers earned sore-thumb status on this day, it was forgotten by the time I reached the 18th. The Lakeside’s last requires a 200-yard-plus carry, depending on which angle you take, but rewards an accurate shot with a short-iron approach.
Lakeside graciously granted me a birdie on 18th, making me regret not hanging around for a meal or, better yet, a beer-and-bash session at the Loft. Next time …
Like I said, I don’t make my way through these parts very often. That’ll be changing after a couple of visits to Butler’s.
PGN Value Rating: 4 of 5
Butler’s Golf Course
800 Rock Run Road
Elizabeth, PA 15037
21 miles from Downtown via Route 51
Woodside Course: Par 72
Blue tees – 6,314 yards – 69.8 rating/128 slope
White – 6,121 – 68.9/126
Gold – 5,126 – 64.7/115
Red – 5,029 – 68.7/118
Lakeside Course: Par 72
Blue – 6,689 – 71.8/130
White – 6,358 – 70.1/129
Gold – 5,442 – 65.2/113
Red – 5,176 – 69.3/122