UPPER ST. CLAIR, Pa. — Since my trip to Frosty Valley Golf Links a week ago, I’ve been internally debating how much I wanted to deviate from the usual course review format for this piece.
That conflicted feeling originated from the several hours I spent at the cozy nine-hole track, the first couple of which were whiled away on the practice green for my AimPoint putting class.
My inkling was reinforced when, prior to teeing off, I sat down on the clubhouse porch for a lengthy chat with passionate owner/head pro Dan Ruffing. Yes, this piece would be more than a description of how the golfer gets from the first drive to the final putt.
A native of western Pennsylvania who worked in resort-style golf in Arizona and Florida, Ruffing returned home in 1988 and took over operations of Frosty Valley, after his father-in-law purchased part of the old Hidden Valley Country Club property.
The course used to be 18 holes, before a senior-living facility bought up some of that land, leaving a patchwork for Ruffing to cobble together into a representative nine. The ‘extra’ holes come in handy when the Chartiers Creek overflows its banks, as it has several times this century.
No such worries in this dry summer, although the creek-carved valley helps keep the turf well-sated in most places. If you weren’t aware we were on the verge of a full-fledged drought, you wouldn’t know by playing Frosty Valley.
In some ways, that can take away from the playability of the course, which leans toward shaggy in some of the low-lying areas. Also, the couple of those ‘ghost’ holes are right in the middle of the layout, muddling the look. Especially for the first-time player (raises hand) who is just searching for the next tee box, the effect can be disorienting.
There are a couple of gimmicky areas, to be sure, especially near the start.
After starting on a par 3, players teeing off from the blue box on No. 2 have to navigate a tight, blind chute to a fairway ill-angled to accept most drives. The par-4 250-yard third could be a nice risk-reward hole, but a stand of trees between a pond and the green all but mandates a layup. Bummer.
But after crossing the charming train tracks that bisect the course, my enjoyment level picked up.
Golfers have a club-choice decision to make on the dogleg approach to the short uphill par-4 fourth. And the lone par 5, the seventh, follows a serpentine pattern along the creek, offering the golfer another intriguing option on how aggressive a line to take with the drive.
Regardless of how you get there, though, overall the green complexes are well thought-out and present interesting targets. The speed on the surfaces was a touch on the slow side for my visit, but they were mostly devoid of blemish.
Overall, a quaint, but challenging course. But it feels silly to simply hone in on the layout when discussing Frosty Valley.
Ruffing has taken care to provide what he calls a “country-club experience,” with a nicely-stocked pro shop, an all-grass practice tee and one of the better muni putting greens you’ll find. There’s a reason a several pros conduct lessons at Frosty Valley.
The course also has a tradition of hosting inner-city youth in a group setting, providing the kind of opportunities that are still too seldom seen in our sport. Called TGA — for Teach, Grow, Achieve — these camps and clinics integrate STEM educational concepts and general life skills.
Add in the laid-back atmosphere and affordable greens fees and Frosty Valley is more than doing its part to make golf more accessible. I should also note that the course operates responsibly as part of the Chartiers Greenway conservation area.
The layout itself won’t dazzle you, but it strikes this reviewer as a fine place to get to know the sport, or to make sure another day doesn’t pass without teeing it up.
Ruffing has a point when he sells nine-hole golf as a better fit for modern lifestyles than traditional 18-hole rounds. All the talk in the world of ‘growing the game’ is for naught if people can’t carve out the time to actually get to a course.
For those who live south of Downtown, Frosty Valley is a good place to do just that.
PGN Value Rating: 3 out of 5
Frosty Valley Golf Links
2652 Hidden Valley Drive, Suite 201
Upper St. Clair, PA 15241
17 miles from Downtown via Parkway West, I-79 S & U.S. Route 19 S
Scorecard (All tees are par 35)
Blue – 3,124 yards, 35.4 rating, 115 slope
White – 2,863 yards, 34.0 rating, 106 slope
Red – 2,371 yards, 36.0 rating, 118 slope
Read our other PGN Course Reviews, including Butler’s Course, Totteridge and Moon Golf Club!