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Course Review: Grand View Golf Club a Gobsmacking, Quirky Beast

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Staring down the barrel of the unforgettable par-3 14th at Grand View Golf Club. MIKE DARNAY/PGN

BRADDOCK, Pa. — The tagline, emblazoned across the side panels of the golf carts at Grand View Golf Club, grabs your attention.

‘The Monster on the Mon.’

Sounds like a rollercoaster at Kennywood, which is appropriately located just across the river valley.

Like many courses tucked into the severe topography of western Pennsylvania, Grand View doesn’t have much room to stretch as it meanders and slaloms along. It took some serious creativity and engineering ingenuity to tuck 18 holes onto this sloping property.

But the lack of distance belies a diverse, exacting golf experience that sticks with the player long after the round is done.

Typically, I’m the type of golfer who appreciates a little space to smack the driver, but Grand View is the kind of place that twists your arm and demands discipline. Your mileage may vary, but on a recent visit, I pulled driver just four times in 18 holes, and one of those was definitely a mistake that I got away with.

At the same time, don’t equate a healthy caution off the tee with a lack of enjoyment. Quite the contrary. I alternated between marveling at the grand views (har har) and figuring out how to navigate these choppy waters.

The variety of targets in your sights at Grand View is about as extensive as you’ll see in the region. I’m talking elevated greens and downhill approaches, obviously, but also landing areas for drives (and layups) that require a good deal of thought beforehand. Bring some brains with that brawn.

Make no mistake, though, this place brings some serious bite. It’s no exaggeration to say that you could lose a ball on nearly every hole if you don’t have your swing tamed to a decent degree. The stretch from 12 through 17, in particular, stands out in terms of putting a premium on accuracy.

Take my results at Grand View this summer, for instance. I’m a pretty steady 4-handicap these days, but I hovered around bogey golf on the first weekend of May. I didn’t have my best and the course exposed me.

On the other hand, two weeks ago I put together one of my best ball-striking rounds of the year and put up a low-stress 74 on the par-70 scorecard. For as penal as Grand View can be, if you hit it straight, you should be able to make a run at a score worth bragging about.

There’s only one hole I think pushes the limits of fairness: The par-3 14th. You’re literally hitting off a cliff to a green that’s at least partially obstructed by vegetation, depending on time of year. I could do without that one, but I’ll grant Grand View a mulligan here. As you see at the top of the page, at least it looks pretty from above.

A look down the 10th (left), first (center), and sixth (right) holes at Grand View Golf Club. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

Unfortunately, over the course of this dry, hot summer, turf conditioning has become an issue.

During my July visit, the teeing grounds were undergoing a needed facelift, with a full dose of vertical mowing in addition to re-sodding. There were noticeable burned-out patches on most of the fairways as well, although the greens were still entirely receptive.

I’ve mentioned here that I prefer a firm course over a soft one — lucky me in 2020! — so seeing some brown out there doesn’t bother me much. Nevertheless, there were a couple of occasions when I played ‘preferred lies’ from a pockmarked fairway or two.

The TLC currently being given to the Grand View turf is part of a reinvestment in the property by ownership, and overseen by first-year head pro Josh Houser. A Pittsburgh-born, lifelong devotee of the game, Houser cut his teeth in the PGA down South, mostly in Georgia, before returning to the area last year to work as an assistant pro.

Now in charge at one of Pittsburgh’s most traditional munis, Houser said while accompanying me for a few holes that he has a vision to turn Grand View “into one of the best public courses in western Pennsylvania.”

There’s little doubt the potential is there for that kind of transformation, although I’m already seduced by the course’s myriad challenges and utter lack of pretense. And it’s not like the place has lacked for business post-COVID shutdown, averaging about 100 rounds a day.

But a healthy dose of ambition could go a long way at Grand View, so it’s encouraging to see a Pittsburgh golf institution getting a boost from a leader with plenty to prove. A former cart boy himself, Houser seems the ideal candidate to keep the humble public feel even as playing conditions improve.

Of course, a public feel coincides with affordable rates, which are plentiful at Grand View. The highest cost for an 18-hole round (with cart) is $45 on weekends, but that drops to $35 on weekdays, and lower for Mondays and Tuesdays. Then there are discounts for seniors, juniors and twilight nines, which run you $22.

In addition to serving head pro, Houser is also director of golf instruction, with a $50 rate for a 45-minute session, or five lessons for $200. I’ve written passionately about the lack of decent practice facilities in the area — especially on-site at courses — but that’s not a problem at Grand View, either. (As an occasional distraction from your driving-range grinding, you can hear the Kennywood coasters click-clattering along.)

In fact, considering the kind of challenge ahead of you when you tee off high above the Mon Valley, the $5 you’d spend on a bucket of pre-round range balls would be well-spent.

And after the round, note that Asti’s Italian Steakhouse located directly above the clubhouse is now under the same business umbrella as Grand View. Not a bad spot to finish your day … or to ease the pain induced by the ‘Monster’ with some high-quality food and drink.

PGN’S ON COURSE

Courtesy of the drone-piloting skills of our own photographer to the stars Mike Darnay, here’s a virtual tour of Grand View — from above!

Thanks to Houser for getting up a little earlier than usual to let Mike do his thing at the crack of dawn.

PGN Value Rating: 4 out of 5

Grand View Golf Club
1000 Clubhouse Dr.
Braddock, PA 15104
(412) 351-5390
11 miles from Downtown via Parkway East & U.S. Route 30 E

Scorecard (All tees are par 70)
Black – 6,096 yards, 70.0 rating, 130 slope
Silver – 5,862 yards, 67.5 rating, 122 slope
Gold – 5,303 yards, 66.0 rating, 119 slope
Copper — 4,721 yards, 67.0 rating, 133 slope

Read our other PGN Course Reviews, including Butler’s Course, Totteridge, Moon GC, Frosty Valley and Murrysville GC!

A 15-year veteran of sports media, Matt Gajtka (GITE-kah) is the founding editor of PGN. Matt is a lifelong golfer with a passion for all aspects of the sport, from technique to courses to competition. His experience ranges from reporting on Pittsburgh's major-league beats, to broadcasting a variety of sports, to public relations, multimedia production and social media.

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