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Course Review: Out of This World Value Found at Moon Golf Club

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No. 17 provides a good sampling of the essence of Moon Golf Club -- accessible, but exacting. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. — I first got acquainted with Moon Golf Club three years ago, when the website I was working for signed a partnership with the only course within a well-struck drive of Pittsburgh International.

Since no one else on that website’s staff was much of a golfer, I was assigned to play a round and post a few photos on social media. No need to twist my arm!

Somehow, I’d never been to Moon GC, even though it was literally just over the hill from where I played hockey in my youth, the now-defunct Airport Ice Arena, and Scally’s Golf Center, where I’ve hit countless buckets of balls.

What I found upon arrival was a course that was fun to play from the first swing, but also featuring more bite than initially meets the eye. Simply put, it’s one of the best golf values in the region.

I grew up playing muni golf at a course not terribly dissimilar, from the possibility of walking 18 for $20, to the clubhouse that’s a repurposed residence on the property.

Where Moon GC sets itself apart is when you approach for landing. (Airport joke!)

For what you pay to play, these greens have no right to be this good. GM Josh DeNinno praises superintendent Jason Batchelor and staff for his expertise and work ethic, as they execute a long-term plan to refine the putting surfaces. As someone who’s played roughly 40 rounds here over the past four summers, I can confirm the standard is rising.

At just under 6,000 yards from the back tees and with two of the first four par 4s right at 250 yards, you might think Moon GC needs its greens to run hot to avoid pushover status. But that’s not entirely fair, since there’s enough protection from the trees and slopes to make a golfer think twice about options — especially off the tees.

In fact, that’s one of my favorite features. On a recent visit, I hit no fewer than five different clubs off the tee. It doesn’t necessarily take the driver out of the long hitter’s hands, but it does reward astute distance modulation.

A good example comes on the uphill, dogleg-left No. 3. Depending on how much you want to cut off, you could go with anything from a driver to a mid-iron.

But even if you gun for more and stripe it, you’re still left with a sidehill, uphill pitch to a crowned green. I’ve started laying back with a 3- or 4-iron, which leaves a flatter lie and a fuller approach.

Looking back into the sloped fairway of the sixth, the only par 5 on the front. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

The No. 1 handicap hole is the fifth — a 423-yard uphiller that veers right but is sloped left — and I’ve found that assessment to be accurate. Maybe if you hit a Dustin Johnson power fade you’d disagree, but those of us (righties) who like to turn it over just have to aim up the right tree line and hope for the best.

The sixth is worth mentioning, too, as it’s A three-shot par 5 that requires a sharp drive, or else there’s trouble setting up a third from a fairway that tightens as it leads into an elevated, shallow green.

You’ll notice on the scorecard that 11 of Moon’s par 4s are 375 yards or shorter, but No. 9 is a good example of why none are gimmie birdies. At 279 yards downhill, it’s reachable for almost all players, but there’s only the narrowest of approach lanes between full trees on the right and a slope on the left.

The back nine has more variety — and more difficulty. Even the two reachable par 5s feature greens that are perched high above the fairways, and the two par 3s on the back similarly use elevation to their advantage, with No. 10 being more subtle than No. 14.

The 360-yard par-4 13th is a personal favorite. Feel free to bomb away over the high pines on the left, but a 3-wood to the top of the hill will leave you a pitch into another shallow green, a green that isn’t designed to accept shots from any angle but from the fairway.

No. 17 is designed in a similar vein. If you’re feeling frisky with the big stick, you can make it into a pitch-and-putt. But O.B. and McCormick Road wait just several yards left of the fairway, and there’s a lot more room on the right for a wood, hybrid or long iron.

The risk-reward theme continues on the last, where a mid-iron down the right side will leave a wedge into a small green protected by a pond short and the parking lot long. But I’ve hit driver a couple of times, earning the payoff of a finishing birdie. Just, uh, don’t miss left.

My collection of scores from Moon GC tells a story, too. I’ve shot in the mid-80s here and I’ve posted a total that starts with a 6. (Nice.)

That’s golf? Maybe so, but this isn’t one of those places where you can fake your way around. The birdie opportunities are there, but you generally have to put yourself in position with the first shot.

I’ve been told that, considering the price and accessibility of the course, there can be an expectation from first-time Moon GC players that this is a wide-open track with little trouble. Sure, there aren’t a lot of penalty areas here, but there’s still a premium on accuracy, especially for a municipal course.

If you’re considering making a Moon landing, worry not about your handicap. You’ll have something to intrigue and challenge you regardless.

One of the few penalty areas on the course greets golfers approaching the tiny 18th green. (MIKE DARNAY/PGN)

PGN’S ON COURSE

DeNinno was able to spare a few minutes for me and photographer Mike Darnay on a typically busy Friday at the course.

Josh and I chatted about his player-friendly club, from its approachable nature to its firm, fast greens to its vital 19th Hole experience that’s aiming to get back up to speed after the COVID-19 shutdown:

PGN Value Rating: 4.5 of 5

Moon Golf Club
505 McCormick Rd.
Moon Township, PA 15108
(412) 262-2992
15 miles from Downtown via Parkway West & I-376 W Business
Designed by Harold Heinlein; opened in 1932 as Bon Air Golf Course

Scorecard (All tees are par 72)
Blue – 5,805 yards, 68.5 rating, 117 slope
White – 5,418 yards, 68.8 rating, 115 slope
Gold – 5,017 yards, 69.0 rating, 113 slope
Red – 4,925 yards, 69.0 rating, 115 slope

Read our other PGN course reviews, including last week’s trip east to Totteridge!

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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