GIBSONIA, Pa. — We’re more than a month into fall, which means that your favorite course has likely already undergone its seasonal aeration of its greens.
It’s a necessary part of golf agronomy, but it’s a bummer if you’re out there looking to make a few putts.
Pittsburgh Golf Now photographer Mike Darnay and I got out ahead of the aeration procedure at Pheasant Ridge Golf Club a couple of weeks back, and boy am I glad we did.
Here’s why: I’d played Pheasant Ridge a couple of times previous to our Course Review visit, but for some reason I didn’t make special note of the putting surfaces during those trips.
Maybe it’s my developing taste as a golfer — or a realization from crafting a year of reviews that maintenance is harder than it looks — but on a crisp morning that couldn’t have produced a more dazzling array of autumn reds, oranges and yellows, I couldn’t take my eyes off those silky greens.
That’s not to say Pheasant Ridge’s layout is uninteresting. Quite the contrary. Seemingly every shot provides a unique look, with only one or two of the 18 rural holes not holding firm in the memory.
The shot value is high at Pheasant Ridge, which is part of the reason how a 6,600-yard course from the tips checks in with a robust 72.0 rating and 135 slope. The driving corridors make quite a few demands, as do the approaches emanating from a variety of angles and undulating lies.
But as I was reminded, simply hitting these greens isn’t enough. To give yourself a chance, you’ve got to leave your ball in the proper spots. The tiers and slopes on what general manager Mike Reimer calls “private quality” greens mean that in some cases you’d rather have a 30-footer from one direction than a 15-footer from the other.
What’s more, the conditioning of the greens is just as good as the designs. They’re smooth, but not overly slick. They’re tough, but fair.
There’s another quality of the course that captivates, though. While nearby Birdsfoot exudes that windswept wilderness feel, Pheasant Ridge strikes more of a woodland retreat tone.
Indeed, an element of pastoral escapism pervades the rolling acres. Not sure you could actually hear a pin drop, but certainly a Pro V1 from a couple of fairways over. If you play golf to get away from it all, this is your kind of place.
As far as the details go, the opening three holes at Pheasant Ridge are right up there as far as letting players ease their way into their rounds. Like many of us, I would love to have 45 minutes to warm up — some days, even more! — but that’s simply not the reality.
Case in point: The day I showed up at the course for this review, I had to sneak in the round after the dawn and before my work shift started. That meant the classic hacker warmup routine of a handful of 20-footers on the practice green and then a light jog to the first tee.
Thankfully, Pheasant Ridge does you the courtesy of not beating you over the head with your own clubs at the start. Most players could hit a variety of clubs off the teeing grounds of the first, second and third holes, all of which are par 4s under 360 yards.
It’s in these early holes a player can still detect the essence of the nine-hole Sandy Hill Golf Course that once lay on this property. It’s also a wonderful stretch that allows the player to warm to the task, while still offering enough difficulty in a trio of downhill approaches, hinting at what lies ahead.
The fun and games are over by the time you arrive at the par-3 fourth, which requires a long iron up from a gully to a gnarly, two-tiered elevated green. The fifth isn’t much easier, as a sweeping dogleg right makes it a task to scare the pin in two.
By the time you arrive at the through-the-chute par-4 sixth, the ante has officially been upped. A reprieve comes with the reachable par-5 seventh, but by then you’re likely tasting at least a little blood. Even the ninth, measuring at just 340 from the back tees, presents a sloped, tight target.
But my favorite stretch of holes on the course comes from 11 through 14. Alternating between par 5s and 4s, they wind back and forth through the forest, climbing for the three-shot holes and falling for the two-shotters. It’s classic parkland golf, but with the option to run shots up to greens if necessary.
In fact, it’s worth noting that only the four par 3s make a player to come up with a forced carry. Water comes into play just twice — on the par-3 eighth and the punishing par-4 18th.
The 18th is where we’ll wrap the review, just to keep it conventional. Tucked against the southern edge of the property, hard against the woods on the left and a tall bank on the right, this mid-distance par 4 discourages long hitters with a pond firmly in driver range.
A fairway hit is worth a pat on the back, but all that does is set up a dramatic look at the narrow final green. This multi-tiered number is guarded by a deep bunker to the right and overhanging trees to the left.
It’s a ball-busting ending, for sure, but not one you’ll hold against Pheasant Ridge. Nor should you, after it earns your goodwill with plush conditions, true greens and — lest I forget — a great value for your dollar.
PGN’S ON COURSE
No one’s a better ambassador for Pheasant Ridge than Reimer, who was a close friend of late course constructor Eric Knapp before taking over the operation himself a few years back.
I was happy to join him on the back porch of the lovely clubhouse to talk in our latest On Course video!
In addition to going over what he thinks makes the course special, we discussed his vision for parlaying the increased golf demand of 2020 into a healthier sport overall:
Pheasant Ridge Golf Club
6065 Rittman Road
Gibsonia, PA 15044
20 miles north of Downtown via Pa. Routes 28 & 8
Scorecard (All tees are par 72)
Blue – 6,600 yards, 72.0 rating, 135 slope
White – 6,085 yards, 70.0 rating, 128 slope
Gold – 5,357 yards, 66.7 rating, 120 slope
Red – 4,899 yards, 69.2 rating, 118 slope
Read our other PGN Course Reviews, including Butler’s Course, Totteridge, Moon, Frosty Valley, Murrysville, Grand View, Ligonier CC & Birdsfoot!