Regulars extol its virtues.
Stone Hedge Country Club’s layout is second to none.
But over the years, cart paths crumbled, sand bunkers turned into rock and mud traps, and finding a level spot on a tee box — well, that could be darned near impossible.
Under new ownership this season, dramatic changes are coming to one of the golfing jewels of Northeast Pennsylvania.
“In the long run, it’s the investment back into this course,” said general manager Mike Bender. “We want to make it competitive in the area. We’re trying to keep our rates down. We’d rather have more people play it. But there are a lot of projects going forward that will make it where we want it to be.”
One of the biggest projects in the offseason was the removal of 80-plus diseased trees, the most notable of which is the huge tree that golfers had to negotiate in the middle of the uphill, par-4 fifth.
And on the downhill, par-4 11th, half a dozen large trees along the left side had to go, which now gives golfers a better look at the water-guarded green.
The purchase of two new fairway mowers and a greens roller, and an increase in staff, have allowed workers to tackle new projects while upgrading course conditions.
“Over the years, we’ve seen it slowly deteriorate, so to get it back up to where we want it is going to take money put into it,” Bender said. “Our commitment to the community is to make this very family friendly, very open-to-the-public. We want people to come out and have a great time and really enjoy the game.”
Course superintendent Mark Brown welcomes the changes, which allowed him, among other things, to open the putting green adjacent to clubhouse, which was roughed-out, but never finished.
“Not only the fact that money is being put into the course, but we have probably twice the staff we had last year,” Brown said. “We’re able to keep up on maintenance better, the way it’s supposed to be. Tee boxes are our main priority to fix right now. And hopefully we’ll be doing a whole bunker renovation project over the next two years.”
This year, Brown said, he’s working on getting the course “back to where it should be.”
Add to that list the repair of cart paths on Nos. 4 and 5 long ago eroded.
“That’s one of our biggest complaints,” Brown said. “We’re upgrading our cart paths this year.”
Drainage has been added in some of those areas, and completing paving by the end of the season is one of the goals.
“I know we really want to finish up the cart paths this year,” Bender said. “We’re looking at the option of having a continuous cart path around the course. That way, if you need to be cart-paths only, you can actually do that. Cart paths, and we definitely want to get into the bunkers this year.”
It seems like a lot for one season, but Bender is confident.
“I know it’s an aggressive plan, but when you’re out there hitting your ball out of the bunker, as I am frequently, and you see it every day, you want to change it,” Bender said. “I think it will be one of those projects that we do as the season dies down. We might get in there and actually start digging them out, lay the proper liner, make sure the drainage is good and then refill it. Problem is, we have a lot of bunkers on the course. And I’ve found most of them.”
For now, leveling and resodding tee boxes remains a priority.
Fortunately, multiple sets of tee boxes allow the work to continue without interrupting play.
“I would say it’s a three-year project because once we get the main project done, then we’re going to go after all the details to make it pristine,” Bender said.