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Golf in Wyeth Country

Randy Harris Golf in Wyeth Country

Photo: Randy Harris

Technically, the Brandywine Valley traverses two states and three counties, incorporating both the college town of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and the banking hub of Wil­mington, Delaware. But we locals like to think of it as Wyeth country, the heart of which runs along the Baltimore Pike (also known as Route 1), a quiet corridor that connects Chadds Ford to Kennett Square just north of where Delaware's arm fits into Pennsylvania's shoulder. It's along here that the valley's most noted resident, Andrew Wyeth, has for more than half a century used the bucolic landscape of rolling, open fields—perfect, by the way, for golf courses—as inspiration for his provocative art. It's here, too, that George Washington suffered one of his worst defeats of the Revolution and that countless slaves exited to freedom via the Underground Railroad. The early Dutch, Swedish and Finnish settlers loved this land, as did the du Ponts, whose giant chemical company began in 1802 as gunpowder mills along the Brandywine River. Today the area is known for its antique shops, its mushroom farms (over half of the nation's crop is grown in Kennett Square) and the du Pont family's magnificent houses and gardens. So if golf isn't the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Brandywine, you're excused. But four days in the lush valley may cause you to reconsider.

Day One Whether arriving at Philadelphia International Airport or detraining in Wilmington, point your nose straight for the Inn at Montchanin Village, located just south of the Pennsylvania border in Delaware. Formerly a DuPont company town, the village was reconceived in the mid-1990s as a country retreat with twenty-eight rooms and suites grouped in several charmingly refurbished houses on landscaped grounds. It was named the world's best hotel under $250 in Travel + Leisure's 2006 readers' poll.

Unpacked or not, it's off to Avondale, just northwest of the border, for a round at Inniscrone Golf Club, one of minimalist architect Gil Hanse's earliest designs. Originally a private club, the course challenges with rolling contours, fescue-fringed bunkers, blind shots, a cagey double fairway on the par-four sixteenth and a finale that calls for a rousing drive over a valley and up an escarpment.

If it's still light enough, head northeast toward Kennett Square, then detour north onto Route 82 for a scenic drive through Unionville, which is renowned for its manicured horse farms and panoramic views. Don't be afraid to branch off onto the side roads; the natives—both equine and human—are usually friendly.

Back at the inn, relax over dinner at Krazy Kat's, housed in a former blacksmith shop. Feast on the Muscovy duck or the wild rockfish with locally grown golden chanterelles.

Day Two Rise early for coffee and culture in Chadds Ford before a mid-morning tee time at the Golf Course at Glen Mills, on the northeastern edge of the valley. Fortify yourself with fruit pancakes or a shiitake mushroom omelet at Hank's Place, a local breakfast institution where you might even run into Wyeth, who lives nearby. If not, there's plenty of his art on display just across the Baltimore Pike at the Brandywine River Museum. The museum also offers tours of Wyeth's former home and the studio of his father, N. C. Wyeth, half a mile down the road.

At Glen Mills, take in one of the most acclaimed daily-fee golf courses in Pennsylvania—and a remarkable success story in golf. Bold, brassy (you won't see the bottom of a flagstick from the tee until the drop-shot par-three tenth) and well maintained, Bobby Weed's design opens like a links and then descends into a quarry before roaming through testing hills, valleys and old farm fields. But that doesn't begin to tell the tale, for this is the nation's only course owned and operated by a reform school. The Glen Mills Schools, the oldest reformatory in the country, has long held out the poetic promise of a mulligan in life for boys who certainly could use one. This is one round you'll feel good about playing no matter your score. The course provides a vocational laboratory in greenskeeping for seventy kids a semester, and your golf fees help support the school's programs and college scholarship fund.

After the round, stop at Jimmy John's Pipin' Hot Sandwiches, a fixture since 1940 on the Wilmington Pike (Route 202), five miles south of West Chester. This roadside eatery's crunchy hot dogs are legend, as are its kitschy electric trains. Then visit Baldwin's Book Barn, a converted nineteenth-century Chester County dairy barn with more than 300,000 volumes shelved in a maze of side rooms, nooks, crannies and lofts that are delightfully easy to get lost in. You might well find owner Tom Baldwin, a low-handicapper who is always happy to talk about the royal and ancient endeavor, sitting by the wood stove with a Jack Russell terrier in his lap. Golf books line the shelves of an upstairs chamber.

Have dinner at the Gables at Chadds Ford, located in a renovated house and barn believed to be a stop on the Underground Railroad. The exotic-mushroom soup is a must.

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