Anyone can give a kid a candy bar. So what did the confectioner and philanthropist Milton S. Hershey unwrap for the children in his neighborhood in central Pennsylvania? A nine-hole golf course. A real one. No windmills or clown faces. No measly pitch-and-putt. Hershey Resorts’ Spring Creek Golf Course, situated off Chocolate Avenue (where else?), is a challenging yet fun assortment of bite-size par threes and par fours, just as it has been since 1934, when it opened as the nation’s first course designed specifically for kids. Spring Creek’s appeal no doubt helped Hershey Resorts win the distinction this year of being named the best destination for a family golf trip in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.
To be sure, the town of Hershey, ninety-five miles west of Philadelphia, has a few other attractions to recommend it to young and old alike. For children, there are the eleven roller coasters and thirteen water rides at Hersheypark, not to mention the factory tour at Hershey’s Chocolate World. For adults, the resort’s three championship eighteens beckon with their charms, as does the majestic Hotel Hershey.
Yet it’s the 2,125-yard par-thirty-three Spring Creek that makes Hershey unique for golfers. Designed by Maurice McCarthy while he was building the resort’s original eighteen, the West Course (which hosted the 1940 PGA and where Henry Picard and Ben Hogan once served as head pros), Spring Creek may have been created for kids, but it never condescends to them. The course was recently lengthened and renovated, to elevate some areas out of a floodplain and to prevent errant shots from flying onto adjacent holes. A tributary of the creek winds through several of the holes (the longest of which is 387 yards, the shortest just seventy-six). Two drives must negotiate an old quarry, and a few of the original greens display cranky cants.
Overall, though, it is remarkable how kid-friendly Spring Creek is. The fairways are cut at a height that ensures that the ball sits up. The bunkers have no steep lips. Nearly every green welcomes a run-up shot, and the putting surfaces are purposely kept slow. The pro shop specializes in junior clubs and apparel. Although children ages nine and up can play unaccompanied by adults (while still under the watchful eyes of course rangers), parents are invited to join in—as caddies, playing partners or enthusiastic spectators. And when the wind is blowing just right, the sweet aroma of chocolate wafts over the course, as if Milton Hershey were blowing a kiss.