If you follow the Schuylkill River out 50 miles or so from 30th Street Station – past Conshohocken, King of Prussia and Pottstown – you’ll come to the 5th largest city in Pennsylvania. Most familiar to Philadelphians based on it’s railroad history (like the Terminal Market and the property in Monopoly) and minor-league baseball team, the small city of Reading boasts over a quarter million metro residents. Due to the ample land supply in mostly rural Berks County, the area boasts a fair amount of public golf course options. My aunt, uncle and cousins lives in the suburbs so I’ve visited the area often, but I’ve never played any of the local courses.
On a crisp fall day, I wanted to explore a new course and my focus shifted towards Reading. In my research I found a pair of Golden Age, formerly private courses that have recently become public – Reading Country Club and Berkleigh Country Club. Just a 40 minute drive up Route 422 from my office, I choose Reading CC. Though not quite 6,200 yards from the back tees, it seemed like a quirky, fun old course.
I was really pleased with my choice as my first round at Reading CC was quite enjoyable. The course is cleverly laid out over sloping terrain and offers a great deal of variety. Their rates are very reasonable, peaking around $50 to ride on the weekend. I paid just $15 to walk on a quiet Friday afternoon and finished in under three hours. Is it worth the drive? Absolutely. There are plenty of courses that take a while to get to and Reading offers as much fun for your buck as any.
There’s actually quite a rich history at Reading Country Club. The club was founded in 1923, with Scottish immigrant Alexander Findlay laying out the original 9 holes and then expanding the course to 18 holes in 1925. The grand clubhouse was added in 1931. In 1937, Byron Nelson was hired as the club pro, just after winning the Masters. Nelson would also win the 1939 US Open at Philadelphia Country Club’s Spring Mill course before departing for the Inverness Club in 1940. In 1949, Sam Snead set the course record of 63 in the Reading Open, a PGA tour event from 1947 to 1951, mostly held at Berkleigh.
The course is mostly original. The only changes of note are the 10th and 17th holes. The 10th originally played as a par-4 through the current driving range and the 17th was a par-4 with the tee up next to the 16th green instead of a significant back-track. The greens and bunkering is mostly the same, though some have shrunk or been eliminated over time. The biggest change has been the timber.
In 2006, Exeter Township purchased the club, saving it from development and opening the course to the public. As in many municipalities, the fate of the golf course is again tenuous. Hopefully the township will choose to preserve the heritage of the course and invest in its improvement, much like West Norriton has done with Jeffersonville Golf Club.
This trip to Reading was a motivating factor for me to start this website. Like the improvements at Jeffersonville, I felt like I found something really cool that I needed to share with the world. Most golf reviews and rankings are about aesthetics – how green the grass is, the amenities and the staff’s friendliness – and heavily influenced on how a person played. But those things aren’t really about the golf. I want to write about the value a course brings to the game of golf itself.
The American golfing public has been fooled into thinking every course should be lush green, every lie perfect and every putt quick and true. A course could be relatively boring, but as long as it looked good and is in great condition, it’s a “great” course. Judged on those lofty (and expensive) ideals, Reading would likely suffering in the rankings. After a wet, hot and humid summer and a very wet fall, the course conditions were a mixed bag. Some holes suffered but most the greens were very good. However, I’m sure many would be turned off by some of the tee boxes or fairways.
If you’re reading this, you’re a golfer. And we don’t play golf to admire grass, we play to hit golf shots. Reading CC offers options to hit a lot of different golf shots. Findlay deserves a lot of credit as the flow of the course moves beautifully up and down the hills and over Antietam Creek, with each subsequent hole featuring a different challenge than its predecessor. I found each of the 18 holes unique and compelling. To highlight some of the best, the bunkering around the 3rd green is amazing. Both the 5th and 14th are excellent par-5s. The 15th is very cool, long par-3 with a big drop in elevation from tee to green. You tee-ball seems to hang in the air forever! And the 11th is a wonderfully quirky “Alps” hole with a severe dogleg left.
The biggest challenge the course faces is the trees. We all love trees and Pennsylvania has plenty of them, but on a golf course, their role should be limited. While the overgrowth of the course mostly does not affect play, the tree plantings and growth make grass-growing very challenging, particularly in the eastern part of the property. The 4th, 5th, 7th and 15th had the bulk of the turf issues. The 16th has lost a lot of luster and strategy due to tree plantings and overgrowth. The trees also hinder so potentially great views across the property. With a little investment in tree removal, the course would see great benefits.
While I played on a quiet day, there shouldn’t be many bottlenecks to slow play. For walkers, the back nine is on the tough side as it moves up and down quite a lot. I walked and the stretch from 14 through 18 is quite hilly and tiring. The pro-shop was modest but well stocked and all my interactions with the staff were very pleasant. There’s a small snack shop for your food and beverage needs and a nice patio area for after-round beverages.
If you’re a golfer that likes to bounce around between a number of locations, you should add Reading to your rotation at least once a year. If you live around Reading or the 422-corridor, I would add Reading CC to your regular rotation. I’ll certainly be back a few times in 2019, meeting up with my cousins and uncle for a round sooner than later.