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New golf course developed in Pa.

October 10, 2000

New golf course developed in Pa.



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro


MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Although it won't officially open to the public until April, golfers with special invitations are being allowed to play on the new Whitetail Golf Resort on Blairs Valley Road, the course superintendent said Tuesday.

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"We want to get a little feedback on what players think of the course," said Jeff Hall, 46.

The golf course is owned by the Hummelstown (Pa.) General Purpose Authority. The authority bought it from the Dauphin County General Purpose Authority in December for $7.5 million.

Hummelstown, a Dauphin County community of 4,000 near Harrisburg, Pa., hired Kemper Sports Management Group of Northbrook, Ill., to manage the course. Hall works for Kemper. "I came with the deal from Dauphin County," he said.

Kemper manages about 60 golf courses around the country, including Holly Hills and Whiskey Creek in Frederick, Md., Hall said. It also sponsors the annual Kemper Open golf tournament in Potomac, Md.

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Construction of the Whitetail course began in the spring of 1999. It was seeded in the late fall.

Nature lent a hand in the construction, Hall said. The dry weather during 1999 allowed for an uninterrupted construction season and the extra rain this year helped the grass to grow. "It was a perfect scenario," he said.

The course runs for 7,000 yards from the back tees. It's surrounded by forested hills with wide vistas offered from the 13 holes in the valley. The other five holes are nestled in the woods.

Licking Creek runs through the course and is crossed by 11 wooden bridges. The course has two man-made ponds and 40 acres, including woodlands, meadows and wetlands, that have been set aside in conservation easements.

"We have deer, turkey, wild geese, beaver and all kinds of waterfowl here," Hall said.

Seven miles of paved golf-cart paths criss-cross the course.

Hall and his family live in a stone farmhouse just off the course. The house and a large red barn across the street were built in the 1790s and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Both will be preserved, Hall said.

The 82 golf carts the course is buying will be garaged in a large barn on the property, Hall said.

The golf course takes up about 250 acres. It once was two working farms owned by the Martin and Dowling families, Hall said.

An adjoining 110-acre farm was included in the purchase when Hummelstown bought the property.

That tract will be used for residential development, possibly up to 700 homes, although Mike O'Keefe, borough manager for Hummelstown, said the actual number has yet to be decided. General purpose authorities cannot finance residential construction so the 110 acres will be sold back to a series of developers who will build the houses, O'Keefe said.

He also said that Hummelstown may turn over construction of a planned 90-room hotel and convention center to a developer.

"Right now we're just focusing on finishing the golf course," he said. The hotel's proximity to the ski resort would make it a year-round venture, Hall said.

Dauphin County bought the land the course was to be built on in 1998.

Hall was hired in the fall of that year. A native of Lancaster County, Pa., he said he has been in the golf course business all of his life. "I started caddying when I was 12," he said.

Snow Time, Inc., owners of Ski Liberty and Ski Roundtop in Pennsylvania, bought the ski resort in September 1999 for $13 million.

The Borough of Mercersburg's General Purpose Authority tried to get in on the action earlier in 1999 when it offered $41 million for the ski resort and golf course, but the deal fell through when Mercersburg couldn't get its financial package together.

Pennsylvania law allows municipal authorities to float tax-exempt bonds for public and private ventures.

Hummelstown is financing the golf course through temporary bonds. Permanent bonds for the project have not been sold yet, O'Keefe said. Hummelstown hopes to reap its profits from the course from user fees.

Hummelstown is focusing on getting the golf course ready for its opening next spring, O'Keefe said. That involves planting trees, putting up signs around the course, building a maintenance facility and converting a brick ranch house on the course into a temporary clubhouse, pro-shop and snack shop to serve the golfers.

According to the National Golf Foundation in Jupiter, Fla., 35 new golf courses were built in 1999. A record 564 million rounds of golf were played that year, a 7 percent jump over 1998. There were 26.4 million golfers in 1999, the foundation said.

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