When I tried to research it on the web, Laurel Valley is one of those courses that I simply could not find much info about. Located just about an hour from Pittsburgh and 10 minutes from Latrobe, this is the heart of Arnold Palmer country. Laurel Valley is one of the numerous courses that is considered home for Mr. Palmer.
This course opened in 1959 and was designed by Dick Wilson. Since opening it has hosted the 1965 PGA Championship, 1975 Ryder Cup, 1989 U.S. Senior Open and Senior PGA Championship in 2005 as well as numerous other events not as highly publicized. Over the years Arnold Palmer has tinkered with the layout considerably and to call it a Dick Wilson design seems a bit misleading at this point. Only 2 of the greens are original and there have been countless changes made elsewhere on the course.
I was surprised to see it sprinkling when I left my hotel. The previous day had been so nice that weather difficulties hadn’t even crossed my mind. I drove down the road until I saw the simple wooden sign that is the only roadside indicator of what lies beyond.
Once turning at the sign the narrow driveway winds back around to the clubhouse and you get your first glimpses of the course as you drive pull up to the parking lot. and My friend from Philadelphia, Fred, was with me again for this round and we arrived between by 7:30 and were the ONLY people on the property other than staff.
Our caddie Dan is a school teacher who has spent his last 13 summers caddying at Laurel Valley. He has caddied for Arnold about a half a dozen times and knows the course inside and out. Laurel Valley sees mostly corporate outings which surprised me. Dan said that Monday through Thursday are reserved for corporate play and that the members can only play on the weekends. Despite it being set up for corporate play the rough was really long and very difficult to hit out of which also surprised me.
There was a pretty good downpour outside so we waited it out for about 20 minutes and once the rain stopped we we able to go off before 8AM. Below is a photo of the first hole after we teed off.
Immediately the course reminded me of the parkland courses I’ve played in the Northeast like Winged Foot and Baltusrol. The other thing I noticed immediately is that there were bunkers everywhere. It seemed like every hole must have had 10. Below is photo of the first hole’s fairway bunkers and you can see the green side bunkers in the distance.
The photo below is of the par 4 2nd hole which features water in front of the green with a stone wall around the edge. There were quite a few holes that had this type of water and the stone wall look.
The green in the photo below is the 3rd hole which is a par 5. More huge bunkers. Fred started out touring the sand and then I joined in by the end of the day and our caddie may as well have carried a rake with him.
Below is a photo of the 6th green which is another par 5. This was the only birdie of the day for me. I hit my drive in a bunker, second shot to a spot with an over hanging tree limb and then a 110 yard shot with a perfect little draw around the limb that landed 6 feet from the hole. Proof that you really only need to hit one good shot to make a good score on a hole.
Behind the 9th green in the photo below you can see the clubhouse. Outside the frame of this photo on the left are several lodging options for members and their guests. As I mentioned above a lot of the play here is corporate outings and they are able to accommodate a large number of guests in their on site lodging.
The 10th hole is a long par four with a pretty sharp dogleg right. With the bushes and flowers along the right side as well as the stone wall surrounding the pond looked the hole looked like it was straight out of Augusta National.
The 14th hole pictured below is a short par 3. It was playing just 140 yards on this day. Note the water and wall look again. It was a nerve racking shot even though it was just a short one.
The photo below is a the approach on the 15th hole and another heavily bunkered green complex.
The 18th hole is a short par 5 that can definitely be reached in two. The second shot would be a heroic carry over the water and onto the green. I was in the long rough, so I was definitely not in position to get there in two. The photo of the green below is what I was looking at for my 3rd shot. You had better be comfortable hitting your ball over water if you’re going to play at this course.
Despite the rain and the wet conditions of the course we had a blast here. This is one of the prettier courses I’ve played and it was a fun course as well. It doesn’t beat the players up too badly if you keep the ball on the beaten track. If you get off track the rough can be pretty penal, but overall the course is very fair, very fun and very playable. Its a course you don’t hear much about but one that you should definitely play if the opportunity presents itself.