I was tickled to be asked by a previous client, my friends from the Country Club of Scranton, Pa., to design a wonderful new country club for them in nearby Moosic. But the first time I saw the property, I saw nothing but granite rock outcroppings, gigantic wetlands, steep hillsides and abandoned strip mines bisected by county roads in one direction, and a huge gas pipeline in the other. There wasn't a bit of topsoil on the site. My reaction was deflation, mixed with a little despair and a whole lot of doubt. But ultimately I became determined to make the proverbial silk purse of a golf course out of this sow’s ear of a site.
At the time, I didn’t really understand the character of the people who live in and around the infertile valleys between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton. These are tough people who've clawed out a living from this land for generations. Many became extremely wealthy and powerful business leaders. So where I saw problems, they saw opportunity. So what if we had to blast away tens of thousands of cubic yards of rock? Or re-establish a huge lake out of a coal mine sediment trap? Or tunnel under a county road? Or even find, haul and process hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of topsoil?
I came to understand that the reason these folks could afford to build this course was because they didn’t like to spend very much money, unless they were sure they had a winner. Without question, Glenmaura was the most physically difficult course construction job that any of us had worked on to that time. Bill Kubly of Landscapes Unlimited says it is still the most difficult that his company has ever handled. But we had the confidence of our friends, and they knew no fear.
Our associate Guy Quattrocchi was selected to live on the site as day-to-day design coordinator, and much of the success of the project is due to his ability to analyze a problem, find a solution, sell the idea to our bosses and then encourage the builders to go above and beyond the effort expected of them. Even today I marvel at what was accomplished at Glenmaura National, especially given the expenditure of time and money available to build it.
During the time Glenmaura was being built, Aureus was the big dog in the very competitive golf apparel industry, and a major employer in this part of Pennsylvania. One of their celebrity representatives was Larry Mize, who had won the Masters in 1987, chipping in to defeat Greg Norman in a playoff. Larry was retained as a design consultant in the later stages of construction, and he offered many good design ideas that help make the golf course so exciting. (He suggested the back tee on number eighteen that, even with today’s high-powered golf equipment, requires an enormous drive to carry a couple hundred yards of bedrock scraped clean by a glacier 10,000 years ago.)
There are many spectacular holes at Glenmaura, in fact almost every one of the 18 could qualify as ‘the signature hole’ on most golf courses. Each has a special blend of off-site views, wide fairways framed by rock walls or sheer cliffs, bisecting streams, huge trees and splashy white sand bunkers. The 8th plays up to an old quarry on the drive, and then requires a daring second shot across the quarry to a right-rear hole location. The seventh has a large waterfall as the backdrop to a green set right against a creek.
Without question, Glenmaura National is a strong, demanding, beautiful mountain golf experience, but I think the real reason that people enjoy and remember it so well is because of its people. This is a special part of America and so are the good folks who live here.