The decades-old bridge at the Shawnee Inn & Golf Resort is actually portable and taken down every fall as golf season ends.
SHAWNEE ON DELAWARE, Pa. – Walking through the century-old clubhouse at the Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort you can't help but notice all the photographs of the great comedic actor Jackie Gleason. It was here in 1944 where Gleason learned to play golf, which brings to mind a classic 'Honeymooners' episode in which Ed Norton (Art Carney) tries to teach Ralph Kramden (Gleason) how to play the great game by using an instruction book.
Somehow I just can't see Sam Snead, who was once the resident pro at Shawnee Inn, explaining address the same way that Ed Norton did.
'What do they mean by address the ball?' Ralph asks.
'How should I know? That's what it says here,' Norton says as he pounds his hand on the book.
A few moments later, Norton exclaims, 'Wait a minute. I think I know what it means.'
Norton then takes a stance, looks down and says, 'Hello ball,' spurring Ralph to slap him on the back, and the laughs ensue.
The truth is by the time that episode aired in 1955, Gleason was already an avid golfer and had played countless rounds at Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort. He might have still needed lessons, but he was intimately familiar with the game.
Shawnee Inn is early A.W. Tillinghast design
Gleason was at the then Shawnee Country Club during its heyday. Back then, the course was just 18 holes originally designed by A.W. Tillinghast before he became a renowned architect. It was the site of the 1938 PGA Championship won by Paul Runyan over Snead, and it had become the playground of celebrities, athletes and high-ranking politicians.
Today there are 27 holes at Shawnee Inn, the Red Course, White Course and Blue Course. In 1961, nine new holes designed by Bill Diddle were added, possibly diluting the experience but making the course more resort friendly.
Diddle's holes are integrated into the original layout. They blend in rather seamlessly, although there are junctures where finding the next tee box requires a little local knowledge.
There's talk of restoring the course to its 1938 splendor. Owner Charles Kirkwood has been in discussions with architect Tom Doak about restoring the course using old photographs and drawings. Doak did a similar project at Pasatiempo Golf Club in California, although it didn't involve eliminating extraneous holes.
All but three of the holes at Shawnee Inn are on an island formed by the Delaware River, making for some dramatic holes alongside and over the river. There's also a portable bridge that was built decades ago. It was designed by original Shawnee Inn owner and architect C.C. Worthington.
Each year, the bridge is removed after the season, and it's reassembled in the spring. Part of any future renovation would include a bigger permanent bridge that could allow for heavier traffic. Kirkwood would like to see major tournaments return to Shawnee Inn, which in addition to the PGA has also hosted the U.S. Women's Amateur (1919), Shawnee Open (which Walter Hagan competed in) and the 1967 NCAA men's championship.
The signature hole at Shawnee is the seventh on the Blue Course, although the second on the Red Course is just as scenic. Both are par 3s that cross the river, however, the Blue hole might have a better view from the green with the Poconos and river in the background.
The Blue is arguably the best of the three nines, with three par 3s, three par 4s and three par 5s. The 3,438-yard layout tends to slow down play at times, but it's most interesting, especially the difficult par 3s. Combined with the Red Course, it plays to more than 6,800 yards with a rating of 72.8.
Shawnee Inn and Golf Resort: The verdict
If you ask players and those associated with the Shawnee Inn whether or not it should move forward with a Doak renovation, opinions are pretty much split down the middle.
As a retreat that serves the Northeast, many feel there would be little benefit to shrinking the course to 18 holes. Others, including Kirkwood, who purchased the resort with his wife Virginia in 1977, believe a renovation would be the ticket to getting significant tournaments and national recognition.
The truth is probably somewhere in between, especially considering recent and overall improvements to the resort.
The golf course is already a fun and challenging test. During the fall, with the leaves turning on the hardwoods on the hills, it's a classic American setting.
Doak already has his fingerprint on the par-3 Tillinghast Approach Course at Shawnee. Opened in 2006, Doak designed the course with Tillinghast-style bunkers and greens, and it provides a great warm-up to your round.
There's also the Tillinghast Golf Academy. Opened in 2003, it's headed up by PGA lifetime member Jim Miller, who serves as director of instruction. Miller excels in teaching all aspects of the game, especially the short game. (I can attest to this.) He draws from his extensive experience as a head professional in the area as well as playing in the U.S. Senior Open and nine other Champions Tour events.
The academy offers schools that range from a half day to three-day packages, which can include lodging and golf. You can also take part in group clinics or receive individual lessons on the grounds, which feature extensive short-game practice areas.