Galen Hall Golf Club
|Architect||Alex Findlay, A.W. Tillinghast|
|Tee Sheet||Front 9||Back 9||Course|
In 1880, the Preston family of England constructed a three-story resort in South Heidelberg Township. On April 8, 1911, the Prestons sold the resort to the Galen Hall Company, which ran a hotel and health sanatorium of the same name in Atlantic City, N.J. In 1912, the Galen Hall Company built a Mountain wing onto the resort, which now offered seven stories and 300 rooms. Galen Hall had to compete with Walter’s Park and Grand View, and the owners had to add something that none of the others could offer.
So, Scottish emigrant Alex Findlay (1865-1942) designed the original nine-hole golf course. Findlay was a pioneer who helped bring the Scottish game to the attention of Americans, many of whom had never even heard of the game. Throughout his career, Findlay designed over 100 golf courses in 16 states, played on over 2,400 courses, competed in exhibition matches with then renowned Henry Vardon, and left many course records in his wake. The course was built by James Albert Preston, who stayed on as Galen Hall’s contractor. The front nine was built in 1912. A. W. Tillinghast added his unmistakable touch to the course, with the 15th hole, also known as the “Moat Hole.” The course and hotel were a Mecca for celebrities during this era. Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle stayed at the hotel and the golf course drew names like Fred and Adele Astaire who once went out as a foursome with then pro Bob Middleton and his assistant Henry Moyer in 1927. The hotel was a popular place for conventions.
Galen Hall well known for its beautiful and tricky golf course as well as for its conventions held in the spring and fall. One of the first conventions which attracted considerable notice over the entire country was held in 1915 by the moving picture industry. Some of those attending the convention were the motion picture stars Pearl White, Mabel Normand, Marguerite Clark, Francis X. Bushman, John Bunny, “Fatty” Arbuckle and Mary Pickford.
The Galen Hall Hotel was sold in 1935 to an experienced New York hotel man, Emanuel Burack, who began taking the already elegant resort and transforming it into a more modern first class destination hotel. It was in this era that the Forest Glades Pool was built from a natural pond surrounded by tall hemlock trees. It was regarded as one of their most beautiful swimming areas in the Berks County area. There was on site “room service” and even a dance orchestra. The pool complex cost $18,000.00 a large sum at the time, and the work was again done by James Albert Preston. During this era, the golf course was improved and lengthened.
The golf course was again enhanced in 1955 by the father and son team William & David Gordon, who designed other local courses such as Saucon Valley and Sunnybrook. The work made some refinements and lengthened the course to its current 6,271 yards, increasing par from 68 to 72.
In 1955, Emanuel Burack’s son Daniel took over the operation of the hotel. William & David Gordon, who also designed the Saucon Valley Grace course, revised the course that year as well.
On April 7, 1963, fire was discovered around 11:15 p.m., and flames were curling out from the penthouse. John Yocom, Galen Hall’s club professional at the time, was notified shortly before midnight. He, in turn, passed the news onto owner Daniel Burack, who was in Philadelphia at the time. Burack immediately rushed up the turnpike to the scene. Much to his horror, the extent of the blaze became plain when he could see the night sky lit up by the fire many miles in the distance as he drove towards the scene. The efforts to fight the fire were ultimately in vain because of a shortage of enough readily available water. It was the end of the Galen Hall Hotel. The golf course suffered some light damage, but was repaired. Today, the bungalows, the restaurant and an out building used to house ground keeping equipment survive from the once 900-acre complex that was Galen Hall.
In 2001, with the death of the owner Eli K. Martin, the golf course’s future was now in question. The property was put up for sale in 2006, the invitation to bidders suggesting it might be a good choice for housing development, which would have meant an end the long history of the course. A partnership was formed to buy the property, with the goal of making the course the premier course in Berks County. The partnership consists of Robert A. Fisher, of Naples, Fla.; his son, Fred A. Fisher, of South Heidelberg Township; Brian R. Stiefel, of Sinking Spring; and Anthony F. Miller Sr., of West Lawn. The new owners plan to invest $1-2 million into improving the clubhouse and facilities, and adding a driving range on an addition adjacent parcel of land that was also purchased.
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