Cow patties? Sure. Not to mention the four-legged sources of those land mines. A horse or two, also. The earliest golfers on what evolved into the Mt. Lebanon Golf Course were a dedicated breed, dodging those hazards as early as 1907 to play the sport on farmland.
Just look at it now. Manicured. Inviting. Its regulation nine holes laid out over slopes and straightaways, doglegs and long drives.
One of just four courses in Allegheny County owned and operated by local government—along with those in South Park, North Park and Moon Township—the Mt. Lebanon course has matured from its early pastoral days into a strong community asset that draws all ages and ability levels.
“I think it adds a great bit to the community,” says Pavie Stark, Carleton Drive, who has been golfing there for decades as a long-time member of a Tuesday women’s league. “A lot of people just like to get out there. And if the weather’s decent, you try to play all year round. There have been days some years when people can golf in February.”
Stark calls herself an early bird, often getting on the course around 6:30 in the morning if it is light enough then. Even with the course’s new fleet of EZ-GO golf carts available, she prefers to walk the course and can usually complete the nine holes in about two hours.
Did we mention Stark is 92?
You might also find youngsters who are learning the game on the course. Three high schools—Mt. Lebanon, Keystone Oaks and Baldwin—use the course for competition and practice.
WPXI sports director Alby Oxenreiter, a lifelong Mt. Lebanon resident, is fairly certain four generations of Oxenreiters have golfed there. The first time he tried golf was at the Lebo course when he was 10 or 11.
“I have a great connection to it. I remember imitating Arnold Palmer the very first time I played it, and I still think my swing reflects that—it kind of looks like the bad version of Arnie,” says Oxenreiter, who emceed the 100th anniversary celebration of the course July 7, 2007—7/7/07—when former Steeler Rocky Bleier was a co-chair.
“I joked that day that I had a 7 on No. 7 to celebrate 7/7/07. Rocky attested, but he said it had nothing to do with trying to mark the significance; it was just my bad golf game.”
Oxenreiter remembers walking home from the course, cutting through the adjacent woods with his clubs.
Ian Happ, the now-famous Lebo grad and Chicago Cub, played on the course.
So did some local pros, including Kevin Shields, the director of golf instruction at The Club at Nevillewood, and regional teaching pro Gordon Vietmeier, both still competitive players.
But you don’t have to be a high-level golfer to try out the course. Or even a golfer at all.
“I am most proud of the fact that we are doing our part in growing the game of golf,” says Dave Boal, course manager. “The golf course hosts junior camps and a junior golf league that run throughout the summer months. We also have contracted PGA professionals on site who are instrumental in developing new players.”
Penny Hunt, 77, of Woodhaven Drive, downplays her competitive days, but she was one of the best golfers at the course in her heyday. She still plays there and recommends it for anyone from the curious to the committed golfer.
“It is wonderful for all ages, all levels,” says Hunt, who played in USGA events and helped run the Women’s Amateur Public Links tournament.
“I no longer play very well, but I still enjoy going up there, and I walk and carry my own bag.”
It’s not a cupcake course, even if it is nine holes rather than the full-course 18. About 20 years ago, the course was reconfigured, and testimonials tend to point to this layout being a bit tougher.
Hunt pegs the par-4 No. 2 hole as the toughest. She recalls that used to be No. 5. And she has a special relationship with No. 4, a par 4/5 depending on whether you use the blue tees or the white tees.
“That hole has been a bugaboo,” Hunt says. “It’s very long and it slopes very hard down into the woods. So, if you want to go ball hunting, you walk along the edge of the woods and you pick up many balls.”
There are some odes to the course’s long and rich past. The clubhouse, built in 1962, used to house the manager. Wally Grant, the first of three full-time course managers who also served as the course pro, lived there. Matt Kluck, who succeeded Grant as course manager, lived there for a time. There still is a tenant.
A plaque near the No. 1 tee designates the course as an historic landmark as recognized in 2007 on its centennial by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation.
Although there are no water features—ponds, for those who don’t speak golf—Hunt remembers that there used to be two old-fashioned water pumps on the course.
And then there’s the bell hole, No. 5. Near the green stands an old-timey bell, there for golfers to ring when they are leaving the green so those at the tee will know it’s OK to hit since they can’t see the green.
“People would say, ‘Well, where do I aim?’ and we would say, ‘The second cloud to the right. Or the forsythia,’” Hunt jokes.
The nine holes carry a par 34/35.
So do many others. Boal estimates 80 percent of those who play there are regulars.
Kluck, the course manager from 1983 until he retired and Boal took over in 2007, made it his goal to draw a wide array of golfers and ensure the course was an inclusive community asset.
“We made the course accessible,” says Kluck, Thornberry Circle, who still offers lessons there. “We had programs for every single group. We had special functions such as free junior clinics. One year we ran a free clinic just of all the high school girls’ teams. Through Mt. Lebanon we developed a Special Olympics program that eventually went statewide.
“A lot of opportunity was there. Municipal golf courses are great for any type of player, especially if you’re just getting started in the game.”
Kluck pegs No. 2 and No. 8 as “a couple of holes that are excellent golf holes that you could put on any golf course.”
“Hole No. 2 is more architecturally challenging to the eye because of the fact that there’s cross bunkering and it has a blind tee shot. Then it has a unique green that kind of runs away from the actual line of play.
“The eighth hole is just a long, straight hole, very elevated green with a crowned fairway, so it’s tough to keep the ball on the fairway. It really requires a well-played tee shot and second shot. It always plays longer than it should because it’s uphill to the green.”
That kind of design is a long way from the earliest days when the original 30 members—all men—founded what then was the private Castle Shannon Golf Club on a 100-acre farm. They paid $5 dues and often had to clear the way to play on a course that lacked proper greens and fairways.
Although there were 100 members by 1918, along with some course landscaping, things fell apart before being reorganized. In the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, it was a popular course that drew some of the region’s upper crust—financiers Andrew W. and Richard King Mellon were members who, legend has it, rode the trolley from Pittsburgh as far as it went, to Castle Shannon, and then finished the trip to the course by horse and buggy.
In 1947, Mt. Lebanon bought the course and reconfigured part of it so that it is contained within the township, abutting the Castle Shannon line.
Built by George Ormiston, a Scotland native who was one of the original members at the prestigious Oakmont Country Club, the Mt. Lebanon Golf Course is still evolving and getting better.
In 2007, its 100th anniversary, the course got a new irrigation system and new bunkers. In 2017, the first phase of a cart path improvement was completed. There is the aforementioned new fleet of carts, along with a new Jacobsen greens mower.
In keeping with the municipal golf course philosophy, fees are reasonable—$16 on weekends, $14 on weekdays, plus $8 if you rent a cart, and there are junior and senior discounts every day.
“It’s very well entrenched in the community,” says Kluck. “It’s quite an asset.”