Toftrees Resort popular with football crowd

By Chris Rodell, Contributor

STATE COLLEGE, Penn. -- Toftrees Resort sits in the same Happy Valley that's home to one of the most storied college football coaches in history and the splendid golf course shares at least one feature with any coaching life: There are plenty of ups and downs.

But Toftrees Golf Course differs with Coach Joe Paterno in one way that even JoePa must envy -- Toftrees never has a losing season. Year-in, year-out this course is a winner.

Golf Digest ranks it a four-star "Places You Can Play," and visiting fans and sports writers often book tee times to coincide with weekend match-ups each fall when their teams line up against the Nittany Lions.

For devoted golfers, it's as compelling a reason to send your offspring to Penn State as a good education -- and you'll have a nice place to tee it up with your son or daughter during parental visits.

Paterno doesn't play golf, but he's at Toftrees the night before every home game at Nittany Stadium.

"Before every home game, the team comes out to Toftrees and has meetings and meals," says director of golf Tom Katancik. "You hardly ever see them, but they do all their meetings and pre-game preparations in our conference rooms. Then the next morning they have breakfast and it's back on the bus and off to the game."

You may not see the current players, but it's the resort of choice when Nittany Lions of the past come roaring into town. Once impoverished college students, professional football players like Shane Conlin, D.J. Dozier and other PSU/NFL veterans choose Toftrees when they come for reunions and revelry. Alumni from all walks of life do the same.

"It's just such a beautiful setting," Katancik says. "I think that's what people love about it so much. It's so secluded. You get back on some of these holes and it's so peaceful. It's an absolutely perfect piece of land for golf. People just love it."

The beguiling name Toftrees is said to be a Bavarian term for "home among the trees." It also sounds like a happy contraction of the words "tough" and "soft," a good way to describe a round amid the leafy central Pennsylvania splendor. The course is tough, all right, but the serene setting will soften your heart.

Built by Ed Ault over several years in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the course has the rolling kind of elevation changes that make every shot unique. It's a pleasant topography, the kind any able-bodied golfer would enjoy strolling on a sunny day. And it's set in a fine resort devoted to pampering.

Toftrees is just a couple of miles from campus, but a world away from the pizza joints, bookstores and cluttered coffee shops associated with any university town. The resort is a community unto itself, with homes, town houses, restaurants and shops that can keep you from needing to leave the gates.

For all its sprawling, big-time campus feel, Penn State sits in a remarkably isolated part of the Pennsylvania woodlands. About three hours from Pittsburgh to the west, a bit longer from Philadelphia in the east, the course draws golfers from all over the Mid-Atlantic, with western Pennsylvanians bringing the most repeat customers.

Like its position on the map, each hole on Toftrees gives you an isolated feeling, too.

The 7,026-yard course cuts through 1,500 acres of oak and pine forest with such abandon that rarely do you glimpse another hole, let alone another golfer. The holes are wonderfully individual and the terrain so varied that you can play Toftrees multiple times and each round feels like the first time.

The 634-yard, par-5 eighth hole is the showcase of all that's enjoyable about Toftrees. From an eagle perch of a back tee, your drive must bullet through a chute of pines to a generous fairway with water and woods on the sides. Only the longest hitters will have to concern themselves with a patch of rough dissecting the fairway about 300 yards from the tips. The green is rarely reachable in two. Approach shots need precision to avoid winding up on the wrong side of the two-tiered green.

No. 9, a 380-yard par-4, is a beaut, too. A large lake in front of the tee requires a 225-yard carry to the landing area. It's all uphill from there. The green is protected by deep bunkers in front and the only birdies most golfers will see here are in the trees.

The back nine opens up for some breathing space before encroaching with a vengeance on the narrow finishing holes.

It's hard choosing a signature hole at Toftrees. Individual holes don't elevate themselves over the others so much that there is a standout. It is recollections of the entire course that stand out.

With ample adjacent land available for expansion, Toftrees has considered adding another nine and twice has drawn up plans, but those plans are currently shelved. No matter. Toftrees has all a greedy golfer could want right now.

Where to stay

Toftrees Resort recently underwent a $2 million renovation that added elegance and convenience to each room. Rooms begin at $99 per night (2003 prices).

The Nittany Lion Inn, 200 West Park Avenue, State College, Pa., 16803-3598; (814) 865-8500; (800) 233-7505; Rooms begin at $99 (2003 prices).

Where to dine

Toftrees Resort features two outstanding restaurants, Le Papillion, which serves breakfast and a sumptuous Sunday brunch for $18.95 (2003 prices). The Down Under Steak House features tasty creations by Chef Randall Sherman. The Down Under menu includes Lobster Casserole for $19 (2003) and Filet Mignon stuffed with fresh basil and Boursin cheese for $22 (2003).

State College features an enjoyable array of foods from the mouth-watering barbecue of Beulah's Bar-B-Que, 114 Garner St., State College, 16801, (814) 237-0374, to the hearty burgers and American fare of The Corner Room, 100 W College Ave, State College, Pa. 16801, (814) 237-3051.

Off course

The limestone streams around Penn State are considered some of the finest fly fishing waters in the Eastern United States. Guides, tips and equipment can be found at Orvis dealer Fly Fisher's Paradise, 2603 E. College Ave., State College, Pa., 16801, (814) 234-4189.

The Mount Nittany Vinyard and Winery, 300 Houser Road, Centre Hall, Pa, 16828, (814) 466-6373, Nestled on the side of Mt. Nittany overlooking Happy Valley, this small, family-owned winery produces award-winning wines sold throughout the state.

Chris Rodell,, is a staff writer for, and author of Hole in One! The Complete Book of Fact, Legend and Lore on Golf's Luckiest Shot," (Andrews McMeel, $9.95). He can be contacted at

Fast fact

Toftrees is a Bavarian term for "home among the trees."

Chris RodellChris Rodell, Contributor

Chris Rodell may not be the best golf writer, the most productive or the best informed, but he is the only golf writer who lives on Arnold Palmer Drive one half mile from Latrobe Country Club and The King himself.

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