Cranberry Highlands Golf Course (Cranberry Township, PA on 05/23/15)

If you follow my blog you know that I like to visit places that I’ve never been to before! I always like seeing a new skyline and the East Coast has plenty of them! A friend and I planned to visit Pittsburgh to catch a couple Pirates games and play a little golf over Memorial Day weekend. I’ve only been to a handful of baseball stadiums so I was excited about seeing a new one. Unfortunately, my friend had a family emergency and couldn’t make it. I continued with the trip, but made a couple adjustments.

The original plan was to play at Cranberry Highlands and head over to PNC Park to enjoy an afternoon game. I had made an 8:50am tee time for my friend and I on Saturday but had to call on Friday and tell the proshop that he wouldn’t be able to make it. They were kind enough to allow me to keep my spot as a single which I thought was some great customer service!

I stayed near the airport on Friday and had a pretty easy drive on Saturday morning. It took around 45 minutes but I think I took the long way. No surprises there I’m afraid! It was great that the proshop kept me on the tee sheet because the course was packed when I got there. I knew it was going to chilly, but I didn’t expect a frost delay in late May!

They started sending foursomes off shortly after I arrived and our group teed off around 9:30am. All in all it took a little over 4 hours to play, but it felt slower because there was a lot of waiting on the groups in front. That pace was more than acceptable for me considering that it was a holiday weekend. From what my group said though, it seems like the pace of play here can be slow.

I pretty much fell in love with Cranberry Highlands online before the trip because it looked wide open and friendly. I like courses where I can hit some loose shots and let another part of my game bail me out. The course is an “inland links” style design. By that I mean, there aren’t many trees in play. If you look at the satellite image of the layout you will see that it is only possible to knock it in the trees in a few places!

Most of the holes are parallel to each other and play up and down a cleared out section of hillside. The nice thing about the location is that there aren’t any homes in play and only a few can be seen from the property. I didn’t think there was anything tricky when playing the course for the first time and there wasn’t any hidden trouble. In fact, there are only two ponds that can add drama. Because of all the “openness” there is flexibility to play whatever shot someone wants off the tee. I think that allows for confidence to swing freely.

I don’t want to give the impression that the course is easy though. I wasn’t sharp, made a bunch of bogeys, and shot above my handicap. There are a couple things that give the course some teeth. First, I didn’t find the fairways as wide as it seemed they should be considering the open layout. They seemed to slither around bunkers too which made it important to hit good drives. If way offline then there could be some nasty fescue to deal with depending on the time of year. Second, precise irons were needed to put together a good score. Any iron that was a little off had me trying to get it up and down. Finally, the course plays longer than the yardage indicates. Lots of tee shots seemed to play to uphill landing areas and the course plays as a par 70. There are three long par 5’s and the shortest par 3 on the scorecard is 184 yards. For reference, I played the Cranberry tees which play 70.9/128/6513.

As far as the maintenance goes, the course was in great shape! The course is all bentgrass if that matters to you. I know I love some bentgrass! I believe that Cranberry Highlands is a municipal course which makes its conditioning even more impressive. There were a few divots on the tees and that was it. There weren’t any bare patches and I always had a great lie in the tightly mown fairways. The greens were receptive and rolled nice, albeit a bit slower than they looked.  The rough wasn’t too tall, but it was very thick which affected my normally good short game. I struggled to get the distance right around the greens when chipping.

I’m very happy with my pick to play Cranberry Highlands. It was convenient (I-79 and I-76 are nearby), forgiving, and in great shape. I paid $66 which included a cart, but it looks like they give residents a bit of a break. It is a place that I think I would play quite a bit if I lived in the area. I’m not sure everyone will love the course as much as I did though because it didn’t seem to have much “wow” factor. There aren’t any stunning views and lots of the holes can blend together. I certainly can understand that point of view.

#1 (359 yard par 4):

The 1st hole is a forgiving, short par 4 that should give everyone a chance to warm up. It plays a little uphill, but someone can hit whatever club they want off the tee. It has a generous fairway and even a miss to the right over the bunker could end up in the short grass. The deep green is narrower towards the front so a precise iron is needed to get it close.

1-1

#2 (561 yard par 5):

The 2nd is the hardest hole on the course and I think a lot of that is because it is one of the few tree lined holes at Cranberry Highlands. It is also a long par 5! The tee shot looks inviting, but I found the fairway narrower than it looked when I got up to my ball. Anything to the right can kick out of play and anything left of the cart path can end up in the tall grass. The layup should avoid some bunkers before the third plays into a green that angles slightly to the left.

2-1 2-2

#3 (194 yard par 3):

The 3rd is the course’s signature hole! It drops down about two clubs to a green that is surrounded by water on three sides. I ended up in that right bunker and didn’t have much chance of stopping it near the flag as the right side of the green slopes from right to left. A draw is the best shot shape.

3-1

#4 (415 yard par 4):

The 4th is a straightaway par 4. There is plenty of room to the right so make sure not to miss on the left side with the lost ball trouble. The fairway narrows the farther that someone hits it and there are a couple fairway bunkers out there to avoid. Missing right on the approach is better too because there is a large depression short and left of the green.

4-1 4-2

#5 (369 yard par 4):

I think the 5th is one of the best driving holes on the course. It is decision time! Someone can either layup to the right or try to carry the large bunker on the left. Even if you carry the left bunker there are some other bunkers off in the distance. I didn’t want to mess with it so I played out to the right. That meant I had a poorer angle into the green but at least I had a shot. It might take a couple times playing here to find a yardage off the tee that leaves a flat lie. The approach played about a club more into the green.

5-1

#6 (198 yard par 3):

The tees were up when I played so I only hit a mid-iron on this par 3. Any flag located on the right two-thirds of the green shouldn’t be too difficult if someone can control their distance. However, there is an elevated tier on the left side of the green which could be very tough to get at, especially with a long iron.

6-1 6-2

#7 (549 yard par 5):

The 7th is another straightaway hole without any tricks. The landing area for the tee shot slopes a bit from left to right so try not to end up down the right side. My ball landed on the very right edge of the fairway and kicked into the bunker. Some of the bigger hitters can chase a second shot up near the front of the green. For everyone else it will (hopefully!) be a short iron into a green with some slope from right to left.

7-1 7-2

#8 (207 yard par 3):

The 8th is a tough par 3 because it is long and it has a semi-blind green. It also seemed to play a club uphill. The angle of the green sets up best to receive a draw.

8-1 8-2

#9 (405 yard par 4):

The 9th plays uphill and around the bunkers on the right towards the clubhouse. Keeping the tee shot to the left should leave a good angle into the green and it might bounce right when it lands. The approach is slightly uphill and plays into a two-tiered green.

9-1

#10 (385 yard par 4):

The back nine opens with a chance to get off to a fast start and put some good holes together. The 10th green isn’t visible from the tee, but after a good drive you should be able to see it. I had just a short iron into the green and knocked it close. There aren’t any bunkers short or right of the green so that could be a decent spot to play from.

10-1 10-2

#11 (322 yard par 4):

The 11th is a position hole off the tee. Much like the 5th, different distances require different lines. The hole plays uphill to a green that slopes from back to front with the hillside. Hitting the approach short is better than long. I had a tough time judging the distance on my approach because I only could see the top half of the flag.

11-1 11-2

#12 (347 yard par 4):

The 12th is a genius design! It is a short par 4 with water that runs down the right side all the way up to (and short of) the green. The fairway narrows the closer that someone gets to the green and that presents different options off the tee. The first option is to hit a layup club off the tee. That most likely means having to skirt the water on the second shot. I decided to hit driver as far as I could down the left side. That opened up a great angle into the green and I didn’t have to worry about the water. There are a couple bunkers to the left if someone decides to go with the aggressive play.

12-1 12-2

#13 (184 yard par 3):

The 13th, at 184 yards, is the shortest par 3 on the course. You don’t see that everyday! It plays to a narrow green with some left to right slope. I’d aim for the left side of the green because a ball over to the right could get a bad bounce.

13-1

#14 (424 yard par 4):

The 14th is one of the tougher holes on the course. The breeze was helping so I had just a mid iron into the green, but I think it is normally into the wind from what my playing partners said. It is an uphill tee shot and there are a couple bunkers to avoid. The approach plays to a two-tiered green which means it is important to find the correct level.

14-1 14-2

#15 (218 yard par 3):

I enjoy a really long par 3 if there some space around the green. It is all carry to get to the green’s surface, but there is lots of grass around it (no bunkers). It looks more intimidating than it really is because of the hazard that needs to be carried. However, only the worst shots should end up lost. The green has plenty of ridges so don’t expect a flat putt on it!

15-1 15-2

#16 (391 yard par 4):

The 16th is the biggest dogleg at Cranberry Highlands. You can see the fairway move left around those two bunkers and the green is just out of sight to the left in the first picture. Playing to the left can shorten the hole, but there is some risk because the slope can kick it into the trees or fescue.

16-1 16-2

#17 (438 yard par 4):

The 17th is the longest par 4 on the course and it is a great hole! It goes slightly right so trying to hug (or carry) those right bunkers is a good line off the tee. If the drive lands in the right spot it can run out a good distance. Because the green is narrow it felt like I left my approach on the short side when I didn’t! Playing from short of the green shouldn’t be too bad just make sure to avoid going left as there is out of bounds.

17-1 17-2

#18 (573 yard par 5):

The 18th is the longest hole the course and it is uphill! The fairway snakes back and forth up to the green so just try to hit two solid shots to set up the approach. Sorry for the discoloration in the first picture, not sure what button I hit on my phone!

18-1 18-2

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