At a time in America when “taking the waters” was a palliative for all maladies, movers and shakers sought healing mineral springs for revival and refreshment. Resorts sprang up around natural springs, promoting gala social events and sporting pastimes. Bedford Springs Resort, set in a sylvan valley amongst the Allegheny Mountains of south Pennsylvania, was founded over 200 years ago as one of the nation’s prototypes. Its elegant white-columned hotel, hailed as a “palace in the wilderness,” drew A-list East Coast urbanites, including seven sitting presidents.
In the wake of a $120 million refurbishment by the present owners, Omni Hotels, the 216-room, 2,200-acre property, looks much as it did in its heyday. Soothing pastel colors and antique furnishings grace the public areas. Its white-railed porches are set with rocking chairs. Both in the renovated Historic Wing and new Spa Wing, rooms authentically decorated with period touches, like rocking chairs, still offer all the modern amenities.
The resort’s long history includes many innovations, not the least of which is one of the country’s first golf courses. Etched into the valley floor is the Old Course at Bedford Springs, which showcases three distinct eras of golf architecture. The original 18, built in 1895, was condensed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1912 and reconstructed by Donald Ross in 1923. Pennsylvania-based Ron Forse, known for his restoration work, was brought in to weave together these disparate threads.
Stretching to 6,785 yards (par 72), the out-and-back layout, despite its vintage, is more challenging than quaint. With swathes of wetlands and Shobers Run, a gold-medal trout stream, in play at 14 holes, this classic beauty shows plenty of teeth, especially when the wind swirls.
The No. 1 handicap hole is the treacherous par-3 fourth, called ‘Volcano,’ a Ross creation that plays 223 yards straight uphill to a double-tiered green flanked on all sides by cavernous bunkers and thick rough. Far gentler is Tillinghast’s 14th, called ‘Tiny Tim,’ a short par-3 that drops from an elevated tee to a bean-shaped green fronted by a lagoon and ringed by five bunkers. To the left of the putting surface is a range of “alps”—chocolate-drop mounds roughly two feet high. These shaggy landforms are a throwback, and no picnic to play from.
After the round, players can take a dip in the spring-fed indoor pool, the nation’s first (1905) indoor Olympic-size pool. The resort’s 30,000-square-foot Springs Eternal Spa pipes in natural spring waters for its treatments and features a signature product line inspired by indigenous botanicals. While they can’t cure the yips, the mineral-rich waters at Bedford Springs, which issue forth from the side of a mountain (a marked hiking trail leads to each), have a beneficial effect on tired muscles. Over two centuries of satisfied patrons attest to their curative powers.