Bill Gearhart had a vision.
A scenic piece of land his grandparents, parents and finally Gearhart himself farmed northwest of Manchester was the perfect spot for a golf course. From that vision, Hart Ridge was born, and now nearly 30 years later, Gearhart’s dream has become a popular destination for Delaware County and surrounding area golfers.
Gearhart got the ball rolling when he opened a driving range on the property in 1989.
“I started with the range and a cattle shed that year,” he said. “People that wanted to hit balls would go into the shed, grab a bucket of balls, and put the money in a coffee can on the table. We used the honor system.”
That driving range is still a big draw, as everyone from frequent Hart Ridge players to area high school teams make use of the opportunity to fine-tune their games on the range.
“The range is one of the main reasons I enjoy playing at Hart Ridge,” said Manchester resident Dennis Pearson. “I can hit balls before I play, and I also really enjoy league play out here.”
Gearhart designed the nine-hole layout along with Bill Hall, of Monticello, and relied on the expertise of Midwest Irrigation during construction.
“I seeded the course in 1989. It was a long process and I mowed hay out there for a couple of years before we opened for play in 1991,” he said. “It’s a fun course to play. It’s pretty wide open, but the greens are tough. The way they are mounded you feel like you could fall off of them sometimes.”
Along with the mounds, the greens at Hart Ridge are well known for their pristine condition and quick speed.
“We don’t have any bunkers on the course. We don’t need them with the hump-back greens and the small landing areas,” said Pete Wessels, who along with Gearhart and Rick Hillers maintains the 2747-yard layout. “I’ve been playing out here for over 20 years, and the course just keeps getting better.”
The fairways at Hart Ridge are plenty wide and well-manicured, but stray a bit to either side and you’ll find some thick rough.
“We had all the grass at the same height until a couple of years ago,” said Wessels. “We added the rough to make the course a little more challenging. It took everyone some time to adjust, but now the players like it and feel like it’s a little more important to hit it straight.”
Gearhart, Wessels and Pearson mentioned the par-3 140-yard fifth hole when discussing the most difficult on the course. An uphill tee shot to a green with a significant slope makes for an interesting challenge.
“A bogey on that hole sometimes feels like a par, but when the pin is in the back left you have a good chance to score,” said Wessels. “There have been a few holes-in-one when the flag is back there.”
“If I can get by that one with bogey, sometimes I’m pleased as punch,” added Pearson.
The par-4 eighth is also a hole that gets the attention of players at Hart Ridge, but after years of dealing with washouts, Gearhart took action to deal with the infamous gully guarding the front of the green.
“I cemented the gully and filled it with dirt to level things,” he said. “It has grass growing and is looking good.”
The only par-5 on the course — the fourth hole — gives players a nice birdie opportunity, but at 524 yards, only the longest hitters can get to the green in two shots. Gearhart says it is one of the more enjoyable holes on the course.
Wessels knows the course well, and along with Gearhart, likes the uphill par-4 340-yard second.
“You birdie the second and it’s a big deal,” he said. “The easiest holes out there are probably the third and the ninth, but like all the holes out here, you have to be careful on the greens.”
The third is the longest par-4 on the course at 361 yards, and the ninth is the shortest at 278, but both holes feature sloped putting surfaces that require even the best rollers of the ball to be cautious.
Hart Ridge is a course that can be challenging but will offer an enjoyable golfing experience to players of every skill level.
The course is open for play and hosts a popular Wednesday men’s league, along with best-shot and couples leagues. The course is also a frequent tournament host.
With folks looking for an entertainment outlet due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Hart Ridge has seen a steady stream of players taking the course.
“We’ve been pretty busy when the weather cooperates,” Gearhart said. “We had to cancel our first tournament, but other than that we haven’t had to change too many things.”