The Pennsylvania golf course that hasn't charged greens fees in more than 100 years
By Mike Bires
SHARON -- Over 100 years ago, Buhl Park Golf Course opened as one of the best bargains in golf. Anyone could play free of charge.
It remains that way today.
That's right. It doesn't cost a penny to play the nine-hole course in Sharon that's nicknamed "Dum Dum."
To this day, it's the only free golf course in the United States.
It's also believed to be the only free golf course in the world. Any time anyone associated with Buhl Park has ever made that claim, it's never been disputed.
"It's really a cool place," said Bob Collins, a long-time golf pro from the Shenango Valley who occasionally gives lessons at the Buhl Park driving range. "People around here are lucky to have a place like that."
Buhl Park Golf Course exists because of the philanthropy of the late Frank H. Buhl, a millionaire steel magnate in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and his wife Julia.
Buhl, who owned Sharon Steel, donated much of his fortune for the community's civic and cultural affairs.
In 1911, he bought 300 acres of land on which he would build Buhl Farm Park. Amenities at the park include an 11-acre lake, swimming pool, tennis courts, bocce courts, walking/jogging trails, etc.
"Every activity at Buhl Farm has to be free so the working people of this community will have a place to take their families," Buhl said in 1911 when he bought the land for Buhl Farm Park.
The park is funded and maintained through interest from the Buhl Trust Fund and donations.
The course, which opened in 1914, is by no means the most challenging or most picturesque course in western Pennsylvania.
It's a par-34 spread out over 30 acres that only plays 2,378 yards from the back tees and 2,192 from the regulation tees. It's almost like a short executive golf course that doesn't have any par 5s.
The first hole is a par 3. The next seven holes are relatively short par 4s, the longest a 352-yarder from the back and 339 from the regulation tee box. The ninth hole is another par 3.
There aren't any sand traps on the course. There aren't any water hazards.
There isn't an irrigation system that waters the fairways.
There's some crabgrass in the fairways and rough. But generally speaking, the course is neat and well-maintained.
The grass is cut regularly, and the greens, for the most part, are in excellent shape.
"There's a bit of a misconception that when people hear it's a free golf course, they think it looks like a cow pasture. It is not a cow pasture," said Riley Atterholt, the director of Sports and Recreation at Buhl Farm Park and The First Tee program director at the course.
"We try to keep in it the best shape we can."
Buhl Park Golf Course does not have a clubhouse, pro shop or snack bar. Riding carts aren't available at "Dum Dum." Golfers may use pull carts if they bring their own.
There is a driving range on the premises with plenty of space. There's where Collins and three other pros give lessons.
The course is open from mid-April to November between 8 a.m. to sunset.
For golfers who want to play Buhl Park, it's first come, first serve. All they have to do is sign in upon arrival.
Clientele ranges from young and old.
This summer, 139 youngsters took part in a junior golf program. There are close to 30 men, many who are retired, who play "Dum Dum" virtually every day.
"The course opens at 8 and there are a few guys who are there waiting for the barricades to open," Atterholt said. "They show up every morning ready to play."
"When I was a kid, my friends and I played there all the time," Collins said. "My mother would drop us off early in the morning and we'd play all day."
In recent years, there was been speculation that the golf course might have to someday charge greens fees or perhaps even close due to financial concerns. It costs roughly $55,000 to maintain the course.
"The plan is to keep it running the way it is now ... free and open to the public," Atterholt said. "That's the plan. That was the original goal of Frank Buhl.
"It is a large expense to Buhl Farm Park. There is a separate account set up just for the golf course. It is an area of concern. It is something that is looked at each year. But I don't see it closing."
As far as the golf course's nickname, Atterholt doesn't know when or why "Dum Dum" got its start.
"Everybody asks me that, but I don't have an answer," he said.
Legend has it that Buhl Park was first called "Dum Dum" decades ago because of all the beginners and unskilled golfers who played there.
Buhl Park Golf Course is such a fascinating story that USA Today once featured it as the best bargain in golf.
This article is written by Mike Bires from Beaver County Times, Pa. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.