| Club History || |
John Guenther got a taste of what it was like to start a golf club from scratch at Moselem Springs. In the fall of 1967, with Moselem well-launched, he left the Fleetwood club to found a new and more ambitious facility in Bernville. This would not be simply a golf club.
"What I had in mind," he says, "was a year-round community with a golf Course—we acquired 550 acres, enough ground for about 400 homes—and here the plan was for 27 holes as the centerpiece, but with tennis and swimming, horseback riding, skiing, trap shooting, hunting, and fishing and hiking as well. There were a number of people from the Reading area who were eager to join with me when I outlined the idea for Heidelberg Country Club. In fact, I never had to solicit a single investor. There were 19 investors all told."
A 1996 photo of the Heidelberg clubhouse.
Among the first to sign up were Robert Kreitz, owner of a heavy equipment company; Ginn Beisenbach, whose company made the spark wheels for cigarette lighters; Basil Lamphier, a senior executive at Carpenter Steel; and Charles Baratelli, head of Penn Optical.
Drawing on what he had learned by observing George Fazio close-up at Moselem Springs, Guenther designed and built the course. "It may not have been to everybody’s taste," he smiles, "but it is a good test, it doesn’t give much away. I started clearing the property early in 1968, then moving earth. I remember sitting on that bulldozer and shaping the land. Those were wonderful days. Not much more than a year later we were ready to open for play. Right around the start of summer."
"Could it have been Memorial Day?" he was asked.
He hesitated, then said, "Yes, that would have been about the time. I think that was probably it all right. What I’m particularly proud of is that the course was built—and I’m talking about 18 holes, the irrigation system, the pumphouse, sand in the bunkers, everything—built and ready to play for $250,000. And that included complete landscaping. Part of the property had been a Christmas tree farm, and when we bought the land, 100,000 Christmas trees came with it. We sold some of them to Philadelphia clubs—I remember Torresdale-Frankford took a number of them, so did the Cricket Club, if I’m not mistaken— and, of course, we had no trouble at all landscaping Heidelberg."
But the new club, off to such a promising start, soon ran into heavy weather. Within months of the opening, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advised Heidelberg that Blue Marsh Dam, a major water conservation project that bordered the club’s property, would require a large part of the Heidelberg tract as a flooding backup area. All or part of 13 holes could have been involved.
What followed was a dispute that stretched over more than six years. In the end the club had to build only two new holes, though some revisions to several others were called for.
"It was sad," Guenther says, "very sad. We took it to court, but we couldn’t get the case on the docket for a long time, and, of course, there was no predicting what the outcome would be. So the uncertainty of it all really hurt. The clubhouse was only about half-finished and now we couldn’t afford to go ahead with it. People who were thinking about buying lots and building homes backed away. The same with a lot of those folks who were going to join the club. They just didn’t know what kind of a golf course we’d wind up with. Over the years we had to reorganize and refinance Heidelberg Inc.—that was the owning company—a couple of times. And the money we finally got from the court—$450,000—didn’t begin to make up for what the whole Blue Marsh business cost us."
"What about golf at Heidelberg? Was it ever disrupted?"
"Never. No, once the course opened for play, in 1968, it never closed. The game was always there for the members."
In 1988 Heidelberg Inc. sold the facility to Heidelberg Investment Associates, owned by Robert Ellis and Joseph Sicholz, Jr. Plans called for a third nine to be constructed, the building of 400 to 500 houses, and the provision of the year- round sports activities envisioned by the club’s founder more than 20 years earlier.
John Guenther is retired and lives most of the year in Palm Springs, California. But he and his wife regularly come back to Reading for the summer, where he plays at Heidelberg and at Moselem Springs. He is a life member of both clubs.