An A-Maze-ing Golf Course

9/1/2012 7:00 AM
By Sue Bowman Southeastern Pa. Correspondent

STEVENS, Pa. — “Fore!” is not a yell typically associated with agriculture, but it’s become a common cry in one Lancaster County, Pa., cornfield this summer. That’s because farming and golfing have been brought together to create a new experience for duffers young and old — a scenic golf maze made up of nine fairways that wend their way through a five-acre field of tall green cornstalks.

The brainchild of Steve Graybill, the maze is located on farmland he and his family own adjacent to their Foxchase Golf Club course near Stevens, Pa. Graybill, whose family once operated Triple G Dairy on the 251-acre property, got the idea to combine golf with the popular corn maze trend after attending a national convention of golf course owners in Las Vegas earlier this year. The convention emphasized the need to introduce more people to the pleasures of playing golf. Graybill took that challenge seriously, as he immediately began considering ways to reach a new population of potential golfers.

The golf maze idea came to Steve as he awaited his flight home at the Las Vegas airport — give folks a fun taste of golf with shorter fairways, free clubs, unlimited golf balls and a large, five-gallon bucket as the hole, to ensure a successful experience. Adding the novelty of a corn maze setting was the perfect finishing touch to Graybill’s “field of dreams.”

He and his business partners were already leasing cropland surrounding the full-size Foxchase Golf Club to neighboring farmer, Warren Hoover, so implementing the brainstorm was able to be fast-tracked to open the golf maze this summer, in June.

Hoover, who custom farms a total of 525 acres, including 126 acres for the Graybills, might have been a bit skeptical of the idea at first, but he got on board with the offer of a rent-free field in return for his initial input costs. Given the desire to have the golf maze operate into the fall, as well as withstand the likelihood of errant golf balls, Hoover selected Pioneer’s 32T85 corn seed — <\n>a 117-day growing season variety with good standability; it’s also Roundup Ready, which enables perimeter touch-up herbicide sprayings for a tidy appearance along the maze.

To create the maze, after chisel plowing and discing the field, Hoover planted the entire 5-acre plot with the 117-day seed. (The field had already been in corn for the 2011 growing season.) Graybill followed afterward and sowed grass seed in the configurations he had designed for use as fairways. Each such playing area is 10 to 15 yards wide and the lengths vary from 40 to 125 yards — considerably shorter than standard golf holes that can be more than 350 yards in length. When the corn and grass seedlings began to emerge, the corn that had been overseeded with grass was eliminated through regular mowing of the turf.

As golf courses go, the maze area is notably low maintenance. Golfers tee off from artificial turf mats that they place on the grass. The five-gallon bucket “hole” is situated in the new grass — there is no well-manicured green with special short-trimmed grass surrounding the hole. Likewise, there are no sand traps or water hazards for groundskeepers (or maze golfers) to worry about.

Interestingly, in a year that has seen drought conditions during part of the summer, the golf maze has been holding up well. Even though the maze lacks the irrigation that is part of the main Foxchase golf complex, the new turf has survived well with only a few browned-out areas that are being reseeded now that August has brought generous rainfall.

As for Hoover’s corn crop, he describes himself as “amazed” at how well the field has done despite the dry spell. Calling it “the nicest looking corn around,” Hoover repeated an old farming adage: “The fields closest to the barn are the most fertile.” He noted that the present location of the golf maze is near the old site of the Graybill family’s dairy operation.

Graybill is pleased with The Golf Maze at Foxchase to this point, describing it as “so far, so good.” He feels he’s not only meeting his original goal of “thinking out of the box” to attract new clientele, but with an average of 200 customers per month thus far this season, he’s also breaking even, which was his target. At rates of $5 for nine holes of play or $10 for 18 holes (two trips around the nine-hole maze), which includes one club — generally a 7, 8 or 9 iron or a pitching wedge — and enough free balls to replace any that find their way into the corn, the golf maze is seeing everything from grandparents with their grandchildren to Boy Scout troops and church groups playing a round amid the cornstalks. Graybill expects the maze to remain available well into October, depending on fall’s weather conditions, and has plans to try some special golf maze events, such as night golf played using glow-in-the-dark balls.

Meanwhile, Hoover is also happy with the way the golf maze has been working out. Not only does the corn look great, but he’s found the novice golfers that play the maze to be especially respectful of his crop, so damage to the corn has been non-existent. He compares this to sometimes overly enthusiastic golfers on the main course at Foxchase — some of whom have been known to pilot their golf carts through his adjacent fields in search of lost balls. Based on years of experience, Hoover has learned to avoid planting soybeans or hay immediately along the regular golf course’s fairways.

Graybill attributes the popularity of the golf maze to good publicity through newspapers, radio, television and the use of an email contact list. Of course, word-of-mouth buzz has also helped bring out curious customers to see and play the corn maze golf course for themselves. The unique golfing venue has even attracted national attention thanks to coverage in professional golf course publications.

This is not the first time the Graybills have put the land around their golf course to good use. They have been cited for other innovative land uses compatible with golf, including the installation of a two-acre solar panel array to generate electricity, a nursery and the leasing of garden plots to a Laotian church group.

For more information, call 717-336-3673 or go online to www.foxchasegolf.com. The golf maze is open daily from sunup to sundown.


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