CONCORDVILLE, Pa. -- They looked like typical kids holding down summer jobs at the Golf Course at Glen Mills.
A teenager stocked shelves and took inventory in the pro shop. A group of kids greeted customers at the bag drop and made sure the golf carts had been properly serviced. A crew of youngsters worked on bunkers and mowed the fairways.
Only these aren't typical boys.
They're students at The Glen Mills Schools, the oldest reform school in the country and owner of one of the best new golf courses in the region.
The Golf Course at Glen Mills brings in money for scholarship programs and gives about 75 students a chance to learn something about the golf industry, from maintenance to service to running a pro shop.
"For someone to not realize who they are, that's really the ultimate goal," Paul general manager Paul Stuhmiller said. "It would be great for them to get a job on a golf course. But this is all about pro-social life skills. That's the bottom line."
The Glen Mills Schools was founded in 1826 as the Philadelphia House of Refuge. It now has about 850 young men between the ages of 15 and 18 from two dozen states, ordered there by the courts.
The campus is located on 756 acres of rolling land, enough that Glen Mills board member Ron Pilot dreamed up the idea of building a golf course.
"We're always looking to create different opportunities for our young men," Stuhmiller said. "We already have carpentry, auto repair, journalism, graphic arts. This is just another vocation. It just happens to be a big one."
Glen Mills interviewed a collection of top golf course architects and hired Bobby Weed to design its course.
Weed apprenticed under Pete Dye and was chief designer for PGA Tour Design Services until starting his own company, Weed Golf Course Design, in 1995. He took what the land gave him, which was quite a challenge.
"We had underground gas lines, wetlands, steep topography," Weed said. "It was eclectic enough that a couple of architects said they would have to go across the road. We took it on as a challenge and threw out a routing. You have holes that are tight, holes that are open, and we ended up with a lot of balance and a lot of variety. It worked out pretty good."
The Golf Course at Glen Mills is more than just a school experiment.
Greens fees are $65 on the weekdays and $85 on the weekends, and the parking lot is packed with cars from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. Some drive more than an hour to take on a charming and challenging Weed design.
Golf Digest rated it seventh among "New Upscale Courses" for 2001. Golf Magazine in its March issue ranked Glen Mills No. 5 on its list of "Top Ten You Can Play." The course opened just over a year ago.
The course plays every bit of 6,631 yards from the tips and is a rugged test through thick forest, an abandoned quarry and sharp elevation changes - the most severe on the par-3 10th, which is 207 yards from the championship tees and drops down to a green protected in the front and to the right by wetlands.
Another par 3 had a green that is 56 yards deep and has four tiers. The 376-yard 11th hole features a narrow fairway with a steep, grassy slope to the right and fingers of wetlands that jut into the left side of the fairway.
One of the most stunning views comes on No. 8, at 325 yards one of two par 4s where players are tempted to drive the green. The eighth hole is called "Twin Towers" because of the Glen Mills Schools' administrative and student union building looming in the background.
It reminds players what the golf course is all about.
"You can talk all you want about The First Tee, which is a welfare program," Weeds said, referring to the PGA Tour initiative to bring golf to the inner cities. "Glen Mills is for high school students who need direction. We've essentially built a learning center, an outdoor lab that's 200-plus acres to teach these kids a skill that's desperately needed."
Stuhmiller said about 50 of the kids in the golf program are at the course from 5:30 a.m. until noon, operating turf equipment and getting the course ready for play. The others work in the pro shop or have such simple tasks as taking tee times over the phone.
The school has a top athletic program with 16 sports, and the golf team now has a course it calls home. But the golf course is not a playground for students.
Stuhmiller said it gets about 23,000 rounds a year, and there isn't much time for the kids to amble the fairways during their free time. The Golf Course at Glen Mills is a business, owned and paid for by the school.
Net proceeds go into student programs such as the Barcus Scholarships, which helped pay college tuition for 55 graduates last year.
For those who don't go to college, the idea is to find work in the golf industry.
"As we perform our tasks, they learn right along," Stuhmiller said. "We've placed about 15 kids in different capacities at golf courses, whether it's the greens crew or whatever. They seem to enjoy it."
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