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Chocolate And Chips

July 2010

You might assume Hershey, Pa., smells like chocolate and sounds like screams from the town's theme park. That while spa-goers indulge in the serenity of cocoa treatments, golfers bump knuckles after dropping birdies in peanut-butter cups. It's all true. Except the part about peanut-butter cups. But as we know, birdies are sweet wherever you are.

Milton Hershey was a diminutive man with a big, philanthropic heart who died in 1945 at age 88, but locals talk about him as if he just left the room. In addition to the Hershey Chocolate Company that he founded 105 years ago, Hershey's legacy includes a school for underprivileged kids, a golf resort that's steeped in history, and the root system to a modern town of 9,000 that gets six million visitors annually.

Hershey, Pa., is 2½ hours by car from New York City. Or take a plane or train to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania's capital, which is 15 miles west of Hershey. As I checked into one of the 10 new cottages ($539 a night) behind the AAA Four-Diamond Hotel Hershey ($409 a night), bellman B.J. Sisson explained, "We're within a 6½-hour drive of nine NFL franchises."

hershey

There's no professional football in Hershey, but there are the Bears, a successful NHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. The Bears play in the arena where Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in an NBA game in 1962. There's also a 110-acre theme park with more than 65 rides and 11 roller coasters. Tickets cost $21 to $53, depending on your age. Fahrenheit is a ride that will put you through a 97-degree free fall, and Storm Runner will zip you from zero to 72 miles per hour in two seconds.

Any ride more extreme than the Ladybug can cause me to lose my Reese's Pieces, so I focused on Hotel Hershey's 63 holes of golf.

The West course, favored by members and me, was built in 1930 and designed by Maurice McCarthy, a club pro from New York who moonlighted as a golf-course architect. The West's 6,860-yard, par-73 layout reminds me of Old White at the Greenbrier in West Virginia or Pasatiempo in California. The first two holes are long and brutal, but then it becomes a fun combination of testy par 3s, short par 4s and reachable par 5s. The greens are sloped and can be slick -- so stay below the hole.

The West ($145) hosted the 1940 PGA Championship, and a few members who caddied in the late '30s and early '40s as kids are glad to tell stories of golf's Golden Age. Mark Henry, 88, is one of those members. He was Gene Sarazen's caddie in the 1940 PGA. "[Ben] Hogan by far was the best ball-striker," says Henry, who tries to play 100 rounds a year and confirms Hogan struggled on the greens. "[Byron] Nelson used to say he could smoke a cigar in the time it took Hogan to line up a putt."

Nelson beat Sam Snead in the match-play final, 1 up, to win the third of his five major championships. In 1941, Hershey, an avid golf fan who lived on the upper floor of High Point mansion, left of the fifth green, hired Hogan as his pro to replace Henry Picard. Hogan remained the pro at Hershey for a decade, but Mark Henry says Hogan was in town for only about eight weeks a year.

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