Hannastown Golf Club brings out best from Westmoreland County and beyond
Do the math on this one.
Longtime accomplished amateur golfer Sean Knapp lives in Oakmont. He has played some of the best courses in the country. He won a national championship — the U.S. Senior Amateur — two years ago.
The 57-year-old Knapp has been one of the country’s top nonprofessionals for decades.
So why would a player of Knapp’s class drive more than an hour to join a sleepy golf club stashed away near Greensburg?
“It’s like any sports team, be it football, basketball, baseball,” Knapp said. “You have to get a measure of where you’re at in your competitiveness. If you don’t do that, if you don’t compete with players better than you, you’ll never find that.”
That’s why Knapp joined Hannastown Golf Club last summer.
The private club has become a hot spot for local young guns to top veteran players.
“There is a gravitational pull here,” said Knapp, an eight-time winner of the West Penn Amateur. “I said to myself when I got here, why haven’t I been here earlier? They do so many things well here. It’s the premier club experience.”
Sans a swimming pool, tennis courts and fancy silverware, of course. At fast-and-firm Hannastown, dog-eat-dog golf is the driving force.
“We’re not a country club. We’re a golf club,” said Hannastown’s PGA professional, Craig Mankins. “If you want to take your game to the next level, you go to Hannastown. We take our golf seriously. We have an unbelievable niche of names and players.”
Knapp, like so many of his club counterparts, is #HannyStrong — the hashtag that grew legs on Twitter after former member Dave Antill breathed the catchword to Mankins.
So is Murrysville standout and Franklin Regional state champion Palmer Jackson, a Notre Dame recruit who already has a decorated resume. And West Virginia junior and Greensburg native Mark Goetz, an accomplished amateur who just won the county title at Totteridge). And Latrobe grad Brady Pevarnik, a former county amateur champion who will play at Penn State.
Don’t forget the other locals: the Fajt brothers, Kevin and Brian; Ryan Sikora; Mike Robb; Javon Trout; Dave DeNezza; Vince Zachetti; Bob Allshouse and Mike McGuire. The list goes on.
“You can come out here and get a high-level game every day,” Mankins said.
Players agree the course can play different from one day to the next. Pin placements can change club selections and alter strategy. The venue plays 6,668 yards and par 70 from the back tees.
“Our superintendent, Judd Pittler, does an outstanding job,” Mankins said. “I know we’re not going to be able to keep him because he’s so good, but I hope we can. The guys always say the course is in great shape. We’ve had a lot of rain, which has hurt us, but the course bounces back.”
Pittler, a Hempfield graduate in his 14th year at Hannastown, used to be an assistant superintendent at Oakmont Country Club.
Jackson, one of the most talented players to come out of Westmoreland County, knows Hannastown is no garden variety club.
“For me, it’s the group of guys we have out there,” Jackson said. “We have a tremendous amount of talent and competition. Also, a fantastic pro in Craig Mankins who attracts a lot of local talent every year and gets good games set up. Everyone is learning from each other. … It’s a blast.”
Knapp said the healthy vibe at Hannastown is a mixture of talent, camaraderie and consistent course conditions.
“The best in the state play here,” Knapp said. “You have your junior players, to your mid-amateurs to your seniors and super-seniors. It’s an environment of love. It’s what Pittsburgh’s all about. Good people with a good vision.”
How good is the current crop of members?
Consider Knapp, Jackson and Goetz will play in the U.S. Amateur on Aug. 12-18 at Pinehurst (N.C.). Knapp is exempt for winning the Senior Amateur. Jackson and Goetz qualified, finishing first and second, respectively, at Quicksilver Golf Club in Midway.
“That’s unheard of,” Knapp said. “I remember Nathan Smith and I made it a few times as members at St. Jude (Golf Club), but three is hard to match.”
Mankins said he has 30 players — of the current 300-plus members — with handicap indexes of 4.0 or lower.
The club championship is this weekend — the highlight of the summer for many members who have been preparing for the tournament like tour pros do for a major.
There will be battle scars.
“I told Terry Teasdale (of the Western Pennsylvania Golf Association) that our club champion should get an exemption into the West Penn Open and Amateur,” Mankins said with a laugh. “It’s that doggone tough.”
Bill Beckner Jr. is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bill by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .