BEDFORD, Pa. -- Old tends to be a negative adjective.
Old socks. Old girlfriend. Heck, I'm old.
Calling the Omni Bedford Springs Resort a "grand old dame," as our concierge tour guide did many times during a walking history lesson about the hotel, paid Bedford Springs the ultimate compliment. In this case, old meant respected, elegant and historic.
It seems all too surreal that Bedford Springs sat closed and unoccupied for nearly two decades, from 1986 to 2006. Almost a decade after $120 million was spent in its revival in 2007, the resort looks spotless today, like it was built yesterday.
I'm not one for museums, but both the hotel and the Old Course at Bedford Springs feel like interactive blasts from the past. Each has been tastefully restored and modernized with a nod to their grand past. I'm sure each was grand during their heydays, but it's hard not to believe that the glory days aren’t happening right now.
Bedford Springs: The resort
Bedford Spring -- a 216-room, Georgian-style hotel located in Pennsylvania's Alleghany Mountains two hours from Pittsburgh and several hours from Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia -- has long been a haven of relaxation. The discovery of mineral springs led to the first building, the Stone Inn, in 1806. Its timeline from there is an impressive list of firsts.
Thomas Jefferson, the first of 12 U.S. Presidents to visit the resort, stayed several weeks in 1819. President James Buchanan, who spent 40 summers in Bedford Springs, received the first trans-Atlantic cable at the resort in 1858. The original Old Course, one of the country's first golf courses, was laid out in 1895 by Spencer Oldham. One of the country's first indoor pools was built a decade later in 1905.
Just walking around the resort gave me a sense of peace. I saw a couple holding hands during an afternoon stroll outside. A family was playing bean-bag toss on the expansive lawn outside. A handful of children splashed away in the spring-fed indoor pool, which is the most ornate part of the hotel. There are lots of interesting old photos hanging on the walls and unique decor in sitting areas, such as the library.
Across from the hotel are four springs -- iron, magnesia, limestone and sulphur springs -- and a beautiful hillside of trees, perfect for hiking trails and even Segway tours. An outdoor fire pit keeps guests warm on cool summer nights. In back are an outdoor pool and tennis court.
True to the resort's original roots, the Springs Eternal Spa, which uses the natural spring water in all its treatments, is as good a spa facility as any in the country. I spent an afternoon there working out the kinks in my ever-troublesome back.
The 1796 Room -- named for the year Dr. John Anderson purchased the land for the resort -- is the resort's signature steakhouse. Side dishes are ordered to be shared, although that's a tough task with the lobster macaroni and cheese. The Crystal Room serves up a hearty breakfast buffet each day.
Bedford Springs: The Old Course
As far as pedigrees go, the Old Course at Bedford Springs ranks right up there with the finest country clubs of the East Coast. A.W. Tillinghast worked on the original course in 1912, shrinking it to nine holes, before Donald Ross remodeled it again and lengthened it to a full 18 holes in 1923.
The team of Ron Forse and Jim Nagle -- two fans of classic architecture -- restored the course from 2005-07, while adding their own personal interpretations of the design characteristics left behind by Tillinghast and Ross. The result is an enjoyable "old school" round of the golf that flirts with Shobers Run creek, a tributary of the Juniata River, for much of the round.
The five par 3s are particularly striking. The "Volcano" hole, a Ross original, erupts skyward with an elevated green perched atop a hillside. My playing partners couldn't get their egos to realize that it takes driver to reach the green. I bombed one 20 feet above the hole and walked safely away with par.
For par-3 holes shorter than 150 yards, the "Gulley" hole at no. 10 and "Tiny Tim" at no. 14 will drive you nuts. Left of the 14th green, Forse and Nagle planted 11 "chocolate drops" or "alps" -- i.e. tiny humps that were a staple of early Golden Age architecture.
The resort plans to build a new clubhouse with a restaurant and banquet space that should be ready for use in 2017, just another step in the evolution of a "grand old dame" resort that's aging gracefully again.