Butter Valley Golf Course

Butter Valley Golf Course


Not your grandfather’s golf course,” boasts the website for Butter Valley Golf Course, an 18-hole, family-friendly, par- 72 facility equipped with a small airport in southern Berks County and named after a region traditionally known more for its dairies than its tee times.

John Gehman is the second owner of the course and eighth owner of the 190-acre farm, which has been in his family for as many generations, dating back to 1792. The ninth and tenth generation are also present on the property, located at 3243 Gehman Road in Barto, Pennsylvania.

“That’s why the address is Gehman Road,” explained Gehman, whose dairy farming and private airplane pilot father first built an airstrip on the property in 1946, then moved it in 1967 in order to accommodate the golf course, which officially opened for business in 1969.

While the Gehman’s Pine Valley Farm had been one of the larger and more progressive dairy operations in the region, the family had realized that revenues were simply not on par with such a large investment of capital and labor and had been searching for alternative business models. Many friends and neighbors had suggested a golf course.

The course, which has undergone major improvements in recent years, remains operational—despite challenges in the industry spanning 50 years—both for sentimental reasons and to fill an important niche, Gehman explained.

“People who dabble, folks that just want to go out to have fun, is what made the game a booming industry in the ‘70s and ‘80s—It wasn’t mainly for serious golfers back then.” Unfortunately, he said, that segment was left behind, “and that was the downfall of the industry … throughout ‘90s, people were building new golf courses like there was no tomorrow, but they weren’t creating new golfers.”

In order to encourage an inviting, family friendly experience, Butter Valley Golf Course runs a number of specials, including evening rates starting at 6 p.m. where a family of four —up to two adults and two children—can tee off for $20 total. “I always encourage them to quit before they get tired and cranky and head up the road to Longacre’s Dairy for a chocolate walnut sundae, and you’ve just had fantastic night with the kids,” Gehman said.

Other options to keep golfing fun and affordable includes seasonal and other discount passes and programs, winter rates, periodic specials, reasonable cart fees, and lessons for all ages and ability levels with a 50-year veteran of the game.

Upgrades have included new greens, tees, and other changes to make the course more challenging. In 1988, a major redesign took place when new holes were added and the course lengthened. Recently, the 6th green was rebuilt and the 3rd hole was made into a par 5, raising the current par for the course to 72. Expansion has included new back tees on the 2nd, 4th, 16th, and 17th holes.

Something else that sets this rural golf course apart—besides spacious pastoral vistas as opposed to the crowded-in condos ubiquitous on many golf courses—has been the addition of disc golf.

“Done right, they can really complement each other,” said Gehman, adding that the demographic group attracted to the new amenity mirrors the type of golfer that used to be drawn to the traditional game 30 and 40 years ago. “It’s something I haven’t seen for many years.”


Under the wing of his father, John B. Gehman, John L. Gehman—owner of Butter Valley Golf Course and Butter Valley Golf Port—first took to the skies in 1970 while still attending high school.

Back then he flew a Cessna 150 single-engine two seat puddle jumper. These days, when other responsibilities allow, find him aloft in a twin-engine Cessna 310. Gehman, whose father built the initial airstrip on their family farm in 1946, recalls first earning his stripes to fly the more advanced aircraft.

“I’m a basketball referee, and during the early years I earned $1800 reffing one entire season. I thought to myself “What do I want to do with this $1800?” Options in the young man’s mind included obtaining a helicopter pilot’s license or advancing the license he already had to include a twin-engine rating. He opted for the latter. “When I was all done, I had $80 left.”

Gehman has paid his knowledge and his passion forward, recalling one employee who started out working as a cart boy at the adjoining golf course, then moving up to work as a clerk in the pro shop. “He loved to go flying with me any chance he could. He eventually got his pilot’s license, and now he’s an examiner administering flight tests and giving people their license. It’s fun to know you might have had a little bit of a part to play in that,” Gehman said.

Gehman is also a longtime participant in Angel Flight East, a volunteer program providing free flights to passengers in need of medical treatment far from home.

Over the years Gehman has flown many small aircraft models into and out of the small family airport that charges no daytime parking or landing fees. “We don’t charge for cars to come in the parking lot, so we don’t charge for airplanes,” said Gehman, adding that pilots and their passengers are free to fly in, play a round of golf, and fly out.


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