Natural
Progression

Maclay Country Club takes shape on a custom-built property

Every golfer has perhaps eyed an expanse of land and thought, “What a course that would make.”

This is the story of a York County man who made it happen, creating a nine hole course on his property and, in the process, cementing lifelong ties among a tight-knit group of high school friends.

You won’t see Maclay Country Club played on a PGA tour. The only members are about 20 friends who graduated from Northern York High School in the 1990s. Ryan Maclay carved the course from six acres on his 10.5 acres in Warrington Township, in the shadow of Roundtop Mountain Resort.

Maclay grew up on this property, which has been in his family since the early 1970s. His uncle still has about 100 acres across the street. A cousin lives down the road. In 2008, tenants boarding horses mowed and baled the year’s hay, leaving an empty field.

“We started hitting balls back and forth, and before you knew it, we had a course,” says Maclay. The initial four holes grew to nine. Most snuggle head to foot like sardines in the yard adjoining Maclay’s hand-built home. A few holes hug the driveway or parallel the road frontage. Wild growth and the occasional tree define the contours of each.

“Sometimes, when there are a lot of people playing, there are balls flying everywhere,” Maclay says.

Depending on the placement of the tee boxes, marked by white fence post finials staked in the ground, most holes typically range from 170 to 200 yards. There’s an 80-yard hole that Maclay sometimes turns into a 40-yarder full of high grass and obstacles. Hole three, with its own version of Augusta’s dogleg left, is the most challenging.

Every Wednesday, Maclay spends about 45 minutes preparing the course. League members help pay for the man who does the mowing, but that’s about the extent of maintenance. Any chemicals of the type that make professional golf courses look pristine would kill the abundance of clover that keeps the grounds from browning.

“Clover is my friend because it’s fairly consistent to hit off,” says Maclay. “You can scalp the heck out of it, and it’ll stay green.” Putting requires a learning curve, usually demanding chipping instead of rolling. “It’s better to one-bounce it, but even that gets tricky,” Maclay says. Maclay, a direct descendant of Senator William Maclay, whose name is on a major Harrisburg thoroughfare, is league commissioner. “The Commish” lays down the rules.

“If you go into the high stuff, you can try to hit it out, but you can’t step the grass down,” he says. He has never expelled or suspended a player, but some have been reprimanded. “That’s when the Commissioner comes out,” he admits jokingly.

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Photograph by Donovan Roberts Witmer

Maclay grew up on this property, which has been in his family since the early 1970s.

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Photograph by Donovan Roberts Witmer

Ryan Maclay, a direct descendant of Senator Wiliam Maclay, whose name is on a major Harrisburg thoroughfare, is league commissioner.

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Photograph by Donovan Roberts Witmer

Ryan Maclay carved the course from six acres of his 10.5 acres in Warrington Township.

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Photograph by Donovan Roberts Witmer

The home showcases Maclay’s rustic-elegant esthetic.

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Photograph by Donovan Roberts Witmer

Maclay built most of the furniture, including a dining set of mahogany-backed chairs with glass seats.

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Photograph by Donovan Roberts Witmer

Skiing is a passion Maclay shares with his golfing friends.

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Photograph by Donovan Roberts Witmer

Maclay spotted this stair rail from the ski lift.

The course is also home to “a little bit of a pet cemetery.” League members who have lost a pet and anticipate a move in the future want an undisturbed resting place. Maclay agrees—on the condition that they plant a tree over the burial site.

“There’s a western dogwood over there; that’s Tucker,” Maclay says. “He was a dalmatian.” League play runs from May through September. Play is casual and relaxed until the season finale, when players compete for the coveted Clay Cup. That’s when they arrive in game mode, some wearing real golf shoes and arriving early to test the greens. The winner gets his name on a trophy poised on a base designed and crafted by Maclay.

Maclay has made a career and life out of turning raw materials into beautiful furniture, lighting, and structures. For 20 years, he performed carpentry for a home builder, but after earning a BFA from Metropolitan State University in Denver, he put his creativity to work by founding Integrated Design & Fabrication (find it on Facebook). Working from a workshop on his property, Maclay designs and builds pieces ranging from wrought-iron railings to nine-foot chandeliers.

Maclay shares his home with Megan, his wife of five years, dogs Bella and Frank, and cats Mama and Fat Boy (although Mama would probably say she allows the humans and those other creatures to share her space).

“We started hitting balls back and forth, and before you knew it, we had a course.”

Ryan Maclay, Owner, Creator & Commissioner, Maclay Country Club

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The home showcases Maclay’s rustic-elegant esthetic. He built it in 2005, sheathed in planks salvaged from a barn that Maclay and some friends dismantled. A vine that grew in a spiral—Maclay first spotted it from a Roundtop ski lift—is the stair rail. Barn beams and planks took on new life as flooring, doorframes, and rafters. One barn ladder hugging the wall is a bookshelf holding cookbooks and texts on Frank Lloyd Wright and the architecture of Thomas Jefferson. Another barn ladder is a functional ladder leading to the loft.

Maclay built most of the furniture, including a dining set of mahogany-backed chairs with glass seats and glass-topped tables with bases of gears or lobster traps.

A 10-by-10 window overlooking the woods, and a deck with a 20-foot drop, give the home a treehouse feel. Year-round, Roundtop’s Gunbarrel slope is visible from the golf course. In winter, Roundtop appears through the picture window, and the resort’s lights illuminate the open living-dining-kitchen space. Hanging in one of the home’s two bedrooms are Maclay’s season ski passes, starting when he was about 7 years old. Some years, he has skied every day of the season.

Skiing is a passion Maclay shares with his golfing friends. They take trips to ski, or golf, or canoe. Most, like Maclay, have lived out of state before moving back home. They have seen each other through life changes. When Ryan and Megan got married here in 2013, on hole five, the groomsmen were all friends from age 12.

Maclay Country Club is “about more than just the golf course,” Maclay knows. That’s the best part.

“It’s also so everybody can get together and see each other. We’re all lifetime friends since we were teenagers. It’s been ever changing, like our friendships. Everybody accepts everybody for who they are and just stays together.”