Making the rounds in farm country

03/19/2014 4:50 PM

03/19/2014 4:52 PM

My expectations were high as I turned onto the long driveway at Conley Resort in Butler, Pa. On either side of an asphalt road that looked as if you could eat off it, a line of pin oaks created pools of shade on greens that rivaled the Emerald City. Although fall was in the air, there was nary a leaf on the ground. The sound of a working yard vacuum provided the reason for that.

I passed a white house with a graceful porch on my left; ahead on the right were lodgings with hunter-green Tudor trim. No welcome mat, though. The resort entrance was up the hill, around the corner. The view must be even lovelier up there, I thought.

It amounted to a parking lot, a towering stand of trees and a goodly number of doors to guest rooms.

That, as it turns out, was a perfect introduction to the place.

There’s nothing much pretentious about Conley Resort in western Pennsylvania farm country, about 25 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. If you’re a mid-level golfer, Conley’s 18 holes will provide a suitable challenge (slope rating: 120). If you’re a local or a passerby, its Knickers Tavern will cut you a good deal on crispy, “giant” chicken wings during happy hour.

If you’re a guest, you’ll find that the rooms are plain and sparsely appointed. The under-counter fridge might rattle just a notch above white noise, and you’ll find what the real estate folks like to call “builder-grade” fixtures in the bathrooms. The closet’s a rack-with-shelf on the wall. The door has an old-school lock and key. Room service? Nah. But chances are good that you came to propel a small white ball around all day, not relax in luxurious surroundings, right?

And when you’re a guest who doesn’t play golf, you can pass the time poolside in the sauna or hot tub. As soon as the busted parts get fixed.

Wayne Conley’s father and mother bought the resort in the early 1970s. It was humbler then — a working pony farm transformed into a duffer’s paradise with a 12-room motel to attract the “golf package” set.

Conley, 61, has worked there since 1974 and is now the owner. There’s a nice Conley family portrait at check-in that seems to watch over the friendly front-desk clerks.

“We have a very good staff,” Conley says. “They’re all local people who seem to enjoy working here. The grounds superintendent has been here for 30 years — started washing golf carts and educated himself on turf management.”

The resort had a steady April-to-October stream of golf business.

The hotel would sit nearly empty in the off-season, however. So Conley turned the uniformly shallow indoor pool with a single slide into Pirates Cove Waterpark by adding a ship’s hull, a water cannon, eye-patched mannequins, two swervy water slides and a party/video game room for the kids.

The white house I’d passed is the original farmhouse, which the Conleys renovated to sleep 16. “It’s rented every weekend all through the season,” he says. To those golf package people.

At Knickers, on the course’s closing night, I enjoyed the meatloaf dinner special (with two sides, $6.99). Posthappy hour, I was the only non-employee woman around.

But it was all downright neighborly.

As I drove away the next morning, after my complimentary full breakfast, my view of the Conley resort looked just as good as when I’d arrived.

•  Conley Resort: 740 Pittsburgh Rd., Butler, Pa.; 800-344-7303; Rates, with breakfast, from $119 double occupancy Sunday-Thursday; from $129 Friday and Saturday.

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