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After getting some expert help from golf legend Arnold Palmer, The Village at Penn State opens a first-of-its-kind park

by on September 30, 2019 3:05 PM

When Liberty Lutheran purchased The Village at Penn State in 2012, leaders began looking at ways to add more amenities to the senior living community.

Dave DeLuca, Liberty’s director of real estate development, “took a shot out of the blue.”

Years earlier, DeLuca had worked with golf legend Arnold Palmer, a Latrobe native who owned a design company, on golf course and community projects.

“I just knew he was a great guy,” says DeLuca, who wrote to Palmer with an idea.

DeLuca told Palmer that “we don't have anything big enough for a golf course. But we're thinking of different amenity pieces for The Village. And wouldn't it be neat if you would do just a little spot for us.”

After some discussions, Palmer – whose father and brother attended Penn State – agreed, and some seven years later the result is the newly unveiled, first-of-its-kind Palmer Park.

The park and its surrounding amenities include a synthetic, professionally contoured golf putting green and chipping area; a grass lawn area for natural wellness activities such as croquet and yoga, or events such as vow renewals and parties; a town-square type clock; a bocce court; landscaped gardens; walkways; and a bistro with terrace al fresco dining.

In keeping with The Village’s Penn State pride, the new restaurant is named Bistro 409 – an ode to Joe Paterno’s career wins total as the Nittany Lions’ football coach.

“We had to give it a little Penn State flavor,” says Ellen Corbin, executive director of The Village. “It's a casual dining venue. We already had the typical upscale dining room that gives you more of a sit-down, fancy-type dining. But we wanted to offer something that was more casual, that residents could have another choice. … It's been a huge success so far.”

Hope Coder, who has lived at The Village with her husband, Ron, since 2003, knows why.

“The bistro is wonderful,” she says. “Delicious.”

Other additions include six independent-living cottages adjacent to the park, which were finished last fall; a new entryway and lobby, and a large community room with a raised stage and seating for up to 165 guests.

The cottages have been “a great amenity for us,” Corbin says. “They’re beautiful and they have a really good view of the park.”

The crown jewel is Palmer Park, which opened this summer and was dedicated in September. Palmer, who died at age 87 in 2016, came to State College to help publicly unveil plans for the park in September 2013.

“It just happened to match with their business goal to integrate some more small golf into their design program,” DeLuca says of the Arnold Palmer Design Company, which has designed hundreds of courses around the world.

Palmer “signed a two- or three-page short contract with me,” DeLuca says. “It was probably the smallest contract he ever did for designing anything. But I think we hit it at the right time. It was a time in his life where he was slowing down, and small golf was good for him. He can relate to the people here. He was in his 80s at the time.”

At the September 2013 announcement, “Palmer did a little presentation here, talked about the small-golf thing and said, ‘Although you may not be able to walk 18 holes now, at least you can come out here and do a little chipping and putting; maybe you have the grandkids out,’” DeLuca recalls. “And that's exactly what we're starting to see. I'm sorry he couldn't make it to see it to fruition, but he saw the vision.”

The putting green features aprons on the sides with two cuts of longer turf for chipping. The synthetic green requires less maintenance than grass, particularly factoring in the region’s sometimes challenging weather conditions. It includes a nine-hole putting course, plus a couple of additional holes.

“There's a lot of undulation” on the green, DeLuca says. “It’s not crazy, but it's not just your average flat surface. So, it makes for some fun.”

Ron Coder agrees. He used to practice on an older, more modest putting green on the property.

“This is a bigger and more treacherous,” he says with a laugh, not long before holing a 15-foot putt.

The Coders live right off the green and had a front-row seat for the construction process.

“It's fantastic,” he says. “We get up in the morning, and we look out and see this beautiful putting green out here. And the trees, the roses. Everything is just gorgeous.

“And this clock is special,” Coder adds, pointing to the clock in the park behind him. It has a classic style reminiscent of the large clocks featured at major golf and tennis events such as the U.S. Open. DeLuca and his wife, Nancy, donated the clock.

Palmer’s company and a landscape architect it works with were integral in the design of the green and the park setting, and Liberty and The Village worked to make related components come together for residents with different needs and interests.

Residents of The Village include just more than 200 people in independent-living cottages and apartments, 12 in personal-care residences, and 36 in skilled nursing, Corbin says.

“We really wanted to capture the outdoor space, but maybe some folks aren’t going to be that active, or they'd like to be, but they're more about watching it as much as doing it,” DeLuca says.

That’s where the big terrace and park benches come in, allowing residents to relax and take in the surroundings. There’s even a fire pit. The park also features walkways that connect it to the rest of The Village campus. The walkways include a measured quarter-mile trail along the park.

The Coders are already seeing the terrace as a popular spot.

“People will come down here and sit, maybe six or eight people, and just chat until sunset and even after,” Ron says.


Mark Brackenbury is editorial director of Town&Gown.


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