Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Golf in West Virginia

To create a mountain course, an architect must summon all of his imagination and physical resources and still, in the end, accept the fact that he is a minor collaborator with Nature. Every mountain course carries the unique signature of the mountain as well as the man.
For more than 120 years, notable architects have been testing their mettle in West Virginia’s hills. Their works vary widely in character and setting – from the garden-like perfection of a world-class resort to a former coal mine site; from the natural simplicity of resort state parks to the urban fringes of cities and towns; from rocky ridges to sheltered river valleys.
Whenever and wherever you play in the Mountain State, the course is likely to be cooler and less humid than most in the Mid-Atlantic Region. And the mountains are always eager to put on a show, dressing their rock outcroppings in greens and multi-colored flowers in summer, then upsetting the paint pots come fall.
One of the most dramatic mountain courses in the East lies in the Potomac Highlands.
Christened Hawthorne Valley when designer Gary Player cut the ribbon in 1993, The Raven course at Snowshoe Mountain is now the flagship of Intrawest Corporation’s resort golf courses. Player made exuberant use of the terrain, stacking huge stones to create spectacular Cliffside greens and tees perched high above tipsy fairways. Ravines, woods and rock walls lace the route, and an errant ball is often a lost ball.
Also in the Potomac Highlands, in a high-mountain bowl near Davis, is Canaan Valley Resort State Park. The resort’s Geoffrey Cornish – designed course is wide, flat and spare of contrived hazards, but it has many subtleties and seven holes where water threatens.
To the south of Snowshoe in the New River / Greenbrier Valley are three beautiful valley courses at The Greenbrier, which the readers of Conde Nast Traveler recently voted the top golf resort in the world. Designed by Charles Blair MacDonald, the 90-year-old Old White Course is like the resort itself – friendly, open, and a classic – with wide fairways and sweeping vistas. The Greenbrier course, redesigned by Jack Nicklaus for the 1979 international Ryder Cup, also hosted the 1994 Solheim Cup. Timeless and tough, the route is deviously bunkered with quick, shallow greens. In 1999, the rerouted and upgraded Lakeside Course became the Meadow Course. This also made room for the Sam Snead Academy, a superbly staffed facility combining the John Jacobs’ teaching approach with the homespun wisdom of the late, great Snead, the resort’s golf pro emeritus, until his death in 2002.
Few resorts can claim a more dramatic setting than Pipestem Resort State Park, also in the New River / Greenbrier Valley Region near Hinton. The resort sits on the edge of a plateau above the rugged Bluestone River Gorge. Pipestem’s Geoffrey Cornish layout takes advantage of the resort’s panoramas and lush forest.
Southwest of Pipestem is Twin Falls Resort State Park, and its short (5.987 yards) but captivating course. A Cornish creation redesigned in 1982 by Cobb, the layout follows a mountain stream, incorporating water on 15 holes.
A coal company reclamation project in southern Mingo County near Wharncliffe has transformed an old mining site into the Twisted Gun Golf Course. Situated on a lofty plateau and clothed in bent grass, the course has a Scottish feel to it and is a worthy addition to golf in the area.
The Mountain Lakes region got its first major golf course in 2002, an Arnold Palmer creation at Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park, near the childhood home of the Civil War Legend. Tight, hilly and well-treed, the 7.149-yard Stonewall Jackson course meanders around and over sections of the 2.650-acre lake.
Stonewall Jackson is Palmer’s second project in the state. In the Northern Panhandle, his three-year-old course at Oglebay Resort State Park has been the perfect complement to the venerable Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout and the 5.670-yard Crispin Course. Oglebay is a golfer’s panacea, also offering a par three course and a lighted driving range.
Mountaineer Country is home to two ridge-running layouts at Morgantown’s Lakeview Resort and Conference Center. The narrow fairways of the Lakeview Course skirt the cliffs above Cheat Lake, providing several great overlooks and a dramatic 474-foot vertical drop from the tee on the seventh hole. The Brian Ault – designed Mountain view is a pleasant roller coaster following a narrow, wooded route.
The Eastern Panhandle, with its easy access from the Baltimore / Washington area, has several diverse and notable links. Chief among them is the Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout at Cacapon Resort State Park, a 6.000-acre sliver of land between two mountain ranges just south of Berkeley Springs. The 28-year-old, heavily bunkered classic winds through the foothills of the Cacapon Mountain ridge. To the east is The Wood Resort, a mountain hideaway with two worthy courses. Mountain View occupies a plateau with constant vistas of Third Hill Mountain, while Stoney Lick rises and falls with the vagaries of a ravine-cut landscape. Cross Creek is Shepherdstown, Locust Hill in Charles Town and Stonebridge in Martinsburg are local links with strong appeal.
On a final note, history of organized golf clubs in the United States had its roots in West Virginia at the 1884 Oakhurst Links near The Greenbrier. On this restored nine-hole gem, golfers can still tee up a gutta percha ball on a dollop of sand, and strike it with ancient wooden clubs across a sheep-mown fairway. But if you prefer the modern game, there are nearly 50 venues where you can tee it up in the Mountain State.

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