Travelling With Joe – West Virginia

Traveling With Joe – The National Hickory Championship, West Virginia  (Wednesday, June 6)

The par 3, 3rd hole at Oakhurst Links measuring 106 yards with play over a small valley, a pond, a bunker and a load of tall grass. Notice the sand teeing area and the buckets with sand and water to make sand tees. (Photo: Joe McLean)

I spent Tuesday, June 5 on the road with fellow Golf Historical Society of Canada members Dr. Bob West and his son-in-law Bobby Sly from Kingston, Ontario. Our goal, which we achieved at 10:30 pm, was to reach our hotel rooms in Lewisburg, West Virginia.

The purpose of putting in a full day of travel was to participate in the National Hickory Championships at Oakhurst Golf Links – America’s first golf course. On the trip down, Bob and Little Bob – the defending National Hickory Champion were filling my ears with horror stories concerning the 9 hole – 2235 yard Oakhurst Links Golf Course. Keep in mind that we would be playing golf with pre 1900, smooth faced hickory golf clubs and a replica Oakhurst ball from the era.

How bad could it really be?

As dawn broke in West Virginia, the weather outside was ominous with liquid sunshine making a guest appearance. That seemed to fit in with playing golf with equipment designed by the ancients in Scotland.

Making our way out to Oakhurst Links for a practice round we had to pass the lush Greenbriar Resort in White Sulphur Springs. There’s another spot that I hope to travel to and explore in the near future, but that’s another story.

Visions of bootleggers distilling moonshine came to mind during our trek into the West Virginia countryside. Just when I had given up hope of ever seeing civilization again, Bob indicated that we were entering the Oakhurst property. A sign at the entrance indicated that we had arrived at Oakhurst Links – Far and Sure Site of First Organized Golf Club in America – Established 1884.

After checking in, we were off to the first teeing ground to build a sand tee and attempt shots over a pond and the roadway in to the course. Let’s just say, for me the first nine holes were exciting and our search for errant Oakhurst golf balls in the rough painful, especially since most of the errant balls were mine.

What was exciting for me was the calibre of play within our group. Defending champion Bobby Sly has it figured out even without a wood in his bag outdriving the rest of us on every hole. Bob West can hit it with the best but was having a time of it on the first nine. California resident Eddie Breeden is playing his second NHC Championship and certainly looks to be a contender. Rob “Kilty” Ahlschwede, who hails from Olympia, Washington And was the 2011 Dundee Prize winner last year for outstanding contributions to hickory golf can certainly move the ball along.

After nine holes, I took leave of the group to visit the on-site golf museum and interview owners and family members Lewis Keller, his daughter Natalie Neal and son John Keller. What an interesting story about the purchase of the property with the urging of Lewis’ friend Sam Snead and the eventual restoration of the club to its original prominence in 1994, a story that I hope to pass along at a later date.

Right now I’m icing my knee and hope to make a go of it in the foursome matches tomorrow. Hopefully the ice on my knee and within my adult beverage will help the cause.

Until tomorrow, I’ll say good night and I’ll spend some time piecing together the clubs I’ll be playing in the first set of matches.

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