To The Tops of Mountains And Depths of Valleys
“The Mountain State” – the name all makes sense when you arrive in West Virginia and catch of glimpse of the landscape. Often overlooked by golf aficionados with the exception of a few major resorts, golf is increasingly becoming a draw for visitors to the state.
Although the terrain for this small state (under 2 million population) ranges basically from hilly to mountainous (The Allegheny plateau in the west covers 2/3 of the state with mountains over 1300 metres) there are plenty of tranquil enclaves. All this provides a magnificent backdrop to play the grand old game. Whether you want a mountain view or a layout routed through wide meadows, West Virginia has all that and more.
More than 50 publicly accessible golf facilities can be found in the state that was the home of one of the most admired figures in golf, Sam Snead. Snead put the state on the golf map of the nation and for years represented the famous Greenbrier Resort. When he passed away in 2002 he was fittingly laid to rest in his family’s plot in Hot Springs, West Virginia.
The state, golf, and Sam Snead will be forever linked and all only add to the appeal of the place as a vacation destination. The pace of life is a little slower than most places, leading to stays where relaxation is easily achieved.
Besides an endearing tempo of daily life, the climate during the main golf season of May to September couldn’t be any more alluring for a game of golf. While most of the country swelters under high humidity, the cool mountain breezes temper the days in West Virginia. That unusual temperature conditions also allow the golf course superintendents to keep their layouts in impeccable condition.
The number of public golf courses in the state is growing but its real strength is the resorts that dot all corners of the territory. Ranging from rustic to ultra luxurious, West Virginia resorts that include golf among their amenities provide a wide range of vacation options. This makes the place appealing whether you are a couple looking for a romantic retreat or a family planning a summer vacation.
So where do you begin? Why no summary of golf stops here can start any other place than with The Greenbrier Resort, renowned by more than a two centuries of visitors as one of the supreme places in the world to get away.
6,500 Acres Of Glory
It’s almost shocking when you here the staff at the Greenbrier call the place “America’s Resort” since 1778. It may seem like a marketing fabrication initially but when you delve into the history of the place it rings true. Located in White Sulphur Springs, this National Historic Landmark can rightfully claim 227 years of guest welcoming experience.
The stunning architecture of the resort and its immense size, with 803 rooms, is a site to behold. From the air it is a snow-white bastion in the leafy green West Virginia landscape, spreading out over 6,500 acres. Within the 803 accommodation choices there are some 33 suites and 96 guest and estate houses. Cottages have been part of the Greenbrier story since the beginning.
Greenbrier owes its creation to the hot springs that are the origin of the town’s name. In fact, Greenbrier was known as White Sulphur Springs for its first 125 years. Prominent citizens would make the trek to the mountain village in early days, a sometimes-harrowing adventure along the dirt roadways. Many built cottages in rows that still exist today. Eventually a hotel was erected in 1858 with The Greenbrier Hotel (which makes up the central part of the Greenbrier Resort today) added in 1913.
Along the years the Greenbrier has had a varied story but through it all it remained a treasure appreciated by even the wealthiest of clientele. During the 20th century it has served (at various times, mostly near the time of Word War II) as a hospital, bomb shelter, and even an internment camp.
When Sam Snead left the PGA Tour full-time in1948 and took up residence as the golf professional at The Greenbrier, it was the start of an era where the place became world renowned as a golf resort.
Before Snead’s arrival, the resort already possessed a fabulously charming golf course in the form of the Old White course, a stunning 1914 Charles Blair MacDonald design. Featuring wide fairways, huge ancient trees and breathtaking mountain vistas it is the kind of place where your golf scores seem secondary to the experience. Jack Nicklaus bravely renovated Old White in preparation for the 1979 Ryder Cup, which was successful in updating it to a more modern design standard while maintaining its inherent charm.
By the time Sam Snead passed in 2002, still the golf professional emeritus for the resort, the Greenbrier had also added two more courses to the Old White, the Bob Cupp designed Meadows course (a redesigned version of their old Lakeside course) and the Greenbrier course (a 1978 Jack Nicklaus design). The result is a magical trio that, when combined with the fabulous resort amenities, makes it a must visit for any West Virginia golf traveler.
While not every golf destination can be equal to the Greenbrier, the quality does not diminish as much as you might think as you make your way to other parts of West Virginia.
Another resort covering a large acreage can be found not far from The Greenbrier. Although slightly younger, the Glade Springs Resort still possesses the charm of the Greenbrier all through its 4100-acre property. This gated resort and community is nestled deep within the Allegheny Mountains.
Glade Springs is an outdoor sports fans delight. Not only do they offer up activities ranging from skiing, to mountain biking, to fly fishing, the two quality golf courses are much admired throughout the state. In fact, in 2006 the golf courses will be host to the West Virginia State Open and the NCAA Men’s Division II National Championships.
Before we touch on the golf some more, you must consider your accommodations at Glade Springs. Unlike most resorts with one central hotel, here they offer a variety of accommodations ranging from a traditional inn to secluded lodges and manors where you can truly get away from the rest of the world.
If you think the decision of where to stay is tough, wait until you have to choose between the Cobb or Stonehaven course. Each 18-hole layout has its own flavour. The Cobb is the original course at Glade Springs and offers up a recently renovated flowing design through mature forests. Some very huge greens and bunkers mark all the holes. I mean bunkers so large you may have to bring a picnic lunch in to if your sand play is a little suspect!
The Stonehaven is a modern design and is much more rugged than The Cobb. It does not return to the clubhouse after nine, accentuating the feel of heading out on a daylong adventure for an extended period of time. The back nine tumbles to and fro, testing every aspect of your game. A camera is suggested as the 15th club in your bag.
More Mountain Highs
When Gary Player tackled Cheat Mountain, he came up with a golf course originally called Hawthorne Valley, now The Raven at Snowshoe Mountain as part of Intrawest’s growing number of signature properties. That was in 1993 and ever since the golf course has been garnering praise from all manners of regional and national golf publications. Massive elevation changes are the norm here and the use of the word “natural” cannot be overplayed. Expect to experience drops of and rises of hundreds of feet and constant interaction with all manners of bird and wild life.
Four sets of tees and an overall yardage of 7042 yards make the Snowshoe layout attractive to all manners of golfers although you should temper your enthusiasm a bit and move up a tee or two to really enjoy what can be a daunting challenge. Fortunately the three sets of shorter tee decks are well forward of the tips. Player was obviously pleased with his work, a design that varies greatly from many he has created in less mountainous areas of the world. “I have yet to see a course that compares with this one for mountain beauty,” says Player. “The challenge here is different. Hitting from high up, you have difficulty judging distances. You have an altitude problem as well, so judging your second shot is difficult.”
Playing well, although gratifying, is usually the last thing on your mind as the course bends from high vistas down through peaceful valleys where literally, deer play.
At 11,000 acres, Snowshoe Mountain is even larger than Greenbrier and Glade Springs combined. This four-season resort is a major ski destination on the Mid-Atlantic coast and suitably, has first class accommodations, services, and accommodations. Make sure you slip into the Red Fox Restaurant before you leave Snowshoe for a memorable meal.
In The Park
A major highlight about golf in West Virginia is the presence of golf courses, and good ones at that, right in the State Parks. One of the finest examples is the Stonewall Resort, found in Stonewall Jackson Lake State Park. The resort’s slogan of “Close to Nature, Far From Ordinary” couldn’t be any closer to the truth.
Located in the heart of the state, Stonewall is a little more minimalist than the higher profile resorts found around the region but its Adirondack style is a perfect match with the setting. If you have been to that region of New York State and enjoyed it you will feel right at home here. Guests have a choice between a 198-room lakeside lodge; ten fully furnished well-appointed cottages (also along the lake), or forty campsites. You can even choose one of the four houseboats for a special night on the lake.
Once you manage to crawl out of your chosen residence you will be happy to find an Arnold Palmer designed golf course ready to meet your acquaintance. Named by several publications in their “best new courses” when it debuted The Palmer Course at Stonewall is a burly layout at 7149 yards from all the way back with a rating of 75.4 and a slope of 142. Fortunately, five tee deck options make it slightly more manageable. The key feature of the course as you wind your way through its compact 120-acre plot are the great views of the massive manmade Stonewall Jackson Lake. Holes feature tall stands of trees, constant elevation changes (although some are far more subtle than others), and tall grasses that blow in the wind, creating an eerie feel, especially when you find yourself alone with nothing but your surroundings.
Additional amenities at the resort include the Mt. Laurel Spa, a conference centre, hiking and biking trails and every manner of lake activity including boat rentals.
Yet Another Big Lake
If economics are a major factor in your vacation decision a very attractive option is the Lakeview Resort in Wheeling. This destination prides itself in offering extreme value for the services and amenities rendered. “You don’t have to spend a lot to be treated like a V.I.P.” is a significant point in their promotional material.
Located on scenic Cheat Lake, Lakeview can be found in the extreme northern portion of the state, an easy drive from all points in the Flagstick region. Don’t expect “world class” here but it is far from spartan in terms of accommodations, service and amenities. Close to 200 comfortable guestrooms are offered along with more than 50 condominium units ideal for families or small groups. A spa, meeting rooms, and a great fitness and activity centre complete the look.
As for golf, 36 holes more than meet your needs. The “Lakeview” course originated in 1950 as a nine-hole design and grew to 18 by 1954. Designed by James Harrison it is a solid layout providing both a fair test of golf and good value for the low priced green fee. For a greater challenge you can tackle the Bryan Ault crafted Mountainview course that debuted in 1985. Winding through the Allegheny foothills, it is a very accommodating course when you hit the ball well but will test every club in your bag. It is no matter anyhow as the views are tremendous and overall makes a compelling outlet for your golfing desires.
The town of Wheeling offers up a distinctive resort experience in the form of the Oglebay Resort and Conference Centre. Originating from a private estate, Oglebay is remarkable for its well-groomed grounds including thousands of flowers seemingly always in bloom.
Over 1700 acres creates a welcome retreat for individuals, families, and corporate gatherings. It especially caters to families with educational centres, a planetarium, and even their own 30-acre zoo!
The centrepiece of the resort is the Wilson Lodge. Recently expanded and renovated, the Lodge offers up 212 rooms including a new guest wing with 53 modern deluxe rooms and suites. 49 cottages are appropriate for large groups, with some featuring as many as six bedrooms.
Golf comes in the form of the 36 hole Speidel Golf Club, home of Arnold Palmer and a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed courses, and the Crispin Golf Course, and an 18-hole par three course. The original Jones course was strong enough to host an LPGA Tour event for 11 years. The Arnold Palmer course increases your option with a “modern links” course that takes full advantage of the natural terrain.
If you are looking for a full family style experience than Oglebay is the one you are looking for in West Virginia.
Get Lost In The Woods
At the northern end of the scenic Shenandoah Valley, you will find the 2000 acres that encompasses The Woods Resort. Calling themselves the “close and casual retreat” it is well located for visitors from the eastern seaboard and major beltways. They offer a resort, conference centre, and real estate opportunities.
Bordered by a 23,000 acre Wildlife Management area and also possessing a 205-acre lake on the property, The Woods is as natural of a setting as you can find. That applies as well to the two golf courses, the full length Mountainview Course and the newer, mid-length Stony Lick course.
The Mountainview layout meanders along a wooded plateau with inviting views of Third Hill Mountain. The holes themselves are fairly flat but the hilly journeys in between them makes a power golf cart a welcome option. Although housing does persist on many holes, forests boasting a wide number of mature trees line most fairways. The finishing hole, a long par 5 at 563 yards, puts a tremendous finish on your round if played well.
Originally a nine-hole regulation length course, the Stony Lick course was recently renovated to transform it into an 18 hole, par 62 test that ranges in length from 3000 – 3700 yards. It has ten par three holes and eight par four holes, offering up the only course of its kind in the valley. It is fun for all levels of players including children who can easily manage its compact hole lengths. It is also very easy to walk.
A New Choice
There you have it – a Super 7 of West Virginia Resorts if you will. As varied as each property is, they all share and benefit from the natural beauty of this fascinating state. Each has its own character, price, and feel but in the end, there is something to be gained or enjoyed by a visit to each.
West Virginia may not be on the top of your vacation list but a bounty of peaceful settings, a slow pace of life, and an easily accessible location should put it into consideration. They may not be bursting into the modern world in all parts of West Virginia but in some ways that is what makes it such a charming place. The “Mountain State” is a perfect place to enjoy golf blended with nature and leave with a smile on your face and a few dollars still left in your pocket.