Grab your clubs and hit the links at some of West Virginia’s finest courses.
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The late, great golf architect Robert Von Hagge used to say golfers only spend about 15 minutes in a four-hour round actually striking the ball. The rest of the time they’re looking around. If a course isn’t pleasing to the eye, the experience is unremarkable.
Texas-based designer Hagge never built a course in West Virginia, but plenty of his peers have—world-famous architects such as Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player. They carved tees, greens, and fairways into the flanks of mountain ridges and through wooded river valleys, setting up enough glorious views to last through many a memorable round.
Golf in the Mountain State didn’t begin with a big-name designer, but with a group of gentlemen intrigued by the new Scottish game that had just crossed the Atlantic. They laid out a nine-hole loop in a pasture near White Sulphur Springs where they met to play. By 1884, the course had a name—Oakhurst Links (page 42)—and was one of the country’s first golf clubs.
Today, the Mountain State offers up many top-notch courses. These are just a few of some of those recognized by golf experts nationwide.
Pasture had long since reclaimed the Oakhurst nine by 1910, when the C&O Railroad bought White Sulphur Springs’ Old White Hotel and began transforming it into The Greenbrier, a resort world-famous for its amenities and activities, including golf. Charles Blair Macdonald was commissioned to create the resort’s Old White Course, which opened in 1913 with three holes reminiscent of his favorite Scottish holes—the Redan at North Berwick, the Alps at Prestwick, and the Eden at St. Andrews.
The Greenbrier course, designed by Seth Raynor, opened at the resort in 1924. Remodeled by Jack Nicklaus for the 1979 Ryder Cup, it became the resort’s toughest 18, with a gauntlet of undulating, heavily bunkered greens. A third resort course was added in 1962, and in 1999, it emerged from a Bob Cupp makeover as The Meadows (pictured above), a beautiful valley layout that rivals the Greenbrier in its strategic challenges.
But it was the venerable Old White that ultimately captured the spotlight. After West Virginia native Jim Justice purchased the resort in May 2009, he secured a spot on the PGA Tour for the 2010 PGA Greenbrier Classic, now a July fixture. Three years earlier, Lester George had finished a massive restoration of the Old White to Macdonald’s original plan and lengthened it a bit. For the 2011 Classic, it played at 7,274 yards—daunting when combined with Macdonald’s risk-reward options.
The Greenbrier, 300 West Main Street, White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986; 304.536.1110
Brier Patch Golf Links
Justice’s name is also associated with Brier Patch, which he redesigned himself in 1997 after buying the former Saddlebred Course and residential community near Beckley. The 7,000-yard course is a pleasant surprise for a residential course laid out by an amateur, though talented, golfer. It’s home to striking mountain views, lots of elevation changes, water and sand, and some quirky holes. The course is a legitimate golf test that’s fun to play.
The Brier Patch Golf Links, 1 Brier Patch Drive, Beckley, WV 25801; 304.253.4653
The Resort at Glade Springs
A 2010 Justice acquisition, this residential/resort community near Beckley is richly endowed with amenities and sports facilities, including three diverse golf tracks. The oldest is the Cobb Course, consistently ranked in the top five in the state by Golf Digest. Prolific designer George Cobb was in good form when he crafted this bunker-studded layout, which rises and falls as much as 200 feet and encounters eight lakes along its route. The Stonehaven Course, opened in 2003, was the work of Tom Clark, who made full use of the 69-acre Chatham Lake, hardwood forests studded with massive rock outcroppings, and 80-foot elevation changes. In 2010, Clark’s Woodhaven Course completed the resort’s golf trio. A mountain course in every sense, it ranges through forested ravines and ridges dotted with limestone formations and thickets of rhododendron.
The Resort at Glade Springs; 866.562.8054
The Highlands at Fisher Mountain
Little expense was spared in the construction of this entertaining layout by West Virginia native Bill Ward. Opened in 2006 as the centerpiece of an ambitious resort/residential community near Franklin, the course has remained open and well-maintained through the auction of the property to another developer and subsequent real estate doldrums. This is a hidden gem where you can play an uncrowded, quality layout routed through two mountain valleys, with narrow fairways, tiered greens, and interesting features, such as an island green.
The Highlands at Fisher Mountain, Troublesome Valley Road, HC 72 Box 42, Franklin, WV 26807
Lakeview Golf Resort & Spa
Two ridge-running layouts comprise the golf offerings at this resort near Morgantown. The Lakeview Course skirts the cliffs above Cheat Lake, providing several scenic overlooks. The seventh hole drops 180 feet off the tee, and the finishing hole is a bruising 620 yards. Lakeview’s sister course, the Brian Ault-designed Mountainview, is a pleasant romp through dense woods, spiced with tight landing areas and sculpted greens.
Lakeview Golf Resort & Spa, 1 Lakeview Drive, Morgantown, WV 26508; 304.594.1111; 800.624.8300
Pete Dye Golf Club
Dye says the layout is among his best work. Many golfers feel the course is the best in the state, and Golf Digest has ranked it among the top 50 in the country. Located near Bridgeport, the club is private. You can play it as the guest of a member or by appointment if you’re contemplating membership. The 7,248-yard layout occupies the site of a former coal mine, and there are reminders of this earlier use, such as a coal car and a cart path that enters a mine shaft to reach the elevated tee of a par three. Play crosses several chasms in the rugged landscape. It’s target golf, mountain-style, and the many tests of skill make for a round you won’t forget.
Pete Dye Golf Club, 801 Aaron Smith Drive, Bridgeport, WV 26330; 304.842.2801; 877.304.7542