By Dale Leatherman
Golf has been a fixture in West Virginia since 1884.
That's when a group of gentlemen in White Sulphur Springs created a nine-hole course in a sheep pasture and formed a club — Oakhurst Links (304-536-1884 or www.oakhurstlinks.com), 1 Montague Drive.
Oakhurst is arguably America’s first golf club. Today, you can play this historic course ($75 including equipment), but only with replica clubs and gutta percha balls true to the era.
WV Golf Happenings
Wait a year or so and you can play West Virginia’s oldest and newest courses within walking distance of each other. Taking shape on the mountain ridge behind Oakhurst is a Jack Nicklaus course (his first in West Virginia) that will be the centerpiece of a new Oakhurst community.
A few miles away at The Greenbrier resort (800-453-4858 or www.greenbrier.com) in White Sulphur Springs, another historic venue has a new look that’s actually old.
In 2006, using century-old aerial photos and drawings, architect Lester George completed a painstaking restoration of the Old White.
The 1910 Charles Blair Macdonald design now plays as its maker intended -- its fairways and bunkers fringed in wild grasses and its greens heavily contoured. (Hole 14 is shown above, while Hole 1 is shown at the very top of this article adjacent to the headline*)
In contrast, the resort’s Greenbrier (a former Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup venue) and Meadows courses are classic parkland layouts. Greens fees on all courses: $225.
The state’s newest golf venue, The Highlands (304-358-2261 or www.highlandsgolfwv.com), in Franklin, has generated a lot of excitement since its opening in 2006.
Hole 10 is shown at left.*
Set in a remote, high mountain valley, the Bill Ward creation unfurls one distinctive and delightful hole after another.
The architect’s generous fairways give you a break off the tee in most cases, but the green approaches call for careful strategy and the putting surfaces are, quite simply, diabolical — but fun.
Add six or so strokes to your card on putts alone. The island hole, No. 10, (again, shown above left*) may very well add another.
The Highlands, which is beautifully groomed and has a classy clubhouse and restaurant to boot, is one of the state’s best bargains.
Greens fees are $35 Monday through Friday and $40 on weekends.
In the southern part of West Virginia near Beckley, the Resort at Glade Springs (877-892-2659, 304-763-2050 or http://www.gladesprings.com/?NCK=stn) has grown into a terrific golf destination. It boasts two superb courses and a plethora of activities and lodging choices.
The Cobb Course, which dates to the 1970s, has been upgraded and lengthened to 7,121 yards. Eight lakes come into play on many holes. Also, the bunkering around the oversized, undulating greens is brutal.
The resort’s new course, Stonehaven (its challenging Hole 13 is shown above left*), has matured into one of the best golfing experiences in the state.
Ranging through a dense forest studded with rock outcroppings and thickets of rhododendron, the 7,200-yard track rises and falls precipitously, which makes club selection tricky. Hole 2 at Stonehaven is shown at right.*
Extremely elevated tees call for carries across expanses of undergrowth to plateau fairways.
Approach shots to greens are placed high on hillsides or tucked in valleys. (Hole Number 2 is shown at left.*)Stonehaven’s par threes are particularly memorable.
Greens fees are $60 between October and March, $120 from April through Sept. on the Cobb Course; $81 on weekdays, $91 on weekends on Stonehaven.
Coal mining is the lifeblood of Logan County, in the southwestern Hatfield-McCoy mountains near the Kentucky border.
Stirring much controversy is the mountaintop removal used in this region, but one mine-site reclamation project has made golfers in the Charleston, WV, area (90 minutes away) very happy.
Twisted Gun Golf Club (304-664-9100) in Wharncliffe sits on high tableland where the mountaintop was sheared off, with views of peaks and valleys in every direction. Twisted Gun's #14 is shown at right.*
The course flows over hilly terrain bordered by tall natural grasses. The only trees on the course are on the sides of the mountain. Bunkering is minimal, but used to great strategic effect.
The same goes for water. The lakeside approaches on holes nine and eighteen will linger in your memory.
So will par threes such as the thirteenth, which is built up on rocks and fronted by a collar of small stones. Twisted Gun’s greens fees are $37 on weekdays and $47 on weekends.
In West Virginia, the Mountain State, golf is all about mountains, whether you’re playing on top, as at Twisted Gun, or on the flanks and in the valleys. The hilly terrain of Twisted Gun's #13 is shown at left.*
Blessed with a wide variety of hardwoods and evergreens, West Virginia courses are particularly scenic in the fall.
For more information, go to www.wvtourism.com