Hanging Rock Golf Club - New Thoughts of Southwestern Virginia

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeffrey A. Rendall


SALEM, VA – If you mention ‘Virginia’ to people on the street, and asked them to give you thoughts about the state that come to mind, you’ll invariably get the famous stuff as answers – Monticello, George Washington, Colonial Williamsburg, the Confederacy, and maybe even Washington DC (by proximity).  Or if you’re in the military, you’ll get Norfolk and Quantico. 


Ask a history buff, and you’ll further hear ‘tobacco, Jamestown and slavery.’


Hanging Rock's par five 1st hole 'only' measures 500 yards, but the steep slope you're playing up makes it seem much longer.

Notably absent from these pedestrian Virginia radar screens is anything in the vast southwestern part of the state.  Sure, for those who’ve grown up here or lived in the region for an appreciable period of time, they’re aware of the beauty and variety of recreational choices in the southwestern counties.


But even these folks probably don’t see southwestern Virginia as a golf destination.  Though it’s not quite on the level of the state’s more famous golf collections, such as a place like Williamsburg, there’re some good golf courses in the hill country – certainly worth checking out.  And one of those nice layouts is Hanging Rock Golf Club.


Hanging Rock is located just off of I-81 in the little town of Salem, which is about ten minutes from downtown Roanoke – and a reasonable distance from Blacksburg as well.  It’s not the type of course you’re going to see written up in Links Magazine or depicted in coffee table books full of golf’s artistic masterpieces – but if you’re traveling in this part of the state and are looking for a solid, affordable golf alternative, here’s your place.


Billy McBride, Hanging Rock’s Director of Golf, tells the story behind the course:  “Our golf course is the realization of the dreams of two men, Joe Thomas Sr. and Warren Gardner, along with three other local investors.  These gentlemen saw the need for an upscale public golf course in the Roanoke Valley, so they leased some land from Roanoke College and set out to build a quality facility.  Mr. Thomas’s land-moving company did all the construction work to build it.”

The view from the back tee on the par five 9th hole is pure intimidation.


The course opened in July of 1991, and the dreams have been reality ever since (unfortunately, Mr. Gardner has passed away).  Hanging Rock takes its name from the surrounding area, and there’s also a great deal of Civil War history to it – though the name ‘Hanging Rock’ wasn’t derived from any specific incidents during the war.


McBride says the nearby Fort Lewis Mountain was a Confederate stronghold during the conflict, and there are stories about some ‘hangings’ that supposedly took place there – hence, a new way to remember it.  Though I doubt you’ll envision many ‘nooses’ when you come here.


In the 21st century, it’s just beautiful scenery in this part of the state, and at the Hanging Rock club, it’s known for golf.  Russell Breeden designed the golf course, as he did for nearly four score courses in the Southeast – and is well regarded in the Roanoke/Lynchburg/Smith Mountain Lake area for his work at Ashley Plantation, Westlake Golf and Country Club and London Downs.


Here's a look at one of the 5th hole's two greens. If you choose to play to this green, you'll need steady nerve to avoid getting wet.

Aside from Hanging Rock’s well conceived layout, it’s also known for being the best maintained public course in the area (I gathered this from talking to some of the patrons).  McBride says they’ve been ‘officially’ recognized for their quality as well:  “We’ve been voted the best golf course in the Roanoke Valley by the readers of the ‘Roanoker Magazine’ for twelve years straight, and we’ve earned a 3 ½ star rating from Golf Digest as a ‘place to play.’”


McBride insists their friendly service has something to do with Hanging Rock’s popularity, and there’s a story he’s fond of telling in that regard.  They’ll do what it takes to make you happy, even on days when you wouldn’t normally think of playing golf.


“Back in 2000, we had three Japanese players come out to us in early January,” McBride elaborated.  “It was the last few days they had in the states before going back to Japan, and they wanted to play some golf.  We had about three inches of snow on the grass, but the paths were open – so we got carts ready for them and they headed for the first tee.  It wasn’t long before one of them came back, they’d R-O-B (run out of balls).”


He continues, “Needless to say it took them about two hours to play the first five holes and never finished the round, but at least they could say they’d played that day in January and we counted them on our round count for the month.  The sled riders on the fifth hole really had a good time watching them trying to play golf in the snow.”

At 551 yards, the par five 4th hole is Hanging Rock's longest -- and displays some of the 'rock' that the region is known for.


May we all be so dedicated, but it also shows how spoiled we Americans are when you’re talking about the availability of golf.  I doubt I’ll be toting clubs with snow on the ground, but many times we can at least hit balls during those ‘cold’ months.  Hanging Rock is open all year, daybreak to dark – so give ‘em a try if you think you want it bad enough.


Playing the layout, McBride says it’s the flat stick that will challenge you the most on his course.  “Without a doubt, reading the greens is where you’re going to struggle here.  We have a lot of elevation around the course, so it makes it very difficult to read our greens.  We point out where the City of Salem lies to the lowest point on our property, and we tell players that everything breaks towards it.”


Beyond that, it’s pretty much gentle enjoyment at Hanging Rock.  There are four sets of tees spreading the challenge accordingly, and better players can expect a fair test at just over 6800 yards (par 73).  The middle (white) tees play at 6200 yards, and the gold tees for seniors and experienced ladies are at 5400.  The forward tees are very navigable at slightly over 4500 yards – a great place to try and teach the game to the novices.


Whether you play it as a par four or par three, it's a long way down to the green on the 18th hole.

There layout also includes five par fives, which will throw in a couple extra birdie opportunities for those wielding a big stick off the tee.


Since they basically got it right the first time, there’s only been one change to the layout since it opened, and that involved the eighteenth hole.  “The way the closing hole was originally designed, you had to lay-up off the tee to a landing area 25 yards wide with trees lining both sides of the fairway,” McBride explained.  “Then you were left from 160 to 180 yards downhill for your second shot (the green is about 75 feet below the landing/teeing area).  It slowed our pace-of-play down, so we changed it to a par three.  People are much happier with it, too.”


Another crowd pleaser at Hanging Rock is the fifth hole.  I’ve seen holes with two greens before, but this is the first one I can recall where you have a choice on which one to play to, since there’s a hole cut on each green.  You can play it to a larger green – but it’s uphill and will probably play longer, or choose to shoot over water to a pretty small target.  No matter which you select, you’ll remember this as Hanging Rock’s signature hole.


Other interesting links include the first hole, a 500-yard par five that will seem much longer.  You’re teeing off over the same lake that borders the fifth hole – and once your ball finds land, the slope takes over from there.  Adding to the challenge – you’ll be shooting to a blind pin, too.

Looking back from the green of the par five 10th hole -- it presents a bit of a different view from the front nine.


On the back nine, McBride likes the fourteenth hole.  “I like the way you have to shape your tee shot because of the dogleg right – and then there’s four clubs difference between the front and back of the green, so the hole can play several different ways.”


For those in shape, walking is an option at Hanging Rock, though McBride says they strongly recommend riding (and 96% take that advice).  In addition, carts are mandatory on the weekends until one o’clock.   


Summing up, Hanging Rock is a fine example of golf in this lesser-known, but not lesser-quality part of Virginia.  It’s a local favorite, and visitors will find it to their liking as well.


The long and narrow green of the par four 14th hole.

Where We Stayed


There are seven area hotels and resorts that participate in the Roanoke Golf Package program, but we chose to stay at a location that’s a little farther away – and it was an experience in and of itself.


I’m speaking of the Mountain Lake Hotel, in Pembroke, Virginia, about a half hour northwest of Blacksburg.  Having grown up on the west coast and visited a solid representative share of its mountainous regions, I’d have to say Mountain Lake is as close as you’re going to find to a real ‘Sierra-type’ experience in the Mid-Atlantic.


Yet it’s also distinctly southern at the same time – and maybe even adding a pinch of the northeast to give it even more flavor.  The hotel’s proximity to Virginia Tech makes it well known to the school’s alumni, but there’s enough there to offer everyone who makes the trip.

Even off the course, Hanging Rock offers a pleasant atmosphere.


Something about Mountain Lake must’ve attracted the attention of the producers of the film ‘Dirty Dancing’ in the mid-80’s, as about half the movie was shot there.  There’s that extra-regional quality that you just can’t put your finger on.  It’ll just remind you of a lot of things in your memory banks, all of them pleasant.


The final seven miles is the only two-lane road you’ll see, which also makes Mountain Lake convenient to get to.  And once you’re there, everything’s taken care of – but it’s not stuffy in the slightest.  Quite simply put, Mountain Lake is the best place we’ve seen to take a family – from the accommodations to the dining facilities, to the activities… it’s all there.


The first thing we noticed upon checking into our room (in the Chestnut Lodge) was the absence of a TV.  My kids didn’t appreciate it very much, but the concept is perfect – if you’re in the mountains, who needs TV?


Paddleboats are first-come-first-served at Mountain Lake. Here's a view of the hotel from the middle of the lake.

There are over 20 different types of accommodations at Mountain Lake, ranging from single hotel rooms to four-bedroom cottages.  It’s hard to imagine, but the resort seems to have something that fits every family’s individual needs.  Couples looking for a weekend getaway will also appreciate the opportunity for some seclusion.


One of the things we particularly enjoyed about staying at Mountain Lake was the meals.  Included in the accommodations packages that you purchase, meals are served in the same dining room so prominently featured in Dirty Dancing, and offers buffet style (the days we were there) self-service with the locally based wait-staff providing beverages and conversation.  The choices were as tasty as they were plentiful, with delicious prime rib the featured item on our Saturday night meal.  To finish off, there was a pretty impressive selection of deserts to go along with the main courses.


The activities are too numerous to mention here – try the complete treatment: click here to see the full review of the Mountain Lake Hotel.


Mountain Lake is just an enjoyable all-around experience, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll long to go back.  I know we do.

Mountain Lake Hotel at sunset.


Mountain Lake Hotel

115 Hotel Circle

Pembroke, VA  24136


Phone:  1-800-346-3334


Website:  http://www.mtnlakehotel.com/


Consult the website for more information on rates, accommodations and activities.  The hotel is closed during the winter, but there are alternative choices ‘up on the mountain’ during the cold months.



Hanging Rock Golf Club

1500 Red Lane

Salem, VA  24153


Phone:  (540) 389-7275; (800) 277-7497


Web:  hangingrockgolf.com


Director of Golf:  W.E. (Billy) McBride, Jr. PGA

Teaching Professional:  Werner Riemer

Course Designer:  Russell Breeden




Black  6828   125/71.2

White 6222   112/68.3 (the yardage is with 18 as a par four)

Gold    5425   106/65.5  121/70.5 (L)

Red     4519   107/65.4




Weekdays until noon, $37; $30 until four, then $25

Weekends & Holidays until noon, $48.00; $40 until four, then $30

Senior days Monday and Wednesday, $26

Women’s day is Tuesday, $27

Juniors – weekdays, and weekends after one -- $15 (walking)


Hanging Rock is participating in the Roanoke Valley Golf Package program.

Related Links   Comments on this article?
Maryland National Golf Club
Hollow Creek Golf Club
Rocky Gap Resort
PB Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville
Whiskey Creek Golf Club
E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor: