Raven Golf Club at Snowshoe Mountain - Hours from Somewhere

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

 

SNOWSHOE, WV – “Three hours from nowhere,” I heard them say when talking about the Raven at Snowshoe, rated by several publications as West Virginia’s top public-access course.

         

“But you must go there,” they said in the same breath.




Standing on the Raven's 9th tee -- one of several holes with serious vertical down to the fairway landing area. This hole also has two greens.

         

Taking the advice, we plotted a trip to the heart of West Virginia, and while not really believing the ‘hours from nowhere’ part of it, we discovered that the admonitions, and the accolades, were true for this golf course located in a ‘remote’ part of the Mid-Atlantic.  For those traveling from the Baltimore/Washington area, be prepared for several hours of two-lane driving after leaving the interstate in the Shenandoah Valley.  What on paper appears to be about a 3 ˝ to 4 hour drive actually took us about 5 ˝ (with a stop for lunch, to be fair).

         

That being said, the Gary Player designed Raven was worth the trouble.  As ‘mountain’ courses go, it’s both more spectacular and more playable than what you’re typically thinking of when you hear the term, the stereotypical mountain layout having rock-hard, sloped holes with weird bounces and requiring lots of time spent searching for wayward golf balls.

         

The Raven is none of that… well, mostly not.  The course is more than wide enough, but if you’re off the ‘track,’ you’re most likely lost.  And while there are a few holes with some dramatic drops and climbs, it’s surprisingly level in other spots.  All the while, you’re wondering ‘how can this kind of quality be found so far off the beaten path?’




From behind the green of the par three 14th hole. There's a mild carry off the tee, and plenty of room to land the ball -- as long as you don't go right.

         

Jeff Myers, Gary Player’s Head Designer (in the early 90’s, when the Raven was built, and now with his own design firm) helps supply the answers:  “The Raven was an interesting project, simply because it was so remote.  I believe the owners were intent on creating a four season resort, and wanted some real estate possibilities lower on the mountain – so they decided to build a golf course.”

         

Myers continues, “We initially looked at a different site, up above the present day back nine, where there’s about a 400-acre flat spot -- but getting up to it would’ve been very expensive.  So we went with the current layout, which turned out very well.”

         

Yes indeed, very well.  The construction started in August of 1991 and the holes were seeded in July and August of 1992, finally opening in July of 1993.  Because of the elevation, soil conditions and the abbreviated growing season (basically late April through early October), it took longer for the grass to take root.  Myers said while they were working on the course, they even had snow as late as May and as early as October.




Jeff Myers said the par four 7th hole was tough to fit in -- and it's difficult to play, as well, because there's very little room to miss around the green.

         

Snowshoe almost sounds more like a two-season resort, but we get the picture.

         

Myers said they loved the property right off.  “I thought we had a great piece of land to work with.  A group of coal miners were the original resort owners (who also developed the golf course), and they had already started the golf course by the time we got there, clearing holes one, two, seven and eight – but they stopped.”

         

“I believe when you have that type of uneven terrain, you find as many ‘natural’ holes as you can, and then just build a few ‘tough’ holes to complete the layout.  The seventh hole (420-yard par four, with a very tight green complex) is an example of a ‘forced’ hole.  That patch of land connected holes 2-6 with 8 and 9, so we had to come up with something that would work.  We were lucky we had plenty of land to find holes and then connect them with longer cart paths,” Myers explained.




The view from the 18th tee -- the 'slice' side is uphill from you, and shots to the right will probably bounce back down to the fairway.

         

The seventh hole does seem to stand out when you’re playing the front nine, only from the fact that the green sits kind of on a ledge – and the other side is all mountain slope (going up the hill).  If you miss the green to the right, you’re dead, and to the left, it’s a heck of a try at getting it up and down – with the ‘ledge’ waiting for your bladed chip on the other side.

         

The resort owners wanted a golf course that would be visually exciting, but also on the ‘friendly’ side to the high-handicap players who would be paying for the majority of the rounds.  A golf course set on the side of the mountain already offers inherent difficulties for creating something playable, but the Raven proves it’s not impossible.

         

Again, Myers provides the commentary.  “The challenges were to route the course so that the ‘slice’ side (where most people tend to go) was going into the mountain – not over the side of the hill.  The fact that we were able to position the ‘hill’ to the right side on most holes keeps the course playable for high handicappers.”




Though there are many candidates for 'Signature Hole' at the Raven, the par four 4th hole is definitely a front-runner. Here's the green, but the tees are on top of the hill in the distance.

         

‘Slice protection’ is one of the subtleties of the golf course, but it’s certainly true – and gives us some insight into the inner workings of Gary Player’s design philosophy, which is to build a course that’s fun for everyone.  In addition to the tee ball protection, Player also kept the putting surfaces relatively flat – so if you get to the greens, you’ll have a chance to score.  The bunkers are also strategically placed – to prevent you from getting further into trouble. 

 

I’ve never been so glad to be in a bunker – it’s much better than over the crevice. 

         

The Raven was more than just a routing challenge, however.  “The second challenge was working around the abundant rock on the site, because that easily could’ve killed the budget.  We started out with a grading plan idea, and then adjusted it to meet the rock conditions,” Myers said.




Afternoon shadows obscure the landing area on the par five 17th hole.

         

As dry as it was the time we visited, we would’ve never guessed at the ‘third’ challenge, but it’s easy to see how raging floods could be a problem.  “Finally, we needed to control the water that rushed down the mountain when it rained.  Erosion was a major issue, because there was 3000+ acres of surface above the golf course.  When it rained, that water came down very hard and fast.  We ended up putting the cart paths on the uphill side of the holes and using it to break the speed of the water and to get it into pipes,” Myers added.

         

Thankfully, there weren’t a lot of environmental issues to go along with everything else.  Myers said the permitting process took only one week, which was a record for any project he’s worked on.  Despite the fairly loose official oversight structure, the Player Group was very careful not to get any soil into the streams (because they’re trout streams) – as well as insisting that the Superintendent be very cautious with fertilizer, pesticide and herbicide usage.

         

Being tucked in the mountains, the Raven feels very much removed from not only the daily routine, but from ‘civilization’ itself.  Don’t come here thinking you’ll find an Applebee’s right around the corner – Snowshoe might as well be on a forested, hilly island.  The resort center is up the mountain from the golf course and contains everything you’d want from an Alpine resort.  But even that’s a twenty minute drive.




The par three 3rd hole measures 127-yards from the back tee, and it's straight downhill, making for difficult club selection.

 

And there’s no real estate on the course.

         

Myers echoed these thoughts.  I asked him how the Snowshoe project was different than others he’d worked on.  The answer was easy:  “It’s almost 40 miles to the nearest town.  It was very hard on the people who worked there, especially with families.  As a result, the owners tried to find a job for all the family members.  The first course Superintendent’s wife was a nurse, so she worked at the golf course in the summer, then in the winter, doing emergency rescue on the mountain.  It was hard on the kids, too, as it was a two-hour bus ride to school.”

         

The current Superintendent, Steve Marnic, confirmed the dual nature of the staff’s duties – as he works at The Raven during the warm months and helps with snow removal at the resort (and additional course maintenance) during the winter.  Marnic and crew did an almost heroic job of keeping up the course conditions at the Raven, given the size of his staff, and the lack of rain over the summer of ’06.




Beautiful moutain scenery is everywhere at the Raven, but here, it's looking back from behind the 11th green.

         

One final bit of uniqueness to The Raven is the rock accents throughout the facility.  There’s beautiful stone work everywhere you look – bridges and stacked stone walls – and we were surprised to hear that the labor was almost entirely handled by a local company that would literally go up into the hills, get the rock, and then come down and build the walls.

           

It’s that kind of ‘made by hand’ quality that makes the Raven what it is.  Gary Williams, the Raven’s Director of Golf, agrees that his course occupies a special place in the region:  “You won’t find a more beautiful and picturesque mountain golf course in the eastern United States!”

         

Perhaps it’s Williams’ regional reference that provides an additional clue – The Raven really feels like it’s somewhere out west, in the Rockies or Sierras.  Williams pointed out that the there aren’t any parallel holes on the course, so it’s quiet and secluded from one end to the other.  “All eighteen holes could be the ‘signature hole,’” he said.  You can also walk the course at any time, but be aware of the elevation changes and distances between holes.   This course would certainly rate a black diamond ‘Advanced’ run when it comes to walking difficulty.




As fair as the Raven is, these tee markers and the cart's GPS system ensures that you'll know where you should be going.

         

Williams says the shot distances are tricky the first time you play, due to the elevation changes.  A good example of this is the par four fourth hole, which measures 433 yards from the back tee.  What’s ‘tricky’ about it is the 200-foot drop from the tees to the fairway – and a driver is probably too much club.

         

We’ll let Williams have the last word on what he’d like you to remember from playing the Raven:  “We want all our golfers to go home feeling as if they were our ‘houseguests’ and to be able to remember every hole they played.  We want them to leave excited about their next visit to our golf course.”

         

Judging from conversations we had with some of the players, the Raven is a favorite stop for many in the region, including a large group of vacationing policemen from Ohio, who said they love to stop there every year – and combine the visit with other great West Virginia destinations, such as Stonewall Resort or Glade Springs.




At 611 yards, the par five 5th is the Raven's longest and toughest hole, rated the #1 handicap.

         

Not to mention the Greenbrier is a couple hours south of there.

         

Which just goes to show… the Raven isn’t quite the ‘three hours from nowhere’ that folks were talking about, but it’s still far enough to make you remember it.

 

Accommodations and Activities




The par four 16th hole is one of the few where you're shooting uphill towards the green. Once you're there, it's a panoramic view.

 

Golf is just one of a multitude of things to do at Snowshoe year-round.  We stayed at the Inn at Snowshoe, which is at the ‘bottom’ of the mountain, but is also closest to the Raven.  As you would expect, it’s probably more geared towards winter visitors, but offers a quiet escape with comfortable accommodations, and convenient for golfers.

 

The bulk of the activities/accommodations are at the main resort center, which is about a 20-minute drive from the golf course.  Here is located a good sized ski area with condos and a ‘village’ that is very attractive, larger, and more active than you might expect for this part of the country.  Owned and operated by Intrawest Corporation, Snowshoe has become a major destination for skiers from all over the region – and you can easily see why. 

 

I only wish we’d had more time to spend there.




It was a nice piece of planning to route both nines leaving from and returning to the clubhouse.

 

One of the major warm-season attractions is mountain biking, and there was a competition being held soon after our departure.  Many helmeted bicyclists were taking their practice runs down the mountain.  Now there’s a sport that takes some guts.

Consult the website for full listings of accommodations, restaurants and activities.

 


Details:

Raven Golf Club at Snowshoe Mountain

10 Snowshoe Drive

Snowshoe, West Virginia  26209

 

Golf Shop:  304-572-6500

Starting Times:  304-572-1000

 

Website:  snowshoemtn.com

 

Director of Golf:  Gary Williams, PGA

Course Designer:  Gary Player

Player’s Head Designer on-site:  Jeff Myers

Golf Course Superintendent:  Steve Marnic, CGCS

 

Tees/Yardage/Rating/Slope (Par 72)

 

Black  7045   75.5/142

Silver  6397   71.6/133

White  5976   69.7/129       75.1/131 (L)

Gold    4363   65.3/120

 

Rates:  

 

Opening through June 1st:  M-Th, $49; Fri-Sun, $59

 

June 2 – October 8:

 

M-Th, before 2pm -- $64

M-Th, after 2pm -- $49

Fri-Sun, before 2 pm -- $79

Fri-Sun, after 2 pm -- $64

Sunday after 2 -- $59

 

October 9 – Closing:  $49, anytime.

 

Rates include greens fees, cart, GPS system and range balls.

 

Note:  The 11,000 square foot clubhouse contains a full service golf shop, restaurant, bar and locker rooms.


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:
jrendall@golftheunitedstates.com