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The History of Course Design is Yours to Play at Oglebay

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There is a much-talked about “New Golden Age” of golf course design underway that is driven by demand for ever-more spectacular courses at the top end of the resort golf market. Destinations such as Streamsong, Bandon Dunes, Cabot Links, Sand Valley and others provide the traveling golfer a spectacular golf experience; unfortunately, it comes at a price tag that is equally spectacular. When a week playing golf in Florida can cost as much as a week in Scotland, where do you go for a golf getaway that doesn’t require a second mortgage?

Oglebay Golf Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia, doesn’t just provide an affordable golf vacation option; with its three golf courses, it provides players the chance to experience a condensed history of American golf course design through its three courses. The resort sits on land that was once owned by a wealthy industrialist and is now a part of the city park system. Located about an hour from Pittsburgh, Oglebay draws the majority of its golfers from Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia. It’s kind of cool that when you drive to Oglebay from Washington, D.C., you hit all of those states except Ohio, which is just a few minutes away from Wheeling. The area is especially picturesque in the autumn months when the changing colors of the leaves are at their peak.

The property has a rich history in the business and sporting history of West Virginia, but the three golf courses are a special prize that taken together form a primer on the history of golf design in the past 90 years. The 5,670-yard Crispin course is a one-off design by local golf enthusiast Robert Biery that was completed in 1930 and is a fascinating study of design techniques of that era. The slopes and elevation are severe and extreme by today’s standards. A clue was the raised eyebrow of the assistant pro when I said that I would walk the course. Uneven lies are the order of the day, the product of a time when there was neither the money nor equipment readily available to create gentle slopes and even surfaces; the course is true to the original contours of the West Virginia hillside.  There is little relief on the greens, which run a little slower than typical greens but make up for it in size and slope. It is by far the shortest of the three courses but the par-4 8th hole and par-5 9th holes are a thousand yards of joy and pain.

Hole No. 6 at the Klieves course

The Palmer Course is a 6,800-yard, par-71 Arnold Palmer design that was completed in 2000. The design features broad fairways, mildly undulating greens and opportunities for heroics on short par-4’s, all the prototypical characteristics of modern resort golf courses. While some architects choose to torture and torment, Palmer courses put a premium on fun and this one is no exception. The par-5, 515 yard 6th is a great example of risk/reward design that challenges the resort golfer without the need to humiliate. The course is very well maintained tee to green, and you’ll want to keep a fully charged battery to take photos of the vistas from the elevated tee boxes.

Hole No. 13 at the Jones course

In my humble opinion, the true gem is the Robert Trent Jones course. The 7,004-yard, par-72 Course carries a healthy 75.1 rating/141 slope from the back tees. It utilizes a gorgeous piece of land that meanders across the West Virginia hills to give a mesmerizing collection of holes that are equal parts scenery and challenge. Both nines start from elevated tee boxes hitting down into valleys that offer classic risk/reward propositions. Usually I have no problem identifying a favorite hole or two, but on this course it’s difficult. Having said that, the stretch of No. 4 (par 3, 193 yards), No. 5 (par-5, 511 yards) and No. 6 (par-4, 420 yards) are among the best I have played anywhere as a show of nature’s beauty and the art of laying out a golf hole. And the four par 3’s are not the place to pick up an easy birdie. The only one less that 190 yards from the tips is the 158-yard 15th, which is protected by a small, undulating green. All in all, it’s a perfect representation of the genius of Robert Trent Jones.

The golf is good at Oglebay and the prices are better. You can get in 18 at the Oglebay courses for as little as $32…on the weekend. And when you’re not playing golf, you can take advantage of the myriad of outdoor sports activities, tour the Oglebay mansion, hit the spa or visit the Glass Museum on the property (I promise it’s a lot more interesting than it sounds). There are a lot of great new golf resorts out there and that’s a good thing for the golf industry, but destinations like Oglebay prove that there’s a lot of life left in the old classics as well.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

9 Comments

9 Comments

  1. Ronald Montesano

    Dec 17, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Michael,
    Nice piece on an under-the-rader resort, in a beautiful state.

    During the times that you mention (AP and RTJ) only Pete Dye was doing anything wondrous with golf course architecture. RTJ tried to make everything as difficult as possible, ensuring that golfers would need a stiff drink after each round. Some RTJ is viable, such as the Golden Horseshoe Gold course, but much of it focuses too much on water and forced carries. I hope this isn’t the case with his Oglebay course.

    Arnold Palmer (and this is difficult for me, a Wake Forest alum, to write) wasn’t much different. He seemed to approach golf course architecture from an everyone-should-be-able-to-hit-the-shots-that-we-tour-pros-hit perspective. His courses often have very narrow fairways, shrunk even more by hazards, and difficult greens situated just beyond trouble, again forcing the carry. I hope that I’m wrong again at Oglebay.

    Jack Nicklaus, perhaps thanks to his time with Tom Doak at Sebonack, came to understand that penal golf, heroic golf, will ensure that thousands of golfers abandon the game each year. JWN builds courses today that are much friendlier, that still demand great shots for pars and birdies, but offer options and alternate routes that do not result in multiple lost balls.

    As the one reader commented above, the one-off course sounds like the most fun. I hope it is that fun, but I hope that I’m wrong about the other two.

    I enjoy writing with you at GolfWRX. Time to get all the writers together for a writers’ summit!!

  2. Garrett

    Dec 15, 2017 at 3:25 pm

    Love Oglebay, been going on a guys’ trip for three years now and it is an awesome place to spend a couple days with a bunch of close friends. The Palmer course is one of my favorites because it is very scorable (5 Par 5’s) with wide fairways, and generous (but undulating) greens. With that being said, it is not overly ‘easy,’ but very fun for a group of guys with variable handicaps to be able to play a competitive match. The Palmer Course is also usually the best conditioned. The views are spectacular, and from some of the higher points you can see 8-10 holes in their entirety. Pretty sweet for someone who can appreciate a good layout.

    The Jones course on the other hand is a little bit more difficult, in that it is a little bit less forgiving and does have some tighter, more difficult holes. It is not in as good of shape as the Palmer, but it is certainly worth playing if you are on a trip and are playing multiple rounds.

    I cannot speak on the shortest, oldest course as I have not played it.

    The main point is that this is by no means a 5-Star resort, but it is well worth making a trip if you don’t have unlimited funds. I have made the trip with a group of 8 guys and it has become an annual trip. I would suggest staying in one of the cabins there, which has 8 beds in 4 rooms with a large living area and a kitchen. It is not ‘luxury,’ but offers some privacy for a rowdy group of guys, like the ones I travel with. We have stayed in the Lodge, which is an older, somewhat dated hotel-type of accommodation and our late-night hangouts have been disrupting (so we were told) of others staying there. Also, if you like to book things in advance they have some pretty good stay and play packages, and reasonable same-day replay rates. The included breakfast buffet is top-notch.

    My best suggestion is to take a group and play as much as you can. The Palmer and Jones courses are at the same place and playing 36 a day is no problem. Also, plan on seeing about 1,000 deer. That place is covered in them and it is pretty cool how close you can get to them without them being spooked.

  3. Steve S

    Dec 15, 2017 at 2:23 pm

    Nice sales article. Been there. Liked the golf. The accommodations were mediocre and overpriced at best. Small, dark rooms with 1970’s colors and decorating. OK for a guys trip but I took my wife because they advertised “other activities” for non-golfers. Very little for her to do. And if you stay in the main building you have to drive or take a shuttle to get to the pool; not convenient.

    The golf is challenging, don’t expect to walk, unless you are part mountain goat. The only flat lies are the tee boxes. Best part about it was the pricing(for the golf).

  4. Matt Schulze

    Dec 14, 2017 at 9:43 am

    The older, shorter course sounds far more interesting than the other two.

  5. Joe

    Dec 14, 2017 at 9:23 am

    Couldn’t agree more.

    A couple buddies and I (all early 30s) went for a spring weekend a few years back. Simply, it was the midway point between Philly and Louisville.

    The Greenbrier, it’s not—but that’s also the charm of the place. And I still recall the welcome from the starter, ‘Coach’. Especially for folks in the Mid-Atlantic, it’d be hard to find a better deal, including a fun set of courses.

  6. Trey

    Dec 14, 2017 at 9:00 am

    I live in Wheeling and grew up with these courses. The captions under the pictures are WAY off. The first picture is the Jones course hole #3 fairway and #6 green. THe second picture is that of the Jones course #9.

    • rick

      Dec 15, 2017 at 8:45 am

      Wrong! The first picture is taken from behind #6 green looking back at the fairway on the Palmer course. The second picture is from above the 2nd green on the Palmer course. The third is from the tee on #9 on the Jones course. And #8 on the Crispin course is a par 5, NOT a par 4.

      • Trey

        Dec 15, 2017 at 9:46 am

        Whoops, you’re right. 2nd picture is from Palmer #2. I didn’t count the picture under the article title as picture #1. Regardless, the picture descriptions are way off.

  7. David

    Dec 13, 2017 at 10:06 pm

    We visited Oglebay for the first time this past summer. It is spectacular! It’s now on our annual “must visit” list.

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How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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