Snowshoe, West Virginia
Ironically, the only true mountain course in the Mountain State may be Gary Player's manifesto, the former Hawthorne Valley course that now carries Intrawest's signature Raven name. Attached to the Snowshoe Mountain Resort, one of the Mid-Atlantic region's top ski centers, the layout, etched into the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, has quietly gained a national following.
Rarely are shot values a match for the scenery at a mountain course. At this course, they are. On a very diverse and rugged site, Player melded the holes to the existing terrain with minimal environmental disturbance. Each of the nine-hole loops occupies a distinct landscape: Because of terrain variations, the front and back nines appear grafted from different courses. The front nine meanders across gently rolling meadows dotted with spruce-rimmed lakes. Large grassy knolls and rock outcroppings punctuate play on these holes. The more testing back nine, carved from a thick forest of hardwoods, is laced by rushing streams, no surprise given that Pocahontas County is known as the "Birthplace of Rivers."
A shotmaker's course, The Raven at Snowshoe relies on sharp elevation changes and relatively narrow fairways spliced with multi-tiered landing areas for its challenge. Judging the distance correctly and selecting the right club are the keys to scoring. First-timers are well-advised to consult the Pro Shot GPS system in the golf cart, which clearly states the distance to the center of each green and, perhaps more importantly, the distance to various hazards.
At 3,400 feet above sea level, golfers can count on a little extra distance, though well-positioned shots are required to keep the ball in play-and to avoid the dreaded reload. The layout is a beast from the tips at 7,045 yards (par 72), although multiple sets of forward tees give the average duffer a fighting chance. Dry-laid rock walls enclose many of the greens, a few of which are flanked by gurgling creeks or "saving" bunkers designed to corral errant shots. Many of the elevated tee boxes, on the other hand, are sited atop natural rock formations. Thrill-a-minute, gravity-defying downhill shots, notably at the fourth and 13th holes, each of which drops more than 200 feet to the fairway, abound. Uphill slogs are rare, a credit to the routing plan devised by Player. Since the main challenge is navigating your way from tee to green without getting into too much trouble, the putting game, once you've reached the green, is relatively straightforward.
After the round, players can relax in an easy chair on the wide wraparound deck at the resort's 10,000-square-foot, two-story clubhouse, here to ponder the array of challenges on a course that, like Gary Player himself, just doesn't quit.
Call 304-572-6500. During high-season, book two midweek nights at the Inn at Snowshoe for $144, including two rounds and breakfast in the mornings. Call 800-572-6520.
Brian McCallen is a senior editor at GOLF Magazine, SKI's sister publication, and author of "Top 100 Courses You Can Play"(Abrams).