The Raven Golf Club at West Virginia’s Snowshoe Mountain Resort

Raven Golf Club Hole 9. Copyright Donnelle Oxley

Raven Golf Club Hole 9. Copyright Donnelle Oxley

Thirteen inches of snow has fallen at Snowshoe Mountain Resort since the weekend. Cold as it is, we’re sure to have a white Christmas. Yesterday’s snowfall was the stuff of skiers’ dreams, feather-light powder that makes you feel as if you’re floating down the slope on a cloud.
From my desk I can see one of the ski runs, but I can also see the fifth fairway of the Raven Golf Club in the valley 2,000 feet below, a constant reminder that the ski resort has a delightful flip side, come spring. I’ll be there on opening day, and two or three times a week until the snow flies again. It’s that special – beautiful, but tactical as they come.The Gary Player design was christened Hawthorne Valley on opening day in 1993, then was renamed the Raven in 2001, when it became the flagship of Intrawest Corporation’s Raven Golf Group. By any name, it is an unforgettable course. Golf Week ranks it the number one public access track in the state. At one time, Golf Digest listed it among the country’s top 100 public access courses, and once named hole 13 as one of the nation’s top 18 holes.

That’s high praise in an area with lots of good golf. The three Greenbrier courses are 90 minutes away at White Sulphur Springs. It’s about the same distance to the new Palmer track at Stonewall Resort near Clarksburg, and to the three Homestead courses Hole 9, the Raven at Snowshoe  over in Hot Springs, Virginia. Glade Springs Resort’s two tracks are a bit further out, near Beckley.

One thing that makes the Raven special is its location on the steep flank of Cheat Mountain, a wild and rugged setting with deep woods, severe rock outcroppings, sweeping mountain views, and an abundance of wildlife. You’ll see more critters than players, because all of the holes are screened from each other, the way a true mountain course should be. Only a half dozen homes are visible from the fairways, most at a great distance.

Raven Golf Club Hole 3. Copyright Donnelle Oxley

Raven Golf Club Hole 3. Copyright Donnelle Oxley

Golfers–particularly those accustomed to tame suburban layouts–return to the clubhouse with accounts of having seen black bears, red foxes, beavers, the ubiquitous white-tailed deer and Canada geese–and the resident pair of trademark ravens.

Wildflowers and mature trees surround the course, humbling the man-made swatches of green. On the cliff-side tees of the fourth hole, the cart path zigzags down to a flat more than 200 feet below. A pair of red-tailed hawks hang out here, floating over the fairway, their cries echoing off the mountains. In Blackberry Glade, when the par-3 sixth hole crosses a sharp ravine, there are often deer with fawns staring wide-eyed from the bushes or skittering across the fairway. Hunting is forbidden here, and the animals know it.

From the rim of Hawthorne Basin, it’s more than a 100-foot drop from the ninth-hole back tees down to where Cupp Run flows through a bramble-filled gorge and cuts across the fairway below. The surrounding mountains seem to hover protectively over the valley.

Player made abundant use of the site’s natural elements, arranging huge boulders as the underpinnings for greens and tees perched on the brink of dramatic overlooks. These structured features are balanced by the wildness of streams, lakes, ravines and rock outcroppings. Every hole has its own unique character and challenge. Hitting from elevated tees or to elevated greens makes it hard to judge distances. This course devours balls, with its high rough and terrain so steep that even a Pro V1 isn’t worth the climb.

Don’t expect to ease into danger after a few easy holes. The course opener, a 557-yard par-5, has deep woods waiting along the right side for your slice off the tee. The second shot must carry an overgrown stream bed to a skimpy plateau, and the approach drops to a green surrounded by foliage. The par-3 third hole is of moderate length (127 yards), but drops to a tabletop green fronted by a ravine. Perversely, it plays short, so that shots often land on the steep, grassy hill behind the green or in a bunker. The green is tiered, so your chip off the hill can roll 10 yards or more, or even into the ravine.

Get the picture? Ah, then there’s that fourth hole with the 200-foot drop, breathtaking anytime of year. Miss the fairway on either side and your ball is history.

What follows is one postcard-perfect hole after another. The back nine is tougher and, if possible, more scenic. The number one handicap is the eleventh hole, a 445-yard par-4 demanding a finesse shot over a gully to a slick green with a diagonal tier. Hole thirteen is a tactical gem. If you can get near the lake on your tee shot, there’s the go-for-it option, a carry over water of about 180 yards. Safety lies in a second shot over the narrow part of the lake and past a grove of trees, to set up a clear approach to the green.

Raven Golf Club Hole 4. Copyright Donnelle Oxley

Raven Golf Club Hole 4. Copyright Donnelle Oxley

The numbers tell the story – 7,045 from the black tees, course/slope ratings of 72.1/130; silver tees, 6,397 yards, 70.4/126; white tees, 5,976 yards, 68.1/122; gold tees, 4,363 yards, 64.3/103.

Rounds on cart path-only days can average five hours and involve a lot of walking on hilly terrain. If you have the stamina after playing this demanding mountain course, the 11,000-acre four-season resort offers hiking, fishing, kayaking, climbing, sporting clays, sightseeing, and some of the best mountain bike terrain in the East. The summer biking and adventure camps for children are outstanding.

Since its purchase by Intrawest, Snowshoe has evolved from a rustic ski area with minimal amenities to a four seasons resort with a mountaintop alpine village, luxury condos, and a variety of restaurants. Accommodations range from lodge rooms to single-family houses to condominiums. The condos in Highland House, Rimfire, The Seneca and Allegheny Springs front on the Village Plaza, a courtyard with shops, restaurants and outdoor entertainment.

You can find almost anything you want to eat at Snowshoe, but the most memorable dining experience is at the Red Fox Restaurant. Highly praised in Mid-Atlantic gourmet circles, the “Fox” serves creative combinations of local and imported ingredients with excellent wines. The same chefs operate Foxfire, a lively “views, blues and brews” restaurant on the Village Plaza serving good ol’ dishes such as barbecue, fried catfish, and hearty soups.

The Junction, slope-side in the village, is worth a visit for its unusual décor–train relics dating back to the region’s logging days, including the entire side of a boxcar. The menu is broad enough to please everybody. Across the plaza is The Bistro, a cozy place with dark wood and rich furnishings. Lunch specials include dishes such as pot roast and meatloaf, and the dinnertime steaks, seafood and salads are quite good. Before or after a round of golf, The Grille at the Raven Golf Club offers a good breakfast and lunch menu, with superb Reuben sandwiches and fish and chips.

For information on golf packages, contact Snowshoe Mountain Resort, Snowshoe, West Virginia 26209, 304-572-1000, www.snowshoemtn.com.

About Dale Leatherman

In the course of her life she has exercised racehorses at New York’s Belmont Park, showed jumping horses on the A Circuit, driven a race car with the late Paul Newman and played the world’s most famous golf courses.

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