Twisted Gun Golf Club (Wharncliffe, WV on 10/11/14)

For the last month or so a friend and I had been planning a weekend golf trip to West Virginia. October seemed like the perfect time of year to make that happen as the trees are changing color and the rates are lower. My friend let me handle the tee times and believe it or not, there are some golf options in West Virginia. I looked into a stay and play package at The Greenbrier but it was a lot more than I wanted to pay, especially with a two night minimum stay. It worked out fine not playing there because the weather was pretty miserable. I would have been disappointed if I paid a lot of money just to battle the elements all weekend.

If you read my blog you’ll see that I love finding a good deal as much as I love playing a top public course. So, at least this go-around, I opted for a cheaper option and think we got to play some quality courses at great prices. We played four rounds, each at a different course, and the total green fees were less than $150 for each of us.

We left Charlottesville on Friday after work and stayed near Beckley, WV. The drive took about three hours on a stretch of I-64 that isn’t heavily traveled. The nice thing about living in Charlottesville is that it is centrally located. Charlottesville sits at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains about 700 feet above sea level. The mountains, rivers, and natural beauty of West Virginia was our destination, but the beach is three hours the other way and the nation’s capital is a two hour drive. On the drive, we encountered some rain, fog, and plenty of drizzle which was what we would see all weekend.

Enough chatter and onto the course! From what I gathered in my research, Twisted Gun is a course that typically falls just outside the list of the top public courses in the state. I couldn’t find many reviews about it so I was hesitant to book a tee time here especially because it is another hour and forty five minutes west of Beckley. Here is the crazy thing though, the course is only ~65 road miles away from Beckley. Except for a stretch of highway heading out of Beckley, it is all twisty, two lane roads. I’m not afraid to drive a long distance to golf, but I wasn’t sure that it would be worth it. I decided to take a chance and booked us a time at 9:30am on Saturday.

There was very little cell phone reception on the drive so I’d suggest becoming familiar with the route beforehand because it is quite involved. The GPS in my car had no problem finding the course which was impressive, but I still had the driving directions handy just in case. The course is pretty well marked and the roads were all paved so I had no trouble getting there in my Camry.

Twisted Gun is located on an active mine and the last few miles of the drive were the most interesting. We stopped at the security gate to get onto the mine property before proceeding up to the top of a mountain on some switchback turns. Along the way, we could see the old drilling holes into the rock where I think charges were set off to create space for the road. Once on top of the mountain, where the course is located, it is almost completely flat. Apparently, the top of the mountain was blown off over the years in the course of the coal mining operation. We played on a cloudy, rainy, and foggy morning with limited visibility and I still felt like I was golfing on top of the world. I wasn’t sure where to look, but apparently West Virginia, Kentucky, and Virginia are all visible from the course on a clear day.

The course is actually named after the nearby Twisted Gun Gap, but I’m not aware of the reason as to why a course was built on top of the mountain. One of my guesses is that it was built to give back to the community because there aren’t any other courses nearby. Or, maybe it was a way of reclaiming the land to comply with mining regulations. Either way, I don’t see how the course has survived since it opened in 2002 as I cannot see it getting much play. It seems that there has to be some capital infusion from deep pockets somewhere keeping the course from going bankrupt. The nice thing is that the green fees were only $45 to ride on a weekend which gives the average person a chance to play it.

The course is an inland links style layout in the mountains. Not one tree comes into play throughout the round, and because of that there are going to be some good panoramic views on a clear day. The open feel to the course is so unique considering all of the nearby, tree lined mountains.  The front nine is virtually flat while the back nine drops down into a different section of the mountain and works its back up to the clubhouse (which is a trailer). Natural vegetation gives the same look as fescue grass does in other parts of the country to separate most of the holes. A ball heading into the vegetation is most likely going to end up as a lost ball because it is so thick, but most fairways are wide which make the course playable for the average golfer. I do wish that the vegetation was all marked as a hazard, but I say that about most courses. Mounding separates the holes and they are far enough apart from each other that a wayward shot from another hole shouldn’t end up nearby.

We knew the ball wasn’t going to go anywhere in the cool, damp air so we played the black tees which play 70.8/119/6520. The gold tees play 7,015 yards and I wouldn’t have minded playing them on a warmer day. A few semi-blind approaches and slopes on the greens are the courses main defense. I was above the hole multiple times and had to hit an outstanding chip or putt to get it close. The course is easy enough off the tee, especially with the rough being cut down, that if someone can keep it below the hole on the approaches then the course can yield a good score.

For those that love golf course architecture the course could disappoint. The course’s location is outstanding, but it has some simple design features. Most bunkers are flat, aren’t very deep and most of the tee shots look the same. Fairway mounding and pot bunkers could have been used to create a better test off the tee while still not resulting in any extra lost balls. There could have been hidden sections of fairway and chipping areas around the greens too. I thought those sorts of details were missing in the design, but it isn’t a deal breaker for me. The main thing that I am going to remember is that it is a links course on top of a mountain! Other things like old rail cars on the property, man-made rock walls around greens, and a double green were incorporated into the design to add interest.

The course was in surprisingly great shape. As you can see from the pictures, the course took on a lot of water but it drains great. I think part of that is because it is located on top of a mountain, but I’d guess that the drainage is also pretty good because it a newer course. The fairways were cut tight and didn’t have many divots. The only blemishes in them were some burnt out spots that turned to mud because of all the rain. The greens were actually firm and I had some shots unexpectedly bounce forward. They rolled beautifully and were pretty fast.

I got carried away with the length of this review but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend that someone play Twisted Gun. I tried to put all my thoughts together to paint a picture that this course is more about the experience than anything else. It think it is a true “hidden gem”.

#1 (360 yard par 4):

The first hole is a shorter par 4 that plays a bit uphill. There is a fairway bunker on the left side that should be avoided but it is a chance for a birdie with a mid iron into the green. I missed it left of the green and had a tricky chip that was down and across the left to right sloping green.

1-1

#2 (180 yard par 3):

I didn’t bother taking a picture from the tee box because I could barely see the green due to the fog. It is a mid-length par 3 with some bunkers to the right. A left to right shot shape is preferred, but not required.

2-1

#3 (480 yard par 5):

This is another birdie hole, especially under more pleasant conditions. The drive is straightforward but if someone is going for the green in two then there is a cross bunker short of the green that could come into play. I think the rock wall behind the green adds a nice touch.

3-1 3-2

#4 (335 yard par 4):

This short par 4 is a great hole because there are multiple ways to play it. I laid it up to the left of the fairway bunker while my friend hit a driver over the bunker. I had a full wedge into the green while he had only 50 or 60 yards. The green has an elevated back tier so a flag there could be tough to attack. This was a tricky green for me to read with slopes going in all sorts of different directions.

4-1 4-2

#5 (415 yard par 4):

This is the toughest hole on the course. From the tees where we played I was able to carry the bunker on the left which shortened the hole. I had a downhill lie into a green that sloped severely from back to front. From the tips I doubt that I could carry that bunker which would mean playing out to the right. That would leave a semi-blind shot with a long iron into a narrow green. I raced my putt well by the hole so missing short or left leaves the best chance to make a par.

5-1 5-2

#6 (150 yard par 3):

This is a larger green considering the length of the hole so even an average iron could find the surface. That could mean a long birdie putt on a green that slopes from left to right. I missed it long and left of the green with that flag and had to try to land my chip in the rough to get it close.

6-1 6-2

#7 (415 yard par 4):

This is another straightforward tee shot. The best plan is to try to play it down the right side of the fairway which shortens the second shot. The green has a tongue in the back which would require a precise approach.

7-1

#8 (515 yard par 5):

This is a dogleg left par 5. A tee shot down the left side shortens the hole, but also decreases the view of the layup area and the green. I had a blind shot if I wanted to go for the green in two. I decided to layup and left myself about 110 yards into the green. Even from that distance, I could only see the top of the flag stick. It is a tough angle to try to get it on the green in two but I think the best play is a bit short and right of the green. There is a cross bunker short of the green that would need to be carried but there is a large area to play to and it would leave a good angle for the pitch.

8-1 8-2

#9 (385 yard par 4):

The front closes the same way as the back does, by playing to a shared green. The large green horseshoes around a lake so controlling the distance and direction on the approach is important.

9-1 9-2

#10 (205 yard par 3):

The back nine starts out with a fun, downhill par 3. It played about a club downhill in the cool weather, but on a warm day I could see it playing maybe two clubs less. There are spots to miss, but a shot way left can kick out of play.

10-1

#11 (420 yard par 4):

This par 4 doglegs to the right around the lake. The tee shot doesn’t have to challenge the water and it actually is a pretty wide fairway. There is a little room in the right rough too. The green is wider in the back to accommodate a conservative approach. An approach missing the green to the left can leave a tough, downhill chip to certain flags. From the tee, I’d take a moment to enjoy the panoramic views of the back nine and surrounding mountains.

11-1 11-2

#12 (505 yard par 5):

This is a straightaway par 5. It plays slightly uphill so the main challenge is going to be a semi-blind third shot if laying it up. The flag was in the back of the green and I had trouble figuring out which way my putt was going to break.

12-1

#13 (160 yard par 3):

I really liked this par 3. It is located on a corner of the course so it was quiet. The rock wall short of the green and the red vegetation were a nice contrast to the green grass. If someone has the right club, it is a chance for a birdie.

13-1 13-2

#14 (320 yard par 4):

This is the ranked as the easiest hole on the course. I disagree with that because the slope from back to front on the green is wicked. The only thing that someone wants to do is avoid the bunkers off the tee to leave their favorite yardage into the green. Make sure to leave it below the hole on this severely sloped green. I had 15 feet for birdie from above the hole and probably played 5 feet of break.

14-1

#15 (425 yard par 4):

This is the longest par 4 on the course, at least from the black tees. You can see the green off in the distance to the left. An aggressive tee shot is down the left side but there is plenty of room out to the right. The bigger hitters could run out of fairway but we had no problems on the day we played. The approach was a long iron for me into a fair green. It slopes just enough from left to right that the approach should have to be drawn around the bunker to get it close. If someone misses the green to the right then there is plenty of rough in a low area before the ball would end up out of play.

15-1 15-2

#16 (525 yard par 5):

This par 5 is similar to the 12th hole because it plays in the same direction. I wish it played in the opposite direction for some variety. Like the 12th, it plays uphill with some bunkers coming into play. My third shot was blind here too. The green is deep and curls to the right around one of the deeper bunkers on the course.

16-2 16-3

#17 (335 yard par 4):

The only thing that I was thinking about while standing on the tee here is how much the hole reminded me of the 15th hole at Roddy Ranch in Northern California. The terrain is a little different but it is about the same length, moves the same direction, and the green surface is blind from the fairway. The best tee shot moves from left to right around the fairway bunker, but it is possible to carry it. I’d check using a GPS or range finder, but I think it is about 225 yards to carry the center of the bunker from the black tees. The green slopes from back to front and there is a back tier.

17-1 17-2

#18 (390 yard par 4):

Be careful on the last hole. The hole runs parallel to the 9th so I’d favor the left side off the tee as the vegetation creeps in down the right side. I hit a nice drive and ended up on the right side of the fairway, but was only about 10 yards from losing a golf ball. The pin is on the right side of the shared green and was located in the back when we played. The green is a little unusual as the back section runs away towards the back fringe.

18-1 18-2

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