Enchanting Oglebay Resort A Diamond In The Rough
From my mountain-top vantage point outside the charming Oglebay Resort and Conference Centre, I watch the smoky morning mist slowly rise from the belly of the lush valley below. Off in the distance, I see deer grazing in the sweeping pastures that drift off into a forest thick with giant pines. Above my head a hawk soars — it’s honed in on the small prey rustling in the tall grass nearby and oblivious to my presence. I suck in the dewy air and watch in awe as the sun pops up from behind the silhouetted Appalachian Mountains off in the distance.
“Let’s go — we came here to play golf, not watch the sun rise,” a gruff voice from behind reminds me.
It’s easy to get distracted by the natural beauty surrounding this historic resort, the centrepiece of Oglebay Wheeling Park, which has become a paradise for golfers thanks to the three courses carved into the rolling landscape that surrounds this 406-acre Garden of Eden property.
Golf doesn’t get much better than Oglebay (pronounced Ogle-bee in these parts). With championship courses designed by the likes of Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones, the Elder, and another that dates back to the earliest days of this magnificent municipal park — dubbed “the people’s park” — a vacation here supplies golfers with many lasting memories.
Palmer’s outstanding Klieves course and Jones’ Speidel masterpiece have both earned rave reviews from those who rate courses for various publications, and the third course, the enchanting Crispin — first opened in 1930 — just keeps getting better with age. They especially look beautiful in the fall months when the local vegetation turns a painter’s palette of colours.
Most important for golfers, though, is that the championship courses are affordable — green fees range from $62-$79 (U.S.) on the Palmer and Jones courses and are usually bundled in some very attractive Stay and Play packages offered by Oglebay Resort — perfect for Canadians dealing with a devalued dollar.
The courses — there’s also a par-3 course on property — are a short drive from the main resort, which features 271 luxury rooms and suites, most which have been recently renovated, plus an array of “cottages” that can host small or large golf groups or families.
While now a world-class resort, this breathtaking piece of real estate was once the exclusive domain of Earl W. Oglebay, an industrialist who spent his summers here. The handsome white-columned mansion in which the Oglebay family lived now serves as a museum and is surrounded by magical 16-acre Bissonnette Gardens and specialty shops selling many local crafts, like exquisite glass creations.
Oglebay left the property to the city of Wheeling in his will and the resort was later added, so now everyone can enjoy what once was reserved for the privileged.
We follow the resort’s long entrance until it intersects with Hwy 88 — the roller-coaster rural road that connects Oglebay with Wheeling — and soon arrive at Crispin for our “warm-up” round.
“Many golfers use Crispin for practice before playing the championship courses,” Rico Coville, Oglebay’s Director of Golf, tells me. “In fact, Crispin is our most popular course in terms of rounds played.”
That’s probably because it costs just $25 to play Crispin, which for 50 years has provided golfers with plenty of thrills thanks to its interesting routing over uneven terrain and its impeccable conditioning.
Crispin is also where you’ll find the park’s community swimming pool and just outside its entrance on Hwy 88 is the par-3 course and elevated public driving range, which doubles as a ski hill, complete with chair lift, during the winter months.
“There’s always something to do at Oglebay, no matter the season,” says Coville, who is also the resort’s Director of Skiing.
Oglebay’s summer and fall festivals always draw big crowds and culminate with the Winter Festival of Lights, one of the largest tourist attractions in West Virginia. It includes colourful light displays spread across 125 acres of the resort.
People are drawn here from as far away as Toronto and nearby Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, for the winter extravaganza.
After our enjoyable late-day round at Crispin, we head back to Oglebay Resort to enjoy the property’s many amenities — the delightful spa and some fine dining options like the elegant Ihlenfeld Dining Room in Wilson Lodge (think rustic chic) and the GlassWorks Grill, a casual room which serves up lots of yummy regional specialties. The Speidel Grill overlooking the 18th hole of the Jones course is another dining option opened to golfers at Oglebay.
Up early the next morning after a relaxing sleep in the comfy confines of our Wilson Lodge room — the spectacular views of the property and wildlife come at no extra charge — we gather in the GlassWorks Grill for what Coville promises to be the “best breakfast buffet in West Virginia.”
As we gobble down some yummy grits and lots of fresh locally-grown ingredients, we all agree this may be the best breakfast in North America.
“Many golfers tell us our breakfast buffet is what keeps them coming back,” smiles the charming Coville.
If you have an appetite for golf, though, you’ll overindulge at Oglebay.
Our 36-hole day begins with a morning round on Jones’ Speidel course. From the elevated first tee next to the course’s excellent driving range, the view is magnificent — sweeping fairways funnel down to perfectly groomed greens. But don’t let looks fool you. Speidel is a beast and requires an “A-Game” performance if you hope to score well. And Jones doesn’t wait to test you — No. 1 is rated the hardest hole on this collection of 18 picture-perfect holes.
“Speidel is a thinking man’s golf course,” says Phil, the delightful local who joins our group. After the round we tell him Speidel would put Einstein’s genius to the test.
That said, the conditions at Speidel are nothing short of PGA worthy — the LPGA actually held tournaments on this course until recently. The rolling terrain is the most challenging part of playing Speidel for high handicappers like me as the uneven fairways result in too many uphill and downhill lies.
We lick our wounds over a beer and burger in the Speidel Grill before heading back out to regain some dignity on Palmer’s Klieves course, which opened in 2000 to much applause.
Because Speidel is so popular, Oglebay hired Palmer to design the Klieves course and it’s nothing short of amazing. Fair to high and low handicappers, it is a joy to play. This signature Palmer course is truly a gem — maybe the best Palmer course I’ve ever played.
There’s a point where 13 holes of the Palmer course come into view and it’s one of the most glorious sights in golf. Palmer took full advantage of the rolling landscape and while golf purists may rate Jones’ course higher, I found Palmer’s to be much more enjoyable to play.
I’ll let you decide which is best but one thing is for sure, a trip to Oglebay Resort is sure to satisfy your hunger for great golf and an exceptional holiday.
By Marc Atchison