Pikewood National Golf Club is one of the courses that came onto the Top 100 list at the biennial change earlier this year. I can’t say that I was terribly surprised as I’d been hearing buzz about this course for quite a while. One of the former assistant pros from my home club is originally from West Virginia and he felt confident four years ago that it was only a matter of time before the course would hit the list. Another friend in Pittsburgh had played the course and was also certain that it would eventually make the list once enough raters came to Morgantown to see and rate the course. Well, both of those guys were right and this year in December when the new list hit the street Pikewood National broke through. I was actually pretty pleased to see it on the list because it is a course that I can drive to and wouldn’t require buying a plane ticket. That’s always nice!
Luckily, not only could I easily drive to Pikewood National, but my friend in Pittsburgh who had played the course happened to have a good friend who was a member. When I was beginning to plan my schedule for the summer this year I contacted my friend in Pittsburgh and he was able to arrange for his buddy to host me and two of my friends for a game. I didn’t realize just how fortunate this was until I found out that there are less than 100 members of the club. This could have proven very difficult if not for my buddy in Pittsburgh’s help.
As I have found with a number of other Top 100 courses, Pikewood National has a bit of an interesting back story behind it. The course, which officially open in 2009, was designed and built by John Raese (pronounced racy) and Bob Gwynne . . . neither of whom are golf course architects. Raese is the president and CEO of Greer Industries which is conglomerate that includes steel, limestone, newspapers and radio stations. Gwynne is an executive VP at Greer and has spent a tremendous amount of time playing and discussing golf with Mr. Raese over the years. The two men set out to develop a walking only course that spoke to some of the golden age design principles of the classic courses they loved so much.
The day I played Pikewood National started pretty early. My friends Barry and Sam were going to be playing with me and we left Richmond at the crack of dawn for the 5+ hour drive to West Virginia. After a navigation hiccup or two that led us through some quintessential West Virginia scenery we eventually found our way to the club’s front entrance. When we pulled into the lot there were two other cars there and it looked like we were going to have the course pretty much to ourselves.
As we unloaded the car our caddies came out to get our bags and take them to the range while we changed our shoes in the locker room. In an interesting twist, my caddie Mike has been following my Top 100 quest for some time and had emailed me a few weeks prior to find out if I had plans to come to Pikewood National this year. When I said I would be there in a couple of weeks he made sure to get on the schedule for that day so he could loop for our group. Pretty cool.
Inside we met our host, Frank, and after changing shoes we headed out to the range. Here I found something that I have only seen thus far at courses in Texas . . . music on the driving range. I love having tunes on the range and this is the first time I have encountered it anywhere other than Texas.
After a few balls on the range we headed to the first tee and quickly decided to play the 6,890 yard tee option. Pikewood National only has two sets of tees and they are 7,588 and 6,890 yards. For me, there was no question which one I wanted to play and I was grateful that everyone else agreed!
Hole 1 – Full Nelson – 388 Yards – Par 4
The course starts with a mid-length par 4 that plays up the hill and doglegs to the left. Hugging the left side of the fairway or hitting a draw of the tee is ideal shot to leave the shortest approach into the green.
Here is a look at the approach into the 1st green.
Hole 2 – Brassie – 485 Yards – Par 4
This hole was one of my favorites on the course and is rated as the most difficult hole on the course. It’s plenty long so so a good drive here is essential.
Below is the view of the approach into the green. I love the way the green looks as if it is sitting on the edge of the earth. I guess it kind of is.
Hole 3 – Finster – 222 Yards – Par 3
The first one shot hole on the course is a lengthy one. Fortunately it plays a little downhill and with the hole in the front it was only a 190 yard shot for us.
The green slopes from back to front, so when the hole is cut in the back of the green it is tough to get tee shots all the way to the hole.
Hole 4 – Pott Hole – 455 Yards – Par 4
What a vista from the 4th tee! Pikewood National has not been short on gorgeous scenery thus far. This is another long par 4, but with the elevated tee box a little extra yardage is gained going down the hill. It’s also worth noting that with an elevation of 2,300 feet above sea level the ball does fly a little bit farther.
Here we have a viewof the green which is flanked by bunkers on both sides.
Hole 5 – Mow Green – 164 Yards – Par 3
As we were walking up to the 4th green Frank stopped us and asked if we heard something through the woods and we all said it sounded like water somewhere through the woods. Well, we were correct and that’s exactly how Raese and Gwynne discovered the location for the 5th hole. As they walked through the woods, they heard water and upon closer investigation found a natural waterfall that made a perfect location for a par 3 hole. There is water around most of the green so the only safe area to miss is to the left and short.
Here is a look at the green from the walking path up to the 6th tee.
Hole 6 – On the Rocks – 350 Yards – Par 4
This was another hole that I liked quite a bit. It is a short par 4 that doglegs sharply to the left. A 200-220 yard shot is about all that is needed from this tee.
Below is the approach shot into the three tiered green. Raese and Gwynne are big fans of Alister MacKenzie and this green was designed in tribute to the 16th green at Pasatiempo in Santa Cruz, California.
Hole 7 – Nadine – 497 Yards – Par 5
Here have a par 5 that is going to be reachable for some players. It does play uphill so it is a little longer than the scorecard indicates, but with the extra distance from the elevation it is quite possible to get home in two for many players. The driver should be hit up the right side of the fairway for the best angle into the green. Long hitters will want to consider the hazard to make sure they do not run out of fairway on their drives.
Here is a look at the approach into the green from just short of the cross hazard.
Hole 8 – Audacity – 533 Yards – Par 5
This is a hole they call “Audacity” because they say that amateur architects are the only ones who would have had the audacity to build it. The hole basically horseshoes around the chasm and requires three good shots to reach the green. The flag can be seen way off in the distance on the right half of the photo below.
Below is a view of the shot into the green from the right side of the fairway after laying up on the second shot.
Hole 9 – Richard – 414 Yards – Par 4
There’s not a whole lot to see from the 9th tee. The holes goes up from the tee box and then the fairway levels off. The photo below was taken from the 9th tee.
From the right rough, the view into the green.
Hole 10 – Old Bastard – 416 Yards – Par 4
The back nine starts off with a lengthy par 4 that plays a bit uphill and doglegs to the left. A high draw that turns the corner will do the job just right here.
The 10th green which is flanked by two bunkers. Note the “eyebrows” on the bunkers which are on many of the bunkers throughout the course. I managed to avoid these all day, but the grass was thick and this is not a spot that anyone will want to find their ball.
Hole 11 – Leven – 428 Yards – Par 4
We have another long par 4 here and this one plays a bit downhill and doglegs to the right. A cut off the tee is the ideal shot to have the shortest approach into the green.
Here we have another one of those greens that seems to hang on the edge of the world. The views continue to be phenomenal. Note that there are no bunkers around this green. Believe it or not there are only 23 bunkers on the entire course.
Hole 12 – Hagge’s Knocker – 180 Yards – Par 3
This is a tricky one shot hole that will likely require a mid or long iron off the tee for most players. The green is long and shallow with a ridge running through it. Tee shots that carry too far to the left will have a tricky putt to get over to the hole location in the photo below.
Hole 13 – Beaver – 406 Yards – Par 4
This was another hole that I liked a lot. It just set up in a way that was very appealing to me. The fairway bunker is in play, and can be carried by longer hitters.
Below is the view of the approach into the green.
Hole 14 – Cypress Pint – 148 Yards – Par 3
This little one shot hole requires a heroic shot over the chasm. There is bail out room to the right of the green and short is obviously not a good miss.
Here is the view from the 14th green. Just amazing.
Hole 15 – Shotgun – 513 Yards – Par 5
Long hitters need to be careful with this tee shot. The fairway runs out and there is a patch of long native grass. Sam, who hits the ball a mile, actually hit his 3 wood into the fescue. Frank said he’d never seen anyone carry the fescue from the tee before so Sam accepted the challenge and walked back to the tee with his driver to give it a shot. He hit it into the trees on the left so we never did find out if he had the distance to make the carry or not. He hits it a mile so I would be willing to put my money on him. The photo below was taken from the tee and the patch of fescue I was talking about is just beyond where the fairway starts to run downhill. With all the goofing off on this hole I forgot to get a photo of the approach into the green.
Hole 16 – Dino – 389 Yards – Par 4
Here we come to a longish par 4 that moves slightly to the left. A drive that favors the left center is ideal here.
Here is the look at the green from about 100 yards out. I liked the look of this shot.
Hole 17 – Coupe DeVille – 496 Yards – Par 5
This is a really cool par 5 that is going to be reachable in two for a lot of players. Not only is the hole less than 500 yards, but it also plays downhill. Drives that are hit down the left side of the fairway will roll down to the center so aiming down the left side is a pretty ideal spot.
Below is the approach into the green. There is a ball just short of the water in the first cut where someone laid up to. That is probably about a 100 yard shot from there. The green is fairly shallow so players trying to get home in two need to be aware that their ball may run through the putting surface and into the rough behind the green.
Hole 18 – Dyke – 433 Yards – Par 4
I loved these huge rock formations that were just off the 18th tee. They were absolutely massive which I thought was just awe inspiring. The course closes with a tough par 4 that requires two good shots to reach the green. The hole bends slightly right so drives that miss the fairway to the right will not have a good angle into the green.
Below is a look at the approach into the green. It’s not a great photo and doesn’t show the hazard that runs across the front of the green and the swampy marsh area that is over on the front right side of the green.
After we wrapped up our round we hopped on a cart to drive back up to the clubhouse and Frank gave us a little tour of the area where the cottages are. We didn’t go inside, but from the outside they looked absolutely fantastic. Remember, that Pikewood is a national club and they cater to members who are coming in from out of town and staying on site. The facilities look absolutely first class.
I had visited the Pikewood National website prior to playing the course, so I had a little bit of an idea of what to expect from the course. It had been several years, so I hadn’t remembered all the details and I was pleased to see the use of native grasses bordering the fairways and on the bunker eyebrows. That’s an aesthetic that I personally like quite a bit. The property itself is truly amazing and features unbelievable vistas from all around the course. One thing to note about the property is that is a slightly more difficult walk than your average course. As we set out Frank informed us that we would be walking roughly 2 miles longer than we would at a standard course because of the length and the way that the course is routed. On top of the additional distance, there is also a lot of up and down to the terrain and with the high elevation, sea level dwellers may find themselves out of breath from time to time.
Raese and Gwynne did a remarkable job of maximizing the land and getting the most out of the property without compromising the quality of the golf. Something that occurred to me while we were playing is that I think one of the things the amateur architects did best was exercise restraint. I am of the belief that amateurs in any discipline have a tendency to overdo things. As a amateur musician I know that sometimes its more important to know when NOT to play as much as it it when to play. I think that Raese and Gwynne really nailed this in their design. While I wouldn’t call it minimalist, Pikewood National is not over the top at all and is a very tasteful design with a variety of fun and interesting golf holes that are set against a simply gorgeous backdrop.