The Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed course was opened in 1970 as the first resort-quality course to complement Wilson Lodge, the dozens of cabins, and the Oglebay Resort in Wheeling, West Virginia. The “Jones Course”, as it is known locally, hosted the West Virginia LPGA Classic for 11 years in the 1970s and 1980s, and the ladies and their caddies certainly had a workout. This is West Virginia hill country, after all, and this course is hilly!
From the tips, it plays to 7000 yards and par-71. Slope from the black tees is 140 and course rating is 75.1- it’s a grown-up’s golf course! From the more manageable white tees it still plays to 69.8 and 126. The Oglebay Courses do have dedicated gold (“senior”) tees, which is a plus, and gold yardage is 5350. With several uphill holes, it isn’t short even from the gold tees.
As with all Shooting Your Age course reviews, we look through the lens of the senior, baby boomer aged golfer, and comments are given with that demographic in mind.
For many years I visited Oglebay Park and Resort to teach at one of their hosted management schools sponsored by North Carolina State University and the National Recreation and Park Association. During some of those early visits I had the opportunity to first play the course. As fate would have it, I then moved to Wheeling to be with my fiancé, now wife. We lived there a few years before moving to Charlotte. Therefore, I played the Jones (and Palmer-designed) courses on dozens of occasions- both casual rounds and club tournament rounds. In all fairness, that is both a plus and a minus when it comes to a course review. A review for a course someone has played only once is based on the bare minimum of information. Weather, course condition, crowds, an unusual experience- positive or negative- can influence a course review when the sample size is one.
On the other hand, familiarity can breed contempt, whether in a lover or in a golf course. (Or both). It’s easy to overlook the broken water lines that haven’t been repaired for months if you see them every time you play. You also eventually take for granted that beautiful vista from the 5th hole that stops a visitor in his or her tracks. Familiarity cuts both ways.
However, all in all, the more a reviewer knows about a course, the better for the visiting golfer who is contemplating giving it a go.
I remember the first, and fifth- even the twentieth time- I drove West Virginia Route 88, past the main entrance to Oglebay Park and Wilson Lodge, and continued another half mile or so past the par-3 course then the driving range, around the corner and down the hill. “Speidel Golf Club,” a very State Park-looking sign that advertises both the Robert Trent Jones and the Arnold Palmer designed courses, is impossible to miss.
As you turn in, your entire field of vision is golf. Holes that parallel each other are to your left. Cabins, and then more golf holes are to your right, and the large wood and fieldstone clubhouse is on the high point beckoning you closer.
It isn’t a tree-lined country club entrance, but it’s definitely an impressive one, and I was sure, even the first time I experienced it (which was confirmed to me in subsequent years by those who knew), that it was intentional.
I will not attempt to explain the intermingled politics of Oglebay Park, The Wheeling Park Commission, and The City of Wheeling (many elected officials themselves have trouble understanding it). What is important is that the two courses at Speidel are part of Oglebay Resort and Park, but anyone can play them with sufficient planning and a reserved tee time. And, because the courses are complementary to the resort, the customer service rivals many resort courses anywhere. There are bag attendants on hand at all times, and your cart will typically have your name already attached. IF they aren’t overly busy, after you’ve dropped off your bags and park the car, you may find one of the attendants at your car with the cart- a nice touch I’ve only seen at a few other, usually much pricier tracks.
After a quick trip in to the small but well-appointed pro shop to check in, you’re ready to hit a few balls and practice a few putts.
Driving Range and Putting Greens
It’s beneficial that you have your cart, because the range is removed enough, and down a steep hill from the clubhouse, therefore driving to it is much preferred to walking. As on many ranges, restricted flight balls are used, although long-driving amateurs and college golfers who play there can easily hit it through the range and small stand of trees that attempt to act as a backstop.
Back at the clubhouse, there are two separate putting greens-one that is cut to the speed of the Palmer Course’s greens- and one to the speed of the Jones Course- a little slower, but certainly fast enough. Many first-time visitors won’t know there is a difference, so as a heads-up, the Jones Course’s practice green is the one furthest from the Clubhouse.
Check in with the starter, and head down to the first tee to start the round.
The first tees for the Jones Course and Palmer Course are adjacent to each other, both are par-4, downhill, long, and each is the hardest hole on their respective course (I’ve always wondered what it looked like before the Palmer-designed course was added in 2000). Our first tee shot from the white tees has to carry 220 or so to get to the dogleg left. The landing area is on an upslope so your carry distance is usually your total distance. A long iron or even hybrid off an uphill/sidehill lie is your second shot. This is the #1 handicap hole for a reason!
The first 3 holes are 4-pars. The second is a short, straightaway breather hole that gives you a chance at birdie to offset the probable bogey you made on the first. Third is all uphill so plays long, but it is tough and fair. The fourth hole is, if not the “signature” hole, then certainly the “Kodak photo moment” hole.
It’s a short, downhill par-3 wedge or 9-iron over a pond framed by flowering dogwoods in the spring. If you’re long you are in long grass chipping downhill to a green that runs toward the pond, and if you’re short, well….
The fifth hole, in my opinion, is the weakest on the course. The first par-5, it is a 90-degree dogleg right. Depending on the tees used, a 3-wood or even hybrid off the tee may be the prudent club, as tall trees just to the right of the tee usually prevent much in the way of cutting the corner, but hitting anything too straight that doesn’t fade will carry through the fairway into the rough. The second shot is where Mr. Jones didn’t do his best design work. The entire fairway is on the side of a hill, sloping steeply from left to right. My second shot- everyone’s second shot- ends up either in the left rough, which is by far the best opening to the elevated green, or in the right rough next to the cart path, which is the low point of the hole. Keeping a ball in a generously wide fairway, unless it is atypically wet, is virtually impossible. There simply is no landing area. The green also slopes hard from left to right, so above the hole leaves a slick downhill putt regardless of pin position.
The sixth hole is my favorite. It starts from an elevated tee. The downhill fairway can add twenty or more yards of distance if you hit a speed slot on the left edge. Much of the front nine is visible from the tee, so take an extra few seconds and enjoy the view. I love how that hole lays out. Not that I play it especially well- the green is one of the hardest to read on the course. Since it’s downhill, it isn’t long, but I will take a par every time.
The back nine starts with a short, extreme downhill par-4 dogleg left, leaving anything from an 8-iron (if you flared your tee shot) to a gap wedge (if you didn’t) to an elevated green. A good hole to par or even birdie to start the back side.
The 11th is the toughest par-3 on the course, at least for me. Downhill but tight. Anything to the right of the green will hit the slope and propel into a deep chasm. Anything left or short is in tall grass, and leaves a touchy downhill pitch. And the green slopes severely left to right as well. At this point, it is sinking in that you do not want to be above the hole on a lot of these greens!
The 14th hole is a straightway par-5. The long hitter, with a solid tee-shot, can think of going for it in two, but with a pond guarding the front, it’s all carry to a wide but narrow green.
I have never had to worry about that decision, and my second shot is always placement for the 3rd over the water. I once parred the hole hitting 3 4-irons just to see if I could (I could), although I don’t recommend a 4-iron all carry over water.
Sixteen and seventeen are easily the toughest back-to-back holes, and sixteen is arguably the toughest, period. Although rated the #8 handicap hole, experienced Jones Course players will tell you the same thing. It’s long, and the holes slopes right to left so tee shots almost always end up in the left rough, leaving a mid-iron, sidehill lie into the most undulating green of all. I’ve 4-putted that hole more often than I’ve 1-putted it.
Seventeen is downhill but long, and of all the severe sloping greens, it holds the distinction for being the severest and slopiest. Above the hole? The ball isn’t stopping until the front fringe unless you make the putt.
Eighteen is another 90-degree dogleg, this time left, but over a chasm, so you get to choose how much you want to bite off the dogleg. A great risk-reward hole. Depending on how safe you play it, you’ll have anywhere from a hybrid to a wedge for your second shot into a- wait for it- sloping right to left green.
Oglebay turned over golf operations to Billy Casper Golf in 2016, and although change is difficult to accept, the consensus is that the condition of the courses has improved. The Jones Course was beginning to look a little ragged, especially around bunkers. Some of the tees were also pretty rough, but things have turned around from a maintenance point of view.
For any golfer, the interaction with staff is a critically important component. The staff, from Manager of Golf Danny Ackerman to the pro shop staff to the bag attendants, and of course maintenance staff, are second to none. That customer service reputation has been Speidel’s calling card since the Jones Course opened, and is still present. If you’re fortunate, the starter will be Coach Camp. Thirty seconds after you meet him, you’ll feel like you’re best friends. He could give “how to be a starter” lessons to many in the golf industry.
I never played the course from the gold tees, unfortunately. I played it-once- from the blue tees, at 6600 yards, and it was simply too long for me. Even from the gold tees, it would be a challenge for most mid-handicap golfers. The several uphill tee shots mean all-carry. The shorter tee shots on many of the par-3s still require precision. And of course, the short game, and especially putting, is paramount. Do Not Be Above The Hole!
It’s a tough course to walk. Many do, but my advice would be, especially the first time, take a cart. Be prepared for uneven lies, for they will be the majority.
The Jones Course is like an old friend: frustrating at times but enjoyable nevertheless. Anytime I make it back to Wheeling, I would play if at all possible. If you make it there, say hello to Mr. Ackerman and tell Coach Camp I said hello!
Speaking of Danny Ackerman and Billy Casper Golf, they responded as follows: