WHEELING, W.Va. -- A little over an hour southwest of the site of the 2016 U.S. Open is a bit of a hidden gem. At least on a national level, that is.
The locals sure know about the historic Oglebay Resort & Conference Center, located in Wheeling, West Virginia, but if you're like most of the rest of the country, this might be new to you.
Besides plenty of other things to do, the resort has two championship golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones. And while they're not nearly as hard as that U.S. Open course near Pittsburgh called Oakmont Country Club, they are both excellent tests of your golf skills and the worth the drive. The Jones course, in fact, can really be a bear.
Best of all, the unpretentious Oglebay Resort, with its connection to the city of Wheeling, is a great deal. Unlimited golf packages with breakfast start at less than $500 per person for two nights (double occupancy), and there's a spa, restaurants, hiking, biking, swimming, shopping and even a zoo, if you're so inclined.
The setup and history
Before we talk about the golf at Oglebay, a little background. The resort was basically a gift from business tycoon Earl Oglebay, who willed what was then known as Waddington Estate -- nearly 2,000 acres of hilltop farmland, which included his mansion -- to the people of Wheeling, as long as "they shall operate it for public recreation." Oglebay died in 1928 and two years later, the city of Wheeling accepted the offer and renamed it Oglebay Park.
The rest, as they say, is history, as the resort and park evolved over the years.
Today, it has four golf courses, including the delightful and not-so-easy, 5,600-yard Crispin Course that goes back to 1930 (it's the resort's first course), as well as a par-3 course to go with the two regulation layouts.
There's also restaurants, shops, a lake, hiking, biking, the 16-acre Bissonnette Gardens (a restoration of the original garden at Waddington Farm), the Mansion Museum, an outdoor theater, and even a zoo. That's right, Wheeling has the Good Zoo, which opened in 1977, thanks to the efforts of the Laurence Good Family. The 30-acre facility is actually West Virginia's only accredited zoo and now includes exotic animals all over the world. So yes, you can play some golf and visit the zoo in the same day -- at the same place.
Premium golf at Oglebay Resort and Conference Center
Construction on the Robert Trent Jones, Sr.-designed Speidel Course began in in 1968. The front nine opened in 1970 and the back nine in 1971. In my view, it's definitely the tougher of the two layouts, and it's also a favorite among locals.
The reason for the latter might be two-fold. Better players might believe it's a better test than the Palmer-designed Klieves Course, but it's also priced lower (for daily fee play) than the Palmer, which is more manicured and probably has better views.
The tough part about the RTJ Course -- which hosted the LPGA's West Virginia Classic in the '70s -- is the uneven lies. There doesn't seem to a level one on the course, especially in the narrow fairways, which tend to run drives into the thick rough, making it difficult to score. The Speidel Course plays just over 7,000 yards from the back tees. Driving can be especially challenging to its narrow fairways, and when the rough is up, it can be difficult to score. Like the rest of the resort, there are elevated tees, including a couple on difficult downhill par 3s.
The Klieves Course (both operate out of the Harry C. Hamm Clubhouse at Speidel Golf Club) is a little more player friendly. There are still plenty of uneven lies, but it offers tees between 4,500 and 6,800 yards. Meticulously maintained, the course is probably more beautiful than the Speidel Course and certainly a little more playable. With plenty of elevated tees, the views are part of what makes the golf experience here so special.
Accommodations and dining at Oglebay Resort and Conference Center
There are 271 rooms at the resort's Wilson Lodge, which has been undergoing improvements throughout its more than a half-century in existence. With a stone and natural wood exterior, the Lodge also houses restaurants, a gift shop, meeting spaces, an indoor pool and the West Spa. From families to couples to golfers on buddy trips, the spacious rooms can accommodate them all. And for even bigger groups, there are 54 cottages, some as large as eight-bedroom. One of the most popular is the Palmer Estate, which has six bedrooms and overlooks the golf courses.
Wilson Lodge also has two of the resort's main dining options. The Ihlenfeld Dining Room, which overlooks Schenk Lake, offers breakfast as a Friday American seafood bounty. The Glassworks Grill, which is excellent for a catching a game or two on the restaurant and bar's big screen TVs, is perfect for an IPA and a slider plate or pepperoni roll.
Nearby Wheeling also has several restaurant options, including the Metropolitan Citi Grill, which serves the finest steaks, seafood, appetizers and wines in an elegant atmosphere. On Friday nights, reservations are suggested.
For more information about Oglebay Resort and Conference Center or to book a reservation or package, visit www.oglebay-resort.com or call (800) 624-6988.