Roaring Gap Club
North Carolina, United States of America

Seventeenth hole, 345 yards, Valley View; A short-ish length two shotter, this hole has great strategic value and yet is the sort of hole rarely built these days. The infatuation seems to center around drivable par fours twenty to fifty yards shorter versus ones like this that is more of a two shot chess match between architect and player. Pity. In this case, two fairway bunkers and out of bounds right and a serpentine greenside bunker left that wraps in front of the green create the enduring playing angles. The ideal tee shot flirts with the trouble down the right in order to give the golfer a clean look down the long but narrow green. A ‘safe’ tee shot to the left leaves a trickier approach over the serpentine bunker on an oblique angle to the green.

An impeccably conceived golf hole, where the playing strategy is a near match for the hole’s natural splendor.

Short and long bunkers down the right frustrate the golfer seeking the best angle into the green.

The pay-off for flirting with the two fairway bunkers is this uninterrupted view of the putting surface.

As the golfer shies left off the tee, his approach shot becomes progressively more complicated thanks in large part …

… to this serpentine bunker.

… to this serpentine bunker.

Only here did Ross employ such bold greenside mounding. No written word exists as to why but a popular belief is he did so to mimic the distant mountains.

Chasing after restored back hole locations takes real nerve.

Eighteenth hole, 235 yard, Hill Top; Not to belabor the point, but Ross never intended this long one shotter to be the Home hole. It was always his ninth. Regardless, like Brora Golf Club in Scotland north of his Scottish home of Dornoch, a testing one shotter makes for a fitting conclusion. This one is an engaging 1/2 par hole with most pars secured via a one putt and avoiding the attractively deep bunkers. Ending with such a taxing shot is but one of the reasons why many folks don’t realize that they just concluded a round on a sub 6,500 yard course. It’s a very neat – though hard to accomplish – trick that Ross pulled off: make the design so diverse and compelling that length becomes largely immaterial.

Roaring Gap requires all sorts of shots, including a big thump with a three wood to reach the Home green. The far upslope provides the perfect canvas for some of the deepest bunkers on the course.

Roaring Gap requires all sorts of shots, including a big thump with a three wood to reach the Home green. The far upslope provides the perfect canvas for some of the deepest bunkers on the course.

The better the information going into a restoration, the better the outcome. White made sure that Spence had every scrap of information possible (black and white photos, Ross’s hole diagrams and notes). As example, this photograph was taken in 1926 (well prior to the golf shop being constructed). The accuracy of Spence’s work speaks for itself. The measured pace of the twelve year restoration process allowed all pertinent information to be discovered and analyzed.

This side left view captures Ross’s beautiful contours that Spence returned to the interior of the green. Before the restoration, the green was oval, puffed up in the middle and featureless.

The hallmark of all great courses is captured simply: how strong is the desire to play it again? After holing out on eighteen, this view back across the last two holes tempts one to return immediately to the first tee, which happily is a scant 40 yards away.

 

At 6,455 yards in the thinner mountain air, Roaring Gap might not be ‘great’ by modern definitions but that only signifies that such definitions are in dire need of being revisited. Nothing more asinine than a course that is ill suited for its membership. Neither restoration chair Dunlop White, a gifted player and six time club champion at Roaring Gap, nor Kris Spence saw need for much additional length. Yes, back tees were found for holes eight and fifteen to give the course two par fours at or over 400 yards. Otherwise, only another 100 yards was added over the other sixteen holes. Ross’s greenside slopes and Guinther’s ability to produce fiery playing surfaces in the mountain clime sufficiently tax the talented club golfer. White notes, “Five straight club championships I was more over par at Roaring Gap than I was at Old Town.”  So much for those who wish to dismiss Roaring Gap as a chip and putt.  More length would have been meaningless to 90% + of the members; the irony is that few other clubs take such an intelligent stand and resist adding pointless length. Back in the days of hickory golf, Roaring Gap was lauded as the finest mountain golf course in the country; that sentiment contains a much greater degree of accuracy than some realize today.

Most people arrive at Roaring Gap either from the south or east. A winding 4.8 mile drive known locally as the Blue Ridge Rampart transports the person from the North Carolina foothills three thousand feet up to the entrance of Roaring Gap, which is unmarked but for a low key wooden sign well inside the turn. Once on the property, decompression begins and there is no compelling reason to leave. The club’s diverse offerings include clay tennis courts, a beach club, stables, and a nondenominational church.

The beach club sits on the shore of a sixty-six acre lake.

Services of varying religions are held each Sunday.

All in all, Roaring Gap is just what the founders envisaged – an engaging place for all to enjoy and escape the summer heat. Its golf course once again epitomizes the joys that can be derived from mountain golf. Ross’s superlative routing capitalized on the varied natural features and stands in stark contrast to many modern Carolina mountain courses where the land was tortured during the expensive course construction.  Too bad more owners don’t allow today’s architects to worry less about distance and difficulty and focus more on intricacies and charm. No wonder golf is in the mess that it’s in, not that the perfectly contented members at Roaring Gap would know or care as they happily go about playing a sport that is actually quite fun.

The End