The following article is a paid collaboration with Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.
Did you know you can still play America’s first golf course just like the olden days, with traditional wooden clubs?
In the late 1800s, golf was not well-known in the United States. So when Oakhurst Links opened, people thought it was odd. But to Russell Montague, the original owner, it was an exciting opportunity to bring a piece of Scotland to the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. Montague offered up his land to several Scottish friends looking for somewhere to play. He himself had learned of golf in Scotland, and helped build the course.
"It’s the oldest course built and designed in America," said Cam Huffman, director of sports public relations for The Greenbrier. “It opened in 1884 and is still running today, looking pretty much like it did back then.”
When you play the 30-acre, 9-hole course at The Greenbrier luxury resort today, look for traditional Scottish design elements.
Rather than playing with conventional golf clubs at Oakhurst, players use hickory-shafted clubs and hit gutta-percha balls— just like golfers did 130 years ago in Scotland. And if you’ve been waiting for an opportunity to don late 19th century golf gear, now’s your chance. It’s not required, but traditional period appropriate dress is also encouraged.
"For a golfer who is used to the modern equipment, it’s a really different experience," Cam said. “You have to swing the club much easier. It’s interesting when you get out there and use that equipment and see how hard it is to get the ball in the air. Golf’s hard enough as it is now, but you can take a step back and see that it was even harder when it first started.”
The course, museum and clubhouse have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 2001.
The Hickory Golf Association, a national association for golfers who enjoy the more old-fashioned game, has their biggest tournament at Oakhurst, since it’s the only course of its kind for golfers who enjoy playing like the good ol’ days.
"You don’t see a lot of professional golfers or people who play amateur golf a lot," Cam said. “It is different, and people who aren’t used to it really wouldn’t be able to compete with these guys who know what they are doing out there.”
If you favor a more traditional golf course, there is a new community in the works around the historic links. The Greenbrier Sporting Club, a private equity club and residential community affiliated with The Greenbrier, is developing its next community to include new homes overlooking Oakhurst and another modern course with dramatic elevation changes designed by golf legends Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Arnold Palmer, and Gary Player.
Though Oakhurst is typically used by members of The Greenbrier Sporting Club, if you stay overnight at the resort, you are also welcome to try out the old Scottish way of playing golf. It’s a truly unique golf vacation.
"It really is a neat thing and a lot of people don’t know about it," Cam said. “Golf is a game where people are so into its history. They have a chance to experience the history rather than just reading about it , to really play like it was when it was first started in America. It’s a great opportunity for somebody to see how far the game has come.”
*Oakhurst Links was closed for improvements in 2016, but is expected to re-open in spring/summer 2017.
Originally written for West Virginia .