Pikewood brutal but appealing

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John Raese and Bob Gwynne aren't your average golf-course architects. In fact, they're not even architects.

At least, they weren't until they took a piece of property on top of Kingwood Pike in southeast Morgantown, W.Va., and created one of the most spectacular new layouts in the country.

Raese (pronounced racy) is president and chief executive officer of Greer Industries, a steel and limestone producer that also owns newspapers and radio stations. He is the son of a former West Virginia University basketball coach, a large donor to the university and a Republican Party politician who has lost campaigns for the U.S. Senate and governor of West Virginia and is again running for a Senate seat.

Gwynne is one of his lieutenants, serving as executive vice president of Greer after earning a law degree at West Virginia. He also is a member at Oakmont Country Club.

Together, these avid golfers went from amateur architects to overnight sensations with Pikewood National Golf Club, a stunningly appealing but brutally challenging layout that took seven years to build just to make sure everything was done right. And it was.

When all 18 holes were completed and the course opened in 2009, Golf Digest voted Pikewood National the "best new private course in America," a designation one might expect from a layout designed by Tom Fazio, Pete Dye, Jack Nicklaus or Arnold Palmer, not a pair of limestone executives. Membership is by invitation only.

"When you look at what we did and compare it to the name architects," said Bob Friend, Pikewood's director of operations and a former PGA Tour player, "it really goes to show you what you can accomplish if you have a great piece of ground with guys with high golf IQs.

"John and Bob are amateur architects, but they play a lot of golf and are big fans of Donald Ross and Alister MacKenzie. One of MacKenzie's philosophies is to build to your views. They were trying to build into the views and natural features as much as possible."

Indeed, at an elevation of 2,300 feet, Pikewood National has breathtaking vistas at nearly every turn.

What's more, Raese and Gwynne disdained the modern look to produce a classic, natural design that includes generous fairways that wind through a forest of trees, very few sand bunkers (only 23 on the course) and a 15-foot wall of sandstone near the bottom of the property that has a natural waterfall pouring off it. In front of the waterfall, they placed the green for the 164-yard, par-3 fifth hole, producing a setting that other developers would spend millions to create.

The limited use of sand bunkers was done deliberately to not distract from the natural beauty of the property. That includes the tight, perfectly manicured fairways, seeded with L93 bentgrass that is used on some putting surfaces.

Pikewood is demanding golf and nature's treat, all rolled into one spectacular but brutally exacting layout. Walking is mandatory; there are no carts or cart paths. Not a home is visible on the course, not even the clubhouse. Even the overnight cottages that are named after three former PGA Tour players -- Dow Finsterwald, Johnny Pott and Bob Goalby -- are nestled in the trees, far out of view.

But, oh, the course. It's not for the faint of heart ... or game. There are only two sets of tees -- the championship tees, which play at 7,588 yards and are rated 79.3 with a slope rating of 155; and the regular tees, which measure 6,725 yards with a 75.6 rating and a 151 slope.

It it's any consolation, the altitude of 2,300 feet probably allows the ball to fly 3 to 5 percent farther than normal.

"The golf course is very difficult, very demanding, but at the end of day it's like we say at Oakmont -- it's the best punch in the mouth you'll ever receive," Friend said.

Indeed, the collection of par-3s is as good as any course in the country, beginning with the 222-yard third hole that includes one of those spectacular vistas beyond the green, and, most especially, the waterfall-framed No. 5.

And, if you've seen their television commercial or visited their website (pikewoodnational.com), There is no more dramatic or challenging-looking hole than the 533-yard eighth, a horseshoe par-5 that wraps around the rim of a deep barranca. It is named, aptly enough, Audacity -- as in, who would have the audacity to construct such a hole? Raese and Gwynne, that's who.

That hole serves as the perfect prelude to a back nine that begins with a pair of back-to-back par-4s that might be the best on the course. The 432-yard, dogleg 10th plays to a narrow green with blonde fescue grasses tipping the edge of matching sand bunkers. And No. 11, a 466-yard par-4 from the back tees, is another one of the holes in which you can get lost in the breathtaking view.

Els spans decades

Ernie Els put himself in select company when he won the British Open two weeks ago, becoming the 27th player in history to win four or more major championships.

It was the second time Els won the British Open (2002) to go with the two U.S. Open titles (1994, 1997) he claimed.

But here's something more impressive:

Els is one of just seven players to win a major title in three different decades, something not even Tiger Woods has managed to do.

The other six players to accomplish that feat are Jack Nicklaus (1962-86), Gary Player (1959-78), Harry Vardon (1896-1914), Lee Trevino (1968-84), John Henry Taylor (1894-1913) and Raymond Floyd (1969-86).

Not exactly sudden

After what Dave Brown and Brian Anania had to do in a U.S. Amateur qualifier, the West Penn Golf Association might consider changing sudden-death playoff to slow-death playoff.

Brown, an amateur at St. Clair CC, and Anania, who plays at Marshall, each finished tied at 4-under 138, a shot behind medalist Rick Stimmel, at Williams CC in Weirton, W.Va.

With only two spots available into the U.S. Amateur Aug. 13-19 at Cherry Hills CC in Denver, Brown and Anania embarked on a sudden-death playoff that lasted 11 holes -- the longest sudden-death playoff in West Penn Golf Association and one of the longest ever recorded for a USGA event.

Brown and Anania played Nos. 1 and 18 five times and recorded 10 pars before Anania won with a birdie on the 11th extra hole.

"I don't know if it's the longest on record; I don't know if [the USGA] keeps such things," said Jeff Rivard, West Penn executive director. "But it's the longest we've ever had, that much I do know. And I don't know of any longer."

Dissa and data

• The 30th Italian Day Invitational is Friday at Hillcrest CC in Lower Burrell. Entry is $125 and includes lunch, dinner, prizes. Call 724-335-9877.


Gerry Dulac: gdulac@post-gazette.com and Twitter @gerrydulac.


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