Will of Wisp leads to top resort course
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When they finished building four new holes on vacant property on their 18-hole resort course, the people at Wisp Resort in McHenry, Md., were so impressed with the look crafted by architect Todd Schoeder they asked him to help build the new course they were planning at the top of their mountain -- a spectacular piece of property overlooking Deep Creek Lake.
But they also wanted the name of a well-known player to attach to their new design, and so it was that two-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin combined with Schoeder to produce Lodestone Golf Club -- a man-sized, 7,507-yard layout with massive, undulating greens, mounded bunker complexes and breathtaking vistas.
At a time when course closures far outweigh openings, Lodestone is something of an anamoly: It opened for 18-hole play last summer, one of the few new courses to debut in the mid-Atlantic region.
"We were really looking for something special and spectacular because we had a great piece of property with a lot of really neat rock outcroppings and trees and ferns, and we wanted to integrate all that into the course," said Tim Prather, chief operating officer and general manager at Wisp Resort, located 7 miles off Interstate 68, just two hours from Downtown Pittsburgh. "And we wanted a signature of a pretty good pro to be part of this, and that's how we came upon Hale."
Lodestone opened nine holes in 2009 and has been using all 18 holes for slightly more than a year. But it has already gained a nice reputation for playability, challenge and beauty -- ranking as the No. 2 resort course in Maryland and No. 33 resort course in the country.
It has a series of lengthy par-5s, if you choose to play them from the back tees -- 625 yards (No. 7), 612 yards (No. 13) and 608 yards (No. 18). And only one par-4 -- the 349-yard 14th -- plays shorter than 424 yards.
But because the elevation is 3,000 feet and most of the approaches play downhill, Lodestone doesn't play as long as the yardage might suggest. Also, there are three sets of tees from which to choose, including the member tees (6,315 yards).
"I find it neat that the course is as playable as it is," said head professional Nick Zaloga, who grew up in Frostburg, Md., and joined the resort just two months ago. "There are not a lot of forced carries, not a lot of hazards, but it is still a big-time golf course."
Lodestone is still enduring some growing pains that will ease in time, and officials there are being extra careful with their putting surfaces until they have time to mature. And there is plenty of rolling putting surface to navigate -- none more massive than the green at the par-4 12th. It is 50 yards deep and has a swale in the middle that looks like one of Seth Raynor's biarritz-style greens.
"Depending on the speed, you could have six to eight different pin locations on them," Zaloga said. "If greens were 10 or 11 [on the Stimpmeter], you'd have trouble with some of them because the slopes are so severe.
"It's different than most courses I play. I've never seen greens that size or fairways that size."
Lodestone is in drastic contrast to the crafty resort course that was designed 30 years ago by architect Dominic Palumbo of Upper St. Clair. It measures 6,911 yards from the back tees (5,759 yards from the front tees) and requires shots through a variety of oak, cherry, maple and birch trees.
But maybe no hole at the resort plays more difficult than the 582-yard eighth that doglegs through the trees and requires at least a 140-yard shot across water on the third shot.
"If you don't know where you're going off that tee and can't hit a nice little draw, you're going to have some trouble," Zaloga said.
An added feature: The 160-yard, par-3 bonus hole that was left over and reconfigured when Schoeder built the four new holes across the road.
"It's nice to break the bets with," Zaloga said. "Or just hit another shot to finish the day out."
The 72-hole Frank B. Fuhrer Invitational was already the richest tournament for club professionals in Western Pennsylvania. But it just got more lucrative.
Fuhrer said he will increase the prize for first place from $25,000 to $30,000 when his three-day tournament begins June 25 at the Pittsburgh Field Club. What's more, Fuhrer will also give the low senior player an additional $3,000 on top of whatever money he wins.
Each professional player in the select field of 40 players is guaranteed at least $1,400 -- the amount for last place.
"I keep trying to make it better every year," said Fuhrer, 86. "And I will keep doing it as long as I live."
The field is composed of the top 25 players from the Tri-State PGA's points list and 15 sponsors exemptions of mostly mini-tour players who are selected by Fuhrer.
Included in the group are three amateurs -- three-time U.S. Mid-Amateur champ Nathan Smith, a two-time winner of the Fuhrer Invitational; seven-time West Penn Amateur champ Sean Knapp, who has won the Fuhrer tournament three times; and three-time West Penn Mid-Amateur champ Arnie Cutrell of Greensburg.
Next year, Fuhrer said he will lower the number of Tri-State professionals in the field to 20 and increase his sponsor exemptions to 20.
Rachel Rohanna of Waynesburg, a senior-to-be at Ohio State, has received a committee exemption to play in the West Penn Amateur, which will start Monday at Kahkwa Club in Erie.
Rohanna was extended the invitation because she won the Lady Buckeye Invitational and finished tied for third in the Big 10 championship this season.
But, unlike other men's events in which females have competed, Rohanna will be playing from the same tees (6,524 yards) as the men at Kahkwa.
"She plays the same golf course everyone else does," said Jeff Rivard, executive director of the West Penn Golf Association.
Playing against men is nothing new for Rohanna. Two years ago, she became the first female to play in the West Penn Open and even made the cut.
She will attempt to play in it again this year when she competes in an 18-hole qualifier June 25 at Oakview Golf Club in Slippery Rock.
Rohanna and Ross Pringle of Clarion were recently named winners of the Frank Fuhrer III Award that goes annually to the top female and male college players in Western Pennsylvania.
"She's the best woman player we've seen in this area since Carol Semple Thompson, at least as a college player," Rivard said
The Constellation Senior Players Championship that is coming to the Fox Chapel GC isn't the only thing keeping head professional Alex Childs and his staff busy these days.
Fox Chapel is holding its three-day men's invitational this weekend, just eight days before the start of the senior TPC and right in the midst of the construction to erect corporate tents and grandstands.
One week after the Champions Tour event, which begins June 28, Fox Chapel will hold the 36-hole West Penn Open July 9-10. It will be the first time the West Penn Open will be held there since 1957, when Arnold Palmer took a week off from the PGA Tour to win his only West Penn Open title.
• Symetra Tour player Anya Alvarez of Lawrenceville qualified for the U.S. Women's Open for the second year in a row when she shot 80-72--152 and birdied the first playoff hole in a sectional qualifier in Colorado Springs, CO. Alvarez has not been eliminated as one of the contestants on the Golf Channel's "Big Break Atlantis," which airs every Monday night 9-10 p.m. A
First Published June 17, 2012 12:00 am