About 40 minutes southwest of Morgantown, West Virginia, in the heart of coal country, exists one of North America’s great golf courses. Ranked No. 87 on Golf Digest’s 2021-22 list of America’s Top 100 Golf Courses, Pete Dye Golf Club is the perfect blend of the renowned Architect Pete Dye’s vision and signature style and the place and local history that give a home to the course that bears his name.
Designed to embrace the region’s deep ties to the history — and future — of coal mining, Pete Dye Golf Club is a place unlike any other. Built on the former site of the Pinnickinnick coal mine and camp, it’s a club where visitors are greeted at the front gate by a mine car full of coal and where golfers on the course will find themselves traveling through an actual mine shaft to get from one hole to the next ... where they’ll encounter a rotary car tipple and train of coal cars as well as mounds of coal piled high between the 10th fairway and 11th tee.
A plaque outside the mine shaft just beyond the 6th hole explains that Dye was committed to honoring the history of the region in his design.
I was fortunate to be invited last week to play not one, but two rounds of golf at the Pete Dye Golf Club by a new friend who happens to have grown up only a few miles away from me, here in Pittsburgh. He was organizing a small tournament for some fellow golf enthusiasts — a group of nine of us who traveled from across the Northeast and Midwest for two days of friendly competition and camaraderie.
The dates had been on my calendar since mid-May, and as July 1 approached, I began to pay closer and closer attention to the forecast. We were scheduled to play one round in the afternoon on Thursday, the 1st, and another in the morning on the 2nd. As of Wednesday, June 30, the meteorologists were all calling for thunderstorms both days, and many in our group were reaching out to our host to find out if he was going to cancel. Not me, though. I sent him a note to say it looked like things might be a little wet, but as far as I’m concerned, it never rains on the golf course. And even if it meant I was going to get drenched, I was excited to play.
As it turned out, I was more right than I knew. By the time I arrived on property at about noon on Thursday, the storms had come and gone. We played our first round under overcast skies. There was a low ceiling of clouds that hung around the peaks of the mountains that surrounded us. The weather threatened. It drizzled and spit at us a couple of times throughout the day. But all that did was cool us off, and we wound up all getting in our 18 holes without so much as a delay.
That evening, as we dined in the clubhouse and swapped stories of one another’s adventures in golf … and as we moved the party to Pete’s Place, the outdoor bar and grill adjacent to the practice green … it rained off and on but couldn’t dampen our spirits after a wonderful day spent getting acquainted with the course, which had lived up to its ranking and then some.
We spent that night bunked in the Black Diamond Lodge, just a few hundred yards from the clubhouse. While some of the guys retired to their rooms for sleep or to check in with family back home … or to do a bit of work, as I did … our host and some of the others enjoyed a raucous billiards tournament on the pool table in the lodge’s great room.
By the time we woke the next morning and headed to the clubhouse for breakfast, there wasn't a hint of rain. It was an absolutely perfect day -- temps in the low 70s, a bit of a breeze, blue skies and sunshine. I wish I could say my game improved as much as the conditions. And hell ... you weren't there, so I will say that! But in truth, it didn't matter how I played; it was just an absolutely fabulous time being there, enjoying the time spent with like-minded guys who just love the game of golf. I made more friends than I made birdies, and I'm not complaining about that in the slightest.
For the record, I didn't win the tournament -- a modified stableford affair. But I also didn't finish last in the field, so I'll take it! And I'll just say this about the golf course ... if I have one complaint, it's that I can't figure out which of the holes offered up the most frameworthy picture! Honestly, as the pictures that follow will attest ... I don't know if there is an official signature hole at Pete Dye Golf Club, but just about any of them could be it.
I took too many pictures to share them all here, so what follows are some of the best taken from both wonderful rounds on this fantastic Top 100 course.
The first hole stretches to 396 yards from the Champ tees, and from those tees the course overall plays to a whopping 7,353 yards. We played the much more manageable members tees, known as the Dye tees, from which No. 1 plays 359 and the course measures an even 6,400 yards.
The undulations of the fairways and the green complexes at Pete Dye Golf Club were designed by Dye to replicate the elevation changes of the mountain range that surrounds the club.
The view from the Champ tees on Hole 2 is just spectacular with a tee shot that has to cross Simpson Creek, which meanders throughout the golf course and comes into play on a number of holes.
Dye's affinity for designing holes with a forced carry to fairways angled away from the player creates the perception that the strip of fairway into which you can safely land a tee shot is exceedingly small and the hazard between the player and the landing area appears extraordinarily large.
A drive in the fairway or just through the fairway leaves a mid-iron into a green that can yield birdies ... but don't pull your approach left, or you'll be praying to catch a deep bunker in order to just avoid a dive into the creek below.
No. 2 is, without a doubt, one of my favorite holes on the course. And this look back at the hole from beyond the green makes it easy to understand why.
Then again, maybe No. 3 is my favorite. Seriously, I can't choose on this course. Just look at this place.
No. 3 plays just shy of 350 yards from the Dye tees, and one of my playing partners on day one nearly drove the green. Guy was LONG! It was fun to watch. I did par the hole the second day, but more than how I played, I just loved the way all of these holes fit with the topography. Dye did something special here.
A look back at No. 3 from beyond the green.
The par-3 fourth hole was playing 215 yards long on our first day, with the pin tucked in the back of a green that wraps around the lake between holes 4 and 5. My efforts to bail out with a 5-iron were unsuccessful.
The pin position at No. 4 on Day 2 was a little less daunting. And the same 5-iron I'd hit into the water the day before set me up for an easy two-putt par this day.
Such a gorgeous course. Here's a look back at No. 4 from near the tee on No. 5.
The lake between the two holes is home to huge fish (don't ask me what kind; this is a golf blog, not Animal Planet) and some large snapping turtles.
Alongside the 5th tee, the club maintains a large barrel of food for golfers to toss pellets into the water and feed the turtles, which can bring them to the surface. This one seemed to enjoy having his picture taken almost as much as he liked the food!
No. 5 is a 508-yard par-5 from the Dye tees that plays close to 600 yards from the tips.
Challenges on this hole include Simpson Creek running down the right side; significant elevation changes from the first shot to the second and again to the approach; and the distracting beauty of the place.
Three tall smokestacks in the distance offer golfers an aiming line hitting from the fairway to the landing area for their second shots on this big par-5.
The safe approach is left of the flag on No. 5 as anything right flirts with the possibility of finding the creek down below.
Hole 6 offers a wide fairway bordered on the left by a narrow, rock-lined stream of water that flows from within the old coal mine.
As if there's some sort of magnetic ore in those rocks that attracts golf balls, the stream -- which can't measure more than maybe eight feet in width at any one place -- is very much in play both off the tee and on the approach to the green.
At only 305 yards from the Dye tees, No. 6 should be a birdie hole, but many players will feel very satisfied to escape it with a par. And what follows is unlike anything you'll find on just about any golf course in the world.
Players making their way from Hole 6 to Hole 7 drive through an actual mine shaft in order to get to the next tee. As you enter, the world goes dark except for lanterns that hang along the way, and the temperature drops significantly.
It's a short drive, but an incredibly memorable experience, and I was glad to capture video of it to share here.
When you recover from the experience of traveling through the mineshaft and your eyes readjust to the brightness of the day, you're met with the magnificent par-3 7th hole. If you ever get a chance to play here, do yourself a favor and take the time to travel all the way up the hill to the Champ tees to appreciate this incredible vista. It's definitely a different look from the Dye tees down below.
At just 147 yards from the Dye tees, No. 7 should be an easy par -- maybe even a birdie hole. But don't miss this elevated green with your tee shot, or that par can easily become a bogey, double or even a triple as yout ry to find the putting surface from any of the deep bunkers that sit below. Keeping a ball on the green from any of these bunkers can prove very difficult.
The 8th hole is another fantastic par-5. At just 480 yards from the Dye tees, long hitters and even moderately long hitters can challenge the hole and strike for the green in two. But your aim had better be true.
The safe play is a drive into the fairway with lots of room to hit up and to the right, away from the sand on the left-hand side. It'll make the hole longer, but if you're planning to play it as a three-shot hole, it's hard to go wrong when you go at the hillside on the right.
From there, a mid-iron or hybrid up the left side of the hole will set you up for a short iron or possibly even a wedge into this small, well protected green that backs up to the side of the mountain.
Be sure to avoid the long, deep bunker right of the green!
At 443 yards from the Dye tees, the 9th is a par-4 that played like a par-5 for me. A big drive can carry the rough on the right and shorten the hole significantly if you catch the fairway after it bends. But most players will want to go at the fairway on the left off the tee in order to play it safe.
Find the green with your approach shot on 9, and it should be an easy par. But ... as with just about every hole on a Pete Dye layout ... miss the green, and you're dancing with disaster.
Like the second hole, the tee shot on No. 10 plays across Simpson Creek to a fairway angled away from the golfer -- this time moving left to right.
Left of the fairway, golfers will find an old coal shed, a train of mine cars stacked high with coal, and mounds of coal -- a further nod by Pete Dye to the history of coal mining in the region.
For the golfer who safely finds the fairway off the tee on No. 10, the approach is a relatively simple one so long as you don't come up short. Left is a smart bail out, as balls will tend to kick and roll right onto the green.
The first par-5 on the back nine, No. 11 plays 531 yards from the Dye tees and 606 from the back. It's a big hole. the right side of the fairway off the tee is the smart play, though a big drive can clear the bunker left.
No matter where you put your drive on 11, though, it's going to be a long way home.
Looking back at No. 11 from beyond the green, it doesn't seem nearly like the beast that it actually is. This hole can offer up birdies to the golfer who plays it smart and hits a close approach shot ... or it can eat your lunch.
At just 315 yards from the Dye tees, No. 12 seems like it ought to be a breather hole ... but don't dare break concentration, as this little hole has a lot of bite.
From the bunkers on the left to the high grass that waits to gobble up mishit balls and a difficult sloping green, this hole has teeth!
A bell beyond the 12th green honors Pete Dye's late father and lets players alert the group behind that it's safe to hit from the tee.
The 13th hole is perhaps the least visually interesting hole on the course -- and it's still a good hole!
The narrow, tiered green runs down and away such that any ball hit deep of center green is likely headed for the deep bunker in back. Meanwhile, any ball left short of the green is going to leave players with a very difficult up and down. It may not look like much from the tee, but don't be fooled into thinking this is an easy hole.
The view from the 14th tee is another picturesque vista that could easily appear on a poster with a motivational saying underneath it.
Playing downhill from the tee, the entire right side of the hole is definied by a low stone wall with thick, gnarly rough and out of bounds beyond. The generous fairway offers ample opportunity for a good drive to find the short grass, but I saw twice as many balls right of the wall than I did in the fairway during my two rounds here ... including both of my own drives on this fantastic par-4.
The relatively large green on No. 14 offers one of the flattest putting surfaces on the course ... which isn't to say the green is flat at all ... and maybe one of the best shots at a birdie for the player who can land a ball here in regulation.
I absolutely love the par-5 15th, despite playing it terribly the first day. With two lakes running down the entire right side of the hole, Dye -- in all his diabolical wisdom -- designed this hole to dare you to hit a fade off the tee as the fairway bends gently from left to right.
The player who does find the fairway off the tee is left with the option to go for the green in two -- a dangerous proposition, indeed, as the water cuts in just short of the putting surface -- or to hit an easy mid-iron layup to set up a wedge and a possible scoring opportunity.
A well-positioned second shot will leave players with a real chance at carding a birdie on this hole, which plays just under 500 yards from the Dye tees and less than 550 from the Champ tees.
The 16th hole is the final par-3 on the course, playing 177 yards, and is a beauty of a hole as you look into the distance across Simpson Creek to the 18th green and the clubhouse beyond. The tee shot is downhill and looks to be at least a one-club difference, but somehow the hole seems to play true to its yardage. At least, that was the consensus of the guys I played with during each of our two rounds. The undulating green makes a two-putt feel like a pretty solid accomplishment.
It's impossible to stand on the tee at 17 and not appreciate the look back across the creek at the 18th green and the clubhouse. As I understand it, there used to be a tall line of trees along this bank of the creek that prevented golfers on 17 from seeing over to 18 and prevented members in the clubhouse from watching the action on 17. At some point in the not-too-distant past, those trees were almost all removed, creating a really spectacular view from the clubhouse and some pretty terrific sights for those on the course, as well.
If I had to guess which hole the members consider the signature hole of the course, my guess would be that it's No. 17. At just 345 yards from the Dye tees, it's one of the shorter holes on the course, but it is perhaps the most memorable for any number of reasons. First, the tee shot. Safe players bail out right to the fairway and avoid the bunkers on the left altogether. More aggressive players challenge those bunkers and pray once their tee shot is away that their ball will somehow avoid the sand and find its way through to the fairway that runs downhill toward the green.
I hit my drive just barely over the bunkers both days, leaving myself a short wedge into an impossible green complex. As the story has been told to me, the developer of the course and Pete Dye disagreed about the design of the 17th green. The developer wanted the green to be the largest on the course, and Dye believed a small green was the better architectural fit for the short hole -- putting a premium on accuracy for the second shot. When Dye finally agreed to give the developer the gigantic green he desired, Dye designed the green with such intense undulation -- humps that rise three and four feet and drop off in all directions -- that the end result was the largest green on the course with the smallest area in which the hole can actually be placed and still remain playable. When a member complained -- after six-putting this green -- that it was like goofy golf and that the only thing missing was a windmill, the club installed a 40-foot tall windmill beyond the green.
Pictures of the 17th really don't do justice to the dramatic undulations that make putting near impossible if your approach shot doesn't find the small plateau at the center of the green -- the only place on the putting surface from which a ball will not roll all the way back to the fairway or into the rough.
The tee shot on Pete Dye Golf Club's 18th hole is about as visually intimidating as it gets.
From the tee, players must find a narrow strip of fairway on the other side of Simpson Creek, surrounded by high grass and vegetation that seems to beckon any errant shot. From the tee, the right gable of the clubhouse presents a smart aiming line, with drives hit to the right side of the fairway funneling toward the center and settling on more level ground on the left side of the short grass.
Hook the ball at all from the tee, and you will be lucky -- as I was -- if your ball finds the fairway bunkers or hangs up in the rough instead of bounding into the creek below. From here, I was left with an unappealing 185-yard shot to a green that seems to just hang above the water.
The approach shot to the green from the 18th fairway may be one of my favorite shots on the golf course. Framed by the creek on the left, the clubhouse to the right and a bridge that crosses from the 10th tee to the 10th fairway beyond the green, it almost looks like there's nowhere to go but the putting surface. But even if you are playing from the fairway after your drive, this is no easy par.
This look back at the 18th hole and beyond to the creek and the 17th tee may be one of the prettiest views on the course ... and not just because if you've reached this point it means you've survived a round on one of the most challenging courses you'll ever play.
Truly, Pete Dye Golf Club is just one of the most spectacular places I've ever played golf that isn't adjacent to an ocean. My experience there wasn't just an opportunity to check a box on the bucket list; it was the chance to make new friends I hope to stay in touch with and occasionally golf with for a long time to come. And, having grown up in nearby Pittsburgh, PA, my time here gave me an entirely new appreciation for the beauty of West Virginia. I haven't been able to get John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads" out of my head since I left!
Many thanks to our host and to the staff at the Pete Dye Golf Club for their incredible hospitality -- from the young guys working the bag drop and valet stand to Head Pro Brian Higgins and his team in the pro shop ... to the ladies in the dining room and Savannah out at Pete's Place, who we kept pouring drinks until late into the night on Thursday even though she wasn't even supposed to be at work that day. This was the first private club on my list that I've visited since announcing my goal to play the greats earlier this year and creating this website, and I'm beyond grateful for the invitation and was blown away by the experience.
You've set a high, high bar, Pete Dye Golf Club!
The pictures that appear in this blog are just some of the many pictures I took at this beautiful course during my two-day visit. If you'd like to see all of the pictures, please feel free to click here to visit my Pete Dye Golf Club Google Photos album.