At just a little more than an hour's drive from Altoona, area golfers have the opportunity to enjoy a real golfing treat - the chance to play on a Jack Nicklaus-designed layout at the Rocky Gap Resort near Cumberland, Maryland.
The scenic course is a golfing masterpiece tucked away in the hills of western Md.
Located in Rocky Gap State Park, the course first opened for play in 1998. It played as a nine-hole layout for the first few years until the back nine was completed in 2000.
The Nicklaus Golf Course Design company is a world-renowned organization, having built some of the most highly-ranked courses in the country. Having their name associated with a newly-constructed course brings immediate legitimacy - Nicklaus himself added a final stamp of approval to the Rocky Gap project when he came to play an exhibition at the club in May of 2001.
The Rocky Gap course was designed and built in classic resort style, with multiple scenic views devoid of unnecessary hidden hazards. It offers a challenge to golfers of all skills while offering five sets of tee boxes. The course plays at a manageable 6,135 yards from the white tees but can stretch out to a healthy 7,002 yards from the tips.
The course has some other unique characteristics that make it distinctive.
"Our front nine is very hilly and wooded," said Bill Beeghly, a member of Rocky Gap's golf staff. "While the back nine really opens up. It's also much flatter than the front nine is."
An interesting aspect to the course design is the fact that the back nine includes three par 5s and three par-3s, with back to back short holes on 16 and 17. There are also many greens that feature multiple tiers.
According to Beeghly, the course draws a significant amount of play from golfers in the three nearby metropolitan areas - Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. - which are each about a two-hour drive away.
"We also draw a lot of people from the Altoona area. It's such an easy drive, straight south with just one turn, onto Route 68," Beeghly said.
In addition to golf, the resort also features a 215-room hotel, convention center, spa and three on-site restaurants.
Just more than a year ago, the resort added a casino that includes 550 slot machines and table games. This addition has resulted in a significant increase to the popularity of the resort.
Increased interest in the resort has led to an uptick in play at the golf course over the past year. The resort makes a decided effort to cater to the golfing needs of guests staying at the facility but also welcomes groups and individuals who visit only to play the Nicklaus' designed layout.
"We are competitively-priced and often run specials that we feature on our website," Beeghly said. "In addition, the course offers yearly memberships with a variety of options."
Hollidaysburg resident Andrew Lafferty is one of many local golfers who have made the hour-long drive to visit the Rocky Gap resort and play its highly-ranked golf course.
"I thought it was a really nice golf course - challenging and enjoyable at the same time," Lafferty said. "The course was in really good shape. The greens and fairways were just great."