Roaring Gap Club and Highlands C.C.
Locatedmore than a three hour drivefromone another in the westernhalf of North Carolina,the Roaring Gap Club and HighlandsCountry Club still have muchin common. Each course was designed in the 1920s by Donald Ross to providea place for relaxationduring the summer’sheat forits wealthy members. Both are located well above sea level and yet measure under 6,300 yards. While neither was ever intended to be a ‘championship’ course, they bothremain aspopular and fun to playtoday as when they originally opened.
The golf course at Roaring Gap was built first in 1925 and was driven by a group ofinvestorsfrom Winston- Salem who weren’t profit driven as much as they were interested in creating a relaxing place for their friends to gather in an invigorating climate. Indeed, though Leonard Tufts was instrumental in getting Ross involved and in assistingin the early development of this retreat, he withdrew his involvement in mid 1929 when it became evident that the social aspects were to outweigh the economic benefits.
In typical Ross fashion, the course is relatively wide off the teeand for the umpteenth time, he chose to defend par at the green. However, as this was meant to be a retreat for their friends, the interior green contouring is not but so elaborate. This fact is exacerbated today because the greens have shrunk in size by as much as 20% and are now largely presented as ovals, which is certainly not how Ross drew the greens nor how Hatch built them. Still, thetilt of the greens, especially the ones located on knolls like the 7th, 9th, or hollows like the 12th and 16th, are an easythree putt waiting to happen.
Ironically,Ross’sinstructions fromthe foundersof building a fun, relaxingcourse is rarely issued today by many owners/developers. Rather, they are more likely to instruct the architect ‘to buildus a championship course that will be ranked in the Top 100 the day it opens.’ Such misguided orders lead to 7,000 yard, par 72courses ill-suited toboth their property and their potential members.
Roaring Gapis asuccession of fine holes, save for the two end holes (the 280 yard uphill 9th is saved by a ingenious green and the 18th is a 230 yard one shotter of greater difficulty than merit).Ross uses the slope of the terrain wellboth in the fairway and by the greens and aflatlander is going to struggleduring his first few roundsas the course requires some getting to know. When you combine the uncertainty of the lie with the small 4000 square feet greens, the golfer may not hit quite as many greens as hewouldnormallyexpect on a 6,200 yard course.
As at Holston Hills, a highlight of playing Roaring Gap is once again seeing Ross’s great penchant for locating natural green sites: the wonderful three shot 7th and 11thgreens on top of dramatic plateaus, the 12th green perfectly placed in a saddle, the three shot 16th green located in a dell, and the famed 17th green perched on the edge of a bluffwith views into the valley below.
Holes to Note at Roaring Gap:
Forth hole, 400 yards;
Sixth hole, 145 yards; Described by one well travelled golfer as a volcano green complex(as picturedbelow), the construction of this green siteis certainly unique within Ross’s design career. As at Rye, the second shot on this hole is often the most important one!
Seventh hole, 525 yards; Ross locatedthe fairway in between a hill on the right and a creek on the left.Assuming thatthe golfer can avoid either obstacle on his first two shots, he is left with a pitch to an elevated plateau green that is tilted markedly from back to front. In many ways, this hole captures the essence of the course’s design:plenty of room off the tee with ever tightening shot requirements thereafter to the point where even the best of golfer will drop a shot if hegets careless with his ball placementaroundthe green.
Tenth hole, 395 yards; Roaring Gap is a wonderful walking course, with no real hilliness to speak of save for the three hole stretch from 10-12 which featuresthe most topography of the property. In the case of the 10th, the green
Twelfth hole, 350 yards; Once the golfer has successfullyplayed the dramatic tee shot from the elevated tee, he may be lulled to sleep when he sees the innocuous green, which lies seemingly defenseless in its own saddle. However, the back to front tilt of the land (and green) is such that any ball that goes fractionally beyond the hole location is a genuine struggle to get down in two shots.
Sixteenth hole, 510 yards; The clever green placement in a natural dell area makes the hole. Golfers going for the green in two – or those who get in trouble along the way – face a blind shot into the green. As with the 5th green, the golfer must use the surrounding slopes to work the ball in toward the hole. Learning how to judgesuch approachesissomething that the golfer will never tire of trying.
17th hole, 340 yards; A hole of great strategic value, witha fairway bunker andout of boundsright and a serpentine greenside bunker leftthat then wrapsin front of the green. The ideal tee shot must flirt with the troubledown the rightin order to give the golfera clean look down the green. A ‘safe’ tee shot to the left leaves atrickier approach over theserpentine bunker.
Without a single par four longer than 400 yards, Roaring Gap is not ‘great’ by modern definitions but that may signify that such definitions need re-visiting more than anything else. The tilted greens remain swift thanks to the mountain climate but don’t approach the level of sophistication that Ross demonstrated at such courses as Wannamoisett or Salem. Still, all in all, Roaring Gap is just what the founders envisaged – an engaging course for all to enjoy. Too bad more owners don’t allow today’s architects to worry less about distance and difficulty and focus more on fun and charm.