With an undulating, tree-lined front nine and a contrasting back nine that’s laid out on open meadowland, the Rocky Gap Casino Resort layout is the only Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course in the Old Line State.
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. When life gives you tea leaves, you make iced tea. Arnold Palmer proved that the disparate elements make for a delicious combination. Jack Nicklaus couldn’t master the mix at Rocky Gap.
The lemonade, if you will, is the opening nine at this course, which accompanies the casino of the same name in the foothills of Western Maryland. This nine takes full advantage of the foothills. This sort of terrain fires up the creative (lemon) juices in designers who enjoy the unconventional, and Jack’s history certainly qualifies him for the task. No. 5 obliges as players descend through a valley between crests; a split-fairway Par 5 where players can choose to attack from the elevated plateau to the left, or pick up as much yardage as possible off the tee via the right corridor. Both offer chances at an Eagle putt, but the fun is in deciding how to get there. No. 6, a Par 3, descends dramatically from a cliff face down the green, and No. 7 continues the drama with a mountain stream that wraps around the front of the green.
The hills smooth out on the East half of the property, however, as does Nicklaus’s inspiration. Although his back-to-back Par 3s at Nos. 16-17 are consistent with the strength of the shorts throughout the property, the longs prove to be quite the opposite. An interesting note is the course’s five Par 5s to match its five Par 3s. They match in number only, not execution. No. 10 would otherwise make for an interesting addition to any municipal, but it feels like a watered-down version of Nos. 5 and 7’s best features by the time one reaches it. The second half’s other longs echo a common complaint among design devotees: They are long, stringy, and have few features in between.
Rocky Gap, opened in 2000, would have benefitted from the current resurgence in nine-hole courses. The shortened jaunt through the woods would provide satisfying morning respite from the gambling tables in a region that’s not particularly noted for golf trips anyhow. Lemonade and iced tea make for good mates. The formula was just a tad top-heavy here.