ROCKY GAP, Md. - Just a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Pittsburgh, sits a golf retreat seemingly another world away from the big city hubbub: Rocky Gap Lodge & Resort.
The Rocky Gap State Park in the western part of Maryland contains all the outdoor activities you might expect a mountain park: fishing, hiking, campgrounds and other rustic activities.
But the big difference is the centerpiece of this 3,000-plus acre natural playground is the AAA Four-Diamond Rocky Gap Lodge & Resort - featuring its very own on site Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course and overlooking Lake Habeeb.
After all, these are city folk we're talking about here: They're not going to be roughing it in a tent.
The resort sits in the heart of the Rocky Gap State Park, but just a few miles off Interstate 68, allowing quick access from the metropolitan centers all an easy drive away.
It's a luxurious place, from the hotel rooms to the spa and golf course, but Rocky Gap is priced very competitively. You'll get upscale amenities for mid-level prices. Golf peaks at $89 this season but is usually cheaper - and rooms can be had here for as low as $99 this summer.
Nicklaus' Rocky Gap Golf course
Jack Nicklaus' firm designed Rocky Gap, which opened in 1999. To build a course that played within these rocky mountains, a good amount of dynamite had to be used to create some landing areas. The result is a course that's dramatic around many turns.
Rocky Gap's two nines play differently from each other. After the wide-open, forgiving first hole, the remainder of the outward side plays through dense woods and is very tight.
After two shorter, relatively forgiving par-4s, the third hole provides a stern wake-up call. It's a long par-4 playing through a tight fairway that slopes right to left into thick brush. The second shot plays over a deep swale to an elevated green that is guarded by a bunker on the right. There's a small run-up zone to the left for shorter hitters.
There are a handful of elevated tees that offer the best views (and widest landing zones), including back-to-back downhill shots on the fifth and sixth: a par-5 playing to a large fairway split by bunkers, then a steep drop from the par-3 sixth tee box as well.
Once you've weaved through the narrow front, the backside is more wide-open, with more room for error. The par-5 10th hole is a great risk-reward par-5, playing downhill and on the shorter side, but a very shallow green is guarded by a creek passing in front and to the right. Go long at all, and you're in the weeds as well.
There are back-to-back par-3s on the 16th and 17th, before a wide-open uphill par-4 finisher that plays back to the lodge and looks over Lake Habeeb. There are five par-5s and -3s each, so you have a better shot at scoring some birdies.
Rocky Gap, which experienced some maintenance problems over the past few years, has brought in a new grounds crew and supervisors and restored course conditions to the high level of what any upper-echelon Nicklaus design should command. Mark Jewell was recently hired as the new superintendent of the golf course.
"The conditions are outstanding this year, back to what a signature Nicklaus design should have," said Lyn Locke, Director of Sales and Marketing. "In the last three months, we've had a great response from groups and outings about the conditions."
Golf amenities also include full practice facilities and golf carts with GPS. Rates range from $55-89 and hotel guests receive a $10 discount. Local residents, seniors and juniors also receive discounted greens fees.
Rocky Gap Mountain Lodge
The Rocky Gap Mountain Lodge features about 220 guest rooms with modern amenities. Each room offers views of the mountains, as well as the lake or golf course. The Lakeview Suites also have their own private balconies.
They've also recently upgraded the exercise room and added a wider list of treatments including massages, facials, manicures and pedicures available in the on-site Garden Spa.
For dining, the Signatures Bar & Grill is a good lunch or post-round option sitting next to the pro shop and has an overachieving menu given its informal atmosphere.
The Lakeside Restaurant is the formal dinner option, offering expansive views of Lake Habeeb from every table and set in a modern lodge setting. Chef specialties change nightly and are accented with an extensive wine list.