Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition

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This article originally provided by The Daily Mail

April 10, 2002

Amid the coal, 18 holes

Old mountaintop removal site new home for golfers

Josh Hafenbrack

TWISTED GUN GAP -- Unlike most of its West Virginia counterparts, Twisted Gun Golf Course is situated on flat land rather than mountainside.

But it's full of not-so-subtle reminders of the course's coal camp heritage.

The surprisingly pristine fairways and greens of the newly opened 18-hole course in this tiny Mingo County town was once rocky terrain, ripped open and mined as a mountaintop removal site.

Now, the reclamation-turned-recreation project has plenty of remnants of its former life. Coal chunks are used for tee markers, and there is the windy drive through coalfield country to find the course, tucked between two scarcely populated hollows.

And golfers are a Tiger Woods tee shot from active coal seams that surround the links-style layout.

The $4.5 million par-72 golf course, designed by Don Nicewonder with input from world-renowned architect Tom Fazio, is built on an 1,800-foot elevation mountaintop.

The vistas of steeply sloping topography is an ideal fit in the Mountain State, but the golf course is a whole other thing. Instead of West Virginia's trademark sharp elevation changes and thick woods, Twisted Gun relies on foot- high fescue grass and rolling contours to bedevil golfers.

There is not a single tree anywhere on the 7,015-yard course.

The virtual tabletop flatness and lack of impediments make the course an easier bargain than others that aspire to be the best in the state.

Nitpicking notwithstanding, though, Twisted Gun is a gem in the most unlikely of spots.

Golfers travel right through the middle of active coal sites and take a shuttle bus across bumpy gravel to get high above Southern West Virginia. Until you see the first blades of green grass, there is no inkling that such an area could exist in the crisscross of coal conveyor belts that connect mountain to mountain.

A reclamation project idea for almost a decade, the course opened to golfers in late August.

Three coal companies -- Mingo Logan Coal Co., Pocahontas Land Co. and Premier Energy Corp. -- each socked away a dime from every ton of coal produced at the 240-acre site on which the golf course now sits. They saved $2.2 million.

Since then, the coal companies have poured equal the initial investment into getting the course ready for golfers.

The coal companies planned to turn the course over to the state, which initially expressed interest in making it part of the park system. But the state balked, saying the parks system already operates at a loss and can't afford an addition.

Indeed, as a money-making venture, Twisted Gun faces uphill challenges.

Golf is hardly commonplace in poverty-stricken Southern West Virginia. Twisted Gun represents the only 18-hole course in Mingo, McDowell and Logan counties.

If the course wants to book enough tee times, course officials concede, it will have to entice Charleston-area golfers to make the 90-minute drive down Corridor G and through Logan and Mingo back roads.

Already, more than half of Twisted Gun's golfers come from Charleston, course officials say.

The long-planned King Coal Highway, still years in the offing, would run right by the golf course and provide easy access, officials say. But even then, monetary success will be tough in such an obscure location with a small local base of golfers.

Still, this course is one worth hoping for. There is hometown novelty in chasing the little white ball next door to the blasts and bustle of coal mines and, once that wears off, you're still left with one fine golf course.

Writer Josh Hafenbrack can be reached at 348-4810.
 

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