$35 million buys a lot of poker chips. Or slot machine tokens. If you play your cards right, and manage to jump through a bazillion hurdles, $35 million could even buy you an entire casino. And that would be a steal.
Such was the case for Minnesota-based Lakes Entertainment when their subsidiary acquired a struggling, state-owned lakeside golf resort near Cumberland, Md. (at a steep discount), dropped the $35 mil and kicked the doors open to the state’s fourth casino in May of 2013 — a gamble that has quickly paid off.
That grand opening not only drop-kicked the word “struggling” from the resort’s reputation, but kick-started a tourism revival in this gorgeous neck of the Appalachian woods. The 215-room Rocky Gap Resort is built on the 243-acre Lake Habeeb, below Evitt’s Mountain, and surrounded by the clean beaches and waterways of the adjacent state park. (Complimentary park access to overnight guests.) In real estate speak that’s “location, location, location.” I mean, without even stating the place has a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course — the only one in Maryland — you already know “stunning” is an appropriate adjective. You’re probably even looking it up to see how far it is from D.C. (130 miles. Close to Pittsburgh and Baltimore too.)
Mr. Nicklaus doesn’t do mediocre; we all know that. He does insane greens, but he doesn’t do mediocre, well, anything. A resort in financial straits can find it difficult to maintain a championship course at his championship standards. Rocky Gap has fought that battle and lost. Now, thanks to the casino’s resourceful pockets and active marketing team, they’re fighting it and winning. This golf course needs the resort. And more mowers. And, to draw golf writers and passionate golf fans like me, this resort needed Jack’s course. Most architects would’ve never seen the project through the 10 years of hoops he did. Now it’s a joint jackpot. The Casino Resort is receiving AAA 4-Diamond Awards, and the golf course is getting more of the care, traffic and recognition it deserves. A pair of aces on the “Best Places” lists.
The 7,000-yard, par-72 course is complemented by a 50-spot driving range, two practice greens, chipping areas and a practice bunker. The “Signature” par-5 fifth hole is a downhill thrill ride with a split fairway. Another par 5, the 13th was one of Jack’s favorite slices of land for all the diverse drama involved in the shot sequence. Any way you look at it, there’s a lot of fun and games to be had at Rocky Gap.