The underground marvels of Luray Caverns make it one of the great wonders of the world. But just a few miles away, one often wonders what happens to a golf ball that goes down a cave opening in the middle of the par-5 first fairway at Caverns Country Club.
“We are the only course in America with such a feature,” says John Shaffer, director of public relations for Luray Caverns and Caverns Country Club. “The 'karst' topography of the immediate area (hence the proximity of Luray Caverns) makes the probability of cave openings a near certainty on this large tract of land on the limestone bluffs of the Shenandoah River. Superintendent Putt Lancaster can list at least seven others that are in the near rough and can easily come into play.
“Back in the early days, we made it a point to call the USGA to find out what would happen if your ball rolled into a cave knowing we had one in play. So we took the appropriate measures and applied for an official ruling. That's why you are allowed a free drop if your ball goes down the hole.”
Nobody knows for sure of designer Mal Purdy's intent when the course opened in 1976. But the consensus around the valley is that if he wanted a hole from that high tee elevation (featuring a spectacular partial river view surrounded by the backdrop of the Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington National Forest) the cave opening had to be in play. With the river cliff down the left side, it just couldn't be avoided.
What is known is that with the free drop rule there are no complaints. If your ball rolls into it, don't go looking for it in Luray Caverns. This opening leads to a small unexcavated cavern. Still, the cave opening does conjure up some interesting comments.
“On our first visit in 1986, we had all heard about this ball-catching cave opening on No. 1,” says Larry Johnson, a former EEO specialist with the FBI who at one point had arranged 25 consecutive summer outings to Caverns Country Club as the golf chairman for activity promotions at the Bureau. “It was the first time I had ever seen everybody try not to hit the ball long and down the middle of the fairway.”
Article and photograph courtesy of GolfStyles Magazine Fall 2013