The East Coast 18: Rocky Gap Resort and Casino

Rocky Gap Resort and Casino, MD: A Nicklaus golf and lakeside resort in west Maryland.

The Jack Nicklaus-designed course at Rocky Gap weaves around beautiful scenery.

$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.)

Rocky Gap's best features are its outdoor amenities, including lake activities, swimming, a great patio space and more.

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.

About the author

Eric N. Hart

Eric Hart (aka MobileGolfer) is an award-winning travel and leisure writer for Golf News Net and the owner of Stays + Plays Travel Agency in the Midwest. Eric has stayed at 250-plus resorts and hotels around the world and played 500-plus golf courses. He has worked with 16 tourism agencies and written more than 1,100 articles for 14 regional, national and international golf, family and travel publications since he began in 2007. With a passion for promoting both golf and family travel, Eric routinely hits the road with his son and/or the full family (wife and four kids).

Reach Eric by email at info[at]