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Paradise right in the middle of Paw Paw

June 27, 2012
By Marc Minsker (letters@graffitiwv.com) , Graffiti

For disc golf enthusiasts across the world there are few places more revered than the famous Woodshed course near Paw Paw, West Virginia. Its Appalachian vistas, challenging holes and scenic fairways are legendary and made all the more unique because of its remote and secluded setting. Unlike other courses in the state, The Woodshed requires first-timers to spend a great deal of time navigating the back woods and gravel roads in order to find this holy grail of disc golf courses. This destination is not just off beaten path - it is terra incognita for most people.

Disc golf, for the uninitiated, is similar to traditional ball golf, only participants use Frisbee-like discs and aim for metal baskets instead of chemically-manicured greens with the traditional hole/cup in the ground. The game originated in California in the late 1960s and by 1976 was an established sport regulated by the PDGA: the Professional Disc Golf Association.

With a niche industry that has built up around the sport, including the manufacturing of special discs (such as long distance drivers and short-range putters) and baskets, disc golf is one of the fastest growing sports in America. And unlike traditional golf, over 80 percent of the world's 3,000 disc golf courses are free and open to the public. The Woodshed is no exception, though a suggested donation of $5 - paid via the honor system - helps to ensure that the 36 holes created on private land has the upkeep necessary to keep fairways cut and baskets in working order.

Article Photos

Putting on hole #7 at The Woodshed in Paw Paw.

Photo submitted by Marc Minsker

Although The Woodshed course is typically referred to as the "Paw Paw course," it is located a good nine miles from the little hamlet of Paw Paw. Named for the central structure at the course - a two story, tin-roofed, open-sided barn that serves as the club house - The Woodshed has hosted various West Virginia Open tournaments as well as PDGA super tours.

Its challenging holes are twice the length of typical disc golf courses and the impressive elevation changes, water hazards and dramatic doglegs make the course formidable for even the best players. The course (and its adjacent companion course, The Whipping Post) is the brainchild of Spencer Thurman and his wife, Gabi. Originally from the D.C. metro area, Spencer is responsible for the design of the original Woodshed course, which first came to life in 1994. Selling his prized Malibu muscle car, draining all of his savings and borrowing from family members, he purchased 25 acres of land and began building his dream course.

According to Gabi, both the course and the land are integral parts of the Thurmans' history. As Gabi recollects: "We got married on hole seven in 1998, got pregnant up here in 2000, had our son Ace up here the following year." After an aging man named Don Jess decided to sell his adjacent 40 acres to the Thurmans, they moved into his 600 square-foot deer cabin and began building a modern, two-story house around and over it. Their now-completed dream house still features Jess's original cabin as the central room of their home. After completion of the house, the Thurmans (with the help of Tony Ellis and Marc Sussi) began designing The Whipping Post, an equally challenging course that abuts The Woodshed.

Fact Box

DIRECTIONS: From downtown Berkeley Springs, take Route 9 up the hill, past the impressive Berkeley Castle, and drive 7.8 miles. Coming to a large turn-out (i.e. triangular intersection) make a right onto Detour Road; the only sign at that intersection is for a Methodist Church, in the same direction as The Woodshed. Take Detour Road through some hairy switchbacks 6.6 miles until you come to a sign for Gaither Road. Hang a right at Gaither Road and proceed cautiously on gravel roads for another couple of miles until you see the infamous Woodshed barn on your right. Park, pay your donation, and get ready for the time of your life! Camping is also available for a fee. Port-a-potties are located adjacent to the Woodshed but pack in any food or beverages that you'll need as the nearest store is 25 minutes from the course.

One thing is clear: these courses put West Virginia on the map in terms of world-class disc golf destinations. However, any map used to reach this site may be of little help considering the course's extremely remote location. Even the old GPS will cut out as you hit the final stretches of gravel road. And that's what makes this hidden treasure all the more special.

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