In actuality, the road signs should’ve read I-65 toward Candyland.
The Rockcastle Shooting Center at Park Mammoth Resort presented a full array of shooting sports, including sporting clays. Spend 15 minutes with its CEO, Nick Noble, though, and you’ll expect the new owner’s investment in Rockcastle to transform it into the premier destination for American shotgun, pistol and rifle enthusiasts: in brief, a shooter’s Candyland.
Nick, his younger brother, Nate, along with retired Major General, Jerry Humble, of the United States Marine Corps, comprise the triumvirate on a mission to make the Rockcastle Shooting Center a five-star destination for the shooting sports.
“There was a need for a recreational and tactical shooting place,” Nick told us. “There was nothing that tied it together for the recreational shooter and for tactical training.”
Nick left “corporate America” after 14 years in sales. Nate, a sales and marketing executive, also plied the waters as a professional bass fisherman. The Noble brothers focus on sales and events at the Rockcastle Shooting Center. Meanwhile, General Humble is the Chief Strategy Officer, leveraging his combined experience from the military, head of Homeland Security in Tennessee and General Manager of Colt Pistol.
Since their company, The Fortress Group, purchased the 2,000 acres in December 2009, it has secured major competitions to help cement the status of the Rockcastle Shooting Center as a rising star in the shooting sports.
The Rockcastle Shooting Center has hosted…
- The Barrett Mammoth Sniper Challenge – a new, long-range precision rifle competition that involved shooting at 1000+ yards for certain classes.
- The 2010 IPSC Pan American Shotgun Championships, drawing competitors from more than 40 countries.
- The inaugural AR15.com/Rockcastle Pro-Am 3-Gun Championship co-sponsored by AR15.com and Brownells.
- The Kentucky FITASC Championship.
- The Discovery Channel’s “Ultimate Weapon.”
- The Single Action Shooting Society match, “Welcome to the Rock,” where gunfights were staged in an Old West façade that has become a permanent installation for future competitions.
At the same time, the Rockcastle guys have already inked contracts with government intelligence agencies and the military for black-ops training in the caves and mountains that distinguish the expanse around Mammoth Cave National Park. Nick referred to those areas of Rockcastle as “the black side of the mountain.”
When we arrived, a crew was in full swing setting up the course for the impending Gamaliel Cup Trail Finale sporting clays competition. Jim Moses, president and CEO of trap-machine maker, Promatic, along with their expert target setter, Hayward Cunningham, were moving machines, running cords and stacking clays with a team that was leaning mightily into the chore.
They remained out of sight when the Porsche Cayenne S emerged from a narrow road to a surprisingly expansive parking lot – revealing a pristine lodge with a Bavarian whimsy that seemed to jump off a postcard, the sky airbrushed blue. It evoked a Lake Tahoe hot spot where Dean, Frank, Sammy and the entire Rat Pack would pull up in tail-finned showboats and tilt the axis of cool.
A knotty pine lobby held firm timeless and pristine in 1964, when the ribbon cutting heralded a world-class golf club and party scene halfway between Nashville and Louisville. The adjoining dining room called to mind the ubiquitous Wagon Wheel Restaurant you would find from Lubbock to Mobile – the breakfast and lunch hot spot for local power brokers, where the waitresses called everyone “Dear.”
Nick Noble is a spark plug – enthusiastic and charismatic. When he greeting us in the lobby the sun had started descending behind the Appalachians. Nick hurried us along to a special place that exemplified his vision for the Rockcastle Shooting Center. We climbed into his Suburban and he wheeled it through the trails, washes and hills, finally stopping at land’s end.
A dilapidated wood platform with one side of railing replaced by orange netting jutted out over a lush valley. A few beach chairs and table with wine and beer adorned this rickety crow’s nest for a spectacular Southern sunset.
Nick paced off the dimensions of a new log cabin and five stand to be erected at this very spot where sportsmen and lovers could gather for a sunset celebration and shoot some clays into oblivion. The point would accommodate a dreamy venue for nuptials, corporate retreats and other events. Listening to him, the building became more than a structure; it rose as an icon of every corporate ex-pat who finally gave his last, excruciating white-board presentation and bust out to scratch that maverick itch.
A few drinks later we were joined by Jim, Haywood and Travis Carroll. Travis is a protégé of sporting clays champ, Bill McGuire. In fact, Bill had designed the course at Rockcastle. Bill had recommended Travis to manage the Rockcastle’s sporting clays facility. At age 19, Travis has attained master-class shooter over the past five years under Bill’s tutelage. Sponsored by Blaser, Travis is also a six-time All American and the youngest NSCA Level I instructor. Bill is also a Blaser shooter, and he recently moved his shooting school to Rockcastle, where both medal holders will teach the fine points of blowing up chandelles on the sporting clays course.
Out there on the precipice, the stars growing brighter in the sapphire sky, we exchanged ideas about Rockcastle’s potential in an exchange fueled by Nick’s rocket-fuel enthusiasm. Now, in the impenetrable darkness of the mountains, the trees appeared as a tangle of shadows. We retreated to the dining room for an ample heaping of Kentucky hospitality and lively conversation.
We started the following morning in the dining room that was packed with golfers. Over bacon and eggs, Nick unrolled blueprints and architect’s renderings that tracked the evolution of Rockcastle with new amenities, and shooting and archery venues. Nick was on fire.
Travis pulled up a chair and shortly afterwards we jumped in a cart, heading toward the sporting clays course. Jim, Hayward and the entire target-setting team worked at a furious pace – towing Promatic trap machines, laying out cords and stacking targets.
The Rockcastle Shooting Center gives gravitas to the old saw that “sporting clays is golf with a shotgun.” Because at Rockcastle, the 15-station sporting clays course is laid out across one of the two original golf courses.
For some shooters, trap machines throwing quartering birds off the fifth tee could be more challenging than you’d expect. For example, in his DVD “Bill McGuire’s Focus and Fire,” the fabled sporting clays champ and resident instructor at Rockcastle Shooting Center tells viewers to find a landmark such as tree to help establish a hold point or break point. Those handy tricks of the trade are harder to employ in a clear-cut fairway or green.
Shooting against trees also helps you determine target speed. A wooded background adds perspective. On flat terrain, targets appear faster – throwing a monkey wrench into the axiom that your swing should match the speed of the target. More often than not, you’ll miss in front.
The golf course’s rolling terrain added another level of complexity. The undulations are designed to cheat the ball. In sporting clays, the waves and furrows become optical illusions on the line of the target. It appears that the target is dropping or rising, when in fact a quartering bird is sustaining a reasonably level trajectory.
Travis had been part of the target-setting crew and most of the presentations were already in place for the upcoming Gamaliel Cup Trail Finale. A lot of the targets were real screamers. Even with a well-balanced shotgun like the A-10 American, many simply got away.
Travis was always at the ready with helpful tips, and they usually worked. But the course we shot that day Rockcastle demanded the utmost concentration. It proved a tremendous exercise in analyzing the lookers, catching every subtly as targets streaked across the wavy surfaces.
Every sporting clays enthusiast should shoot at least 100 rounds at the Rockcastle Shooting Center. The course is an invaluable setting for enhancing your target-reading skills.
And afterwards, there are rifle ranges out to 1,000 yards and beyond, pistol ranges, 3-D archery, an Old West cowboy action shooting town. Just bring plenty of ammo.