Greenbrier comes back to life

By Erik PetersonOctober 15, 2010, 6:54 pm
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Old White is one of only two courses on the PGA Tour to finish with a par 3 (Courtesy Greenbrier)

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – During these uncertain economic times, you won’t find a golf destination doing more to resurrect its image than America’s Resort, The Greenbrier. With the backing of a new owner the resort built a new casino and now hosts a FedEx Cup PGA Tour event. About the only things that haven’t changed at The Greenbrier are the classic architecture, white paint and formal dress code.

There are three golf courses at The Greenbrier, each of which is classically designed and impeccably maintained. Though each course is different from the others in design and difficulty, all three feature fast greens and excellent playing conditions.

The Old White Course is considered the resort’s flagship track not only because it’s the resort’s first golf course, but also because it plays host to the PGA Tour Greenbrier Classic. Designed by C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor, the course features several holes that were – in true Macdonald fashion – inspired by holes in Europe. Old White's par-3 8th hole was styled after the “Redan” hole at North Berwick, the par-4 13th after “Alps” at Prestwick and the par-3 15th after “Eden” at St. Andrews.

As advancements in equipment technology dulled the luster of Macdonald’s design over the years, Lester George was commissioned in 2006 to renovate the course.

Though Old White has generous fairways and is short by today’s standards, mature trees and tricky greens mean scores can add up quickly. A caddie told us that after Boo Weekley finished his pro-am round at The Greenbrier Classic he confessed he didn’t make a birdie during his round, and couldn’t recall the last time he’d gone birdie-free. His respect for the course paid off, however, as he went on to finish T-9 that week.

The world’s best golfers didn’t take long to figure out Old White. Stuart Appleby shot the PGA Tour’s fifth-ever 59 in the final round en route to a 22-under finish. D.A. Points flirted with his own 59 in Round 3 before a bogey at the par-5 17th forced him to settle for 61. But don’t let the pros fool you – Old White is tough.

The resort’s second course is called the Greenbrier Course, and it actually has more pro pedigree than its elder sibling. Designed by Seth Raynor and opened in 1924, the course entered the world golf scene in 1977 when Jack Nicklaus completed a renovation of the course in preparation for the 1979 Ryder Cup.

After hosting the Solheim Cup in 1994 the Greenbrier Course became the only public golf course to host both of these prestigious international cup matches (Muirfield Village is the only other venue to host both events, but it’s a private golf course). The Greenbrier Course also hosted a Champions Tour event in the mid-1980s.

Because it was renovated with match play in mind, the Greenbrier Course features several compelling risk/reward holes that require shots over water into the green. By contrast the short par-4 13th, nicknamed Sahara for its lack of water and massive bunkers protecting the green, offers just as much intrigue as its watery counterparts.

As is the case at Old White, nearly every hole at the Greenbrier Course is framed by maginificent stands of pine, fir and oak trees.

The Meadows Course is the resort’s most forgiving layout, mainly because of its flat greens. But contrary to some resorts which cut corners on conditioning at their third-tier course, the conditions at the Meadows do not disappoint. The flat greens and superb conditions, in fact, make it a fun complement to the more difficult Old White and Greenbrier courses.

Despite its name, Meadows is actually quite un-meadow-like. Most holes are classic parkland, with tall trees lining the fairways and a pair of bunkers guarding the front of most greens. The only exception to this rule is Nos. 11 and 12, which open up to offer wide views of Greenbrier Valley.

As you might expect, golfers have to hire a caddie and pay a premium to play the Old White. One gentleman we met said he couldn’t imagine visiting The Greenbrier without playing the flagship course, while another couple played only the Greenbrier and Meadows courses and still felt like they had a complete golf experience.

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Though The Greenbrier has always been a high-end golf resort, to say its popularity waned in recent years would be an understatement. As resorts like Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons dramatically expanded their portfolios, once-loyal guests of The Greenbrier were tugged away. A sour economy worsened the problem further.

On the brink of bankruptcy in 2009, The Greenbrier and its 1,000 employees were rescued by coal magnate Jim Justice, a lifelong West Virginian with little experience in resort management. He purchased the resort for a paltry $20.1 million.

Seemingly before the ink dried on that deal Justice signed another one, a six-year deal with the PGA Tour to host The Greenbrier Classic.  

And that’s not all. Justice also spearheaded construction of the 102,000-square-foot Casino Club, which was no small feat considering state lawmakers had wrestled with the idea of a casino at The Greenbrier since the mid-90s.

With a new owner, a PGA Tour event and a new casino, The Greenbrier is no doubt on the up and up.

Diverse off-the-course activities
With its setting in rugged West Virginia, it’s no surprise outdoor activities reign supreme at The Greenbrier. The list of options includes fly fishing, hunting, falconry, horseback riding, and climbing/ rappelling. But the indoor scene – which includes the aforementioned casino – is just as compelling.

One of the most interesting off-the-course activities you’ll ever experience is a tour of the emergency Cold War bunker at The Greenbrier. Once a top-secret U.S. government relocation facility for Congress, The Greenbrier Bunker now offers guided tours of the facility. You could argue it’s the east coast version of Alcatraz, though it’s more educational and less spooky than The Rock, and instead of taking a boat to get there, this tour begins in the hotel lobby.

Shopping and dining are also well thought of at The Greenbrier, and both can be enjoyed without leaving the hotel. A long row of stores has everything from a shoe store, kids toy store, even a fully-stocked Polo Ralph Lauren shop.

The flagship restaurant is Prime 44 West, a steakhouse that pays homage to Los Angeles Lakers great, Jerry West, who also happens to be a West Virginia native. A blazer is required at this restaurant and most others in the hotel in the evening, so plan accordingly.

If you’re appreciative of old money and classic golf, the new Greenbrier should be on your golf vacation hit list.
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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.