Jim Justice taps golf passion to revive the Greenbrier

By Erik PetersonJuly 27, 2010, 5:49 pm

At a time when most golf resorts are feeling the pinch, they’re popping corks and tossing dice at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. It’s all thanks to local coal magnate Jim Justice, who rescued the sleepy, cash-bleeding golf resort from the jaws of bankruptcy last year.

This week it hosts the PGA Tour Greenbrier Classic, the first in a six-year deal with the Tour.

Opened in 1858, the Greenbrier has hosted 26 U.S. presidents, becoming a favorite vacation spot for politicians because of its classic columned architecture, impeccable service and secluded location.

Jim Justice
Justice played collegiately at Tennessee and Marshall, but a shoulder injury in his late 20s ended his competitive playing days.

During the Eisenhower administration the resort built a massive secret bunker that's large enough to serve as meeting and living quarters for the entire U.S. congress. It was kept in a constant state of readiness during the Cold War by a secret group hired by the government. It has since closed, and is now a museum.

While the Greenbrier maintained its reputation as the nation's premiere luxury resort, its popularity waned in the 1980s when other high-end hotel brands like Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons dramatically expanded. By 2000 the resort had lost its coveted Mobil five star rating and as the economy worsened further, the resort went into a financial tailspin.

On the verge of bankruptcy in May 2009 Justice out-negotiated Marriott and purchased the Greenbrier for a paltry $20.1 million.

His restoration project began quickly, as he fervently transformed the operation into the thriving casino resort that it is today.

But as much as acquiring the Greenbrier was a business deal for Justice, it was personal as well. In particular the potential of a PGA Tour event had special meaning to him.

“Being a kid growing up here and playing in the State Amateur here, it was really important to me to get the PGA Tour,” Justice said. “It was a pretty easy decision to step in and get this done.”

Though the Greenbrier Classic will be played on the Old White Course, the original plan was to hold the event at the Greenbrier Course, which hosted the 1979 Ryder Cup and the 1994 Solheim Cup.

“When the PGA Tour people came out here they went out on the Greenbrier Course naturally because we had the Solheim and Ryder Cup there,” Justice remembers. “But while we were eating lunch they said, ‘Do you care if we run out and check out the White Course?’ They were gone about 40 minutes and all the sudden they flew back in and said, ‘This is unbelievable! This is where we want to have it.’”

Take a photo tour of this luxurious resort whose history dates back to the 1850s.

greenbrier resort

The Old White Course, designed by C.B. Macdonald, is the resort’s first 18-hole golf course. It features generous fairways and challenging, undulating greens. In typical Macdonald fashion, several holes pay tribute to links holes in Europe, including No. 8 (Redan hole at North Berwick), No. 13 (Alps hole at Prestwick) and No. 15 (Eden hole at St. Andrews).

Asked which course PGA Tour players will be reminded of when they play the Old White Course, Justice paused for a moment before offering his opinion.

“Honestly, if I were to try and compare it to somewhere, it would be Augusta,” he said. “It’s an older course with great big giant trees… But it’s not a slugfest; it’ll take you back in time.”

In addition to bringing the PGA Tour to the Greenbrier, Justice oversaw the lightning-quick development of a 102,000-square-foot casino replete with craps tables, cards and row upon row of slot machines. From concept to completion, the project took less than a year.

Built entirely underground so as to protect the Greenbrier’s historic façade, the Casino Club opened with a black-tie party with a guest list that included Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Jessica Simpson, Ben Affleck and Brooke Shields. Howard Stern's wife, Beth Ostrosky, interviewed the stars for the TV show, 'Extra”

Justice picked up the $2 million tab for the party, which included appearance fees for many of the celebs.

With the Greenbrier Classic and Casino Club, Justice already has elevated the resort to a level that looked impossible only a couple years ago. But despite all he’s achieved, he admits he still has a long way to go to return the Greenbrier to its former glory.

His next priority is to regain that Mobil five-star rating. To do so he plans to utilize the same principles of teamwork that he instills as coach of the local Greenbrier East High School girls basketball team.

“In basketball – as in business – the coach has to care for the players, the players have to genuinely care back, and then the coach has to make it mandatory that the players care about each other,” he said. “It seems so easy, but if you can get that really going, you can’t be stopped.”

Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.