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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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.