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.”

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

Match scoring from U.S. Amateur

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."

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McDowell needs Wyndham result to maintain status

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 5:56 pm

For the first time in nearly three years, Graeme McDowell heads into an event with his PGA Tour status hanging in the balance.

The Ulsterman joined the Tour in 2006, and he has had nearly uninterrupted status since winning the 2010 U.S. Open. But McDowell's two-season exemption for winning the 2015 OHL Classic at Mayakoba only extends through this week, where he will start the Wyndham Championship at No. 143 in the season-long points race.

McDowell tied for fifth at Sedgefield Country Club in 2016, and he will likely need a similar result to crack the top 125 in the standings and retain his fully exempt status for the 2019 season. While he finished T-10 in Las Vegas in November, that remains his lone top-10 finish of the Tour season. The veteran's best results this year have come in Europe, where he tied for fifth at the Italian Open and finished T-12 at the BMW PGA Championship.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

"I'm trying not to put too much pressure on myself. I feel like it's not a do-or-die scenario for me," McDowell told reporters earlier this month at the Barracuda Championship. "I feel if I was 25 years old without a European Tour card to fall back on, it would be a do-or-die scenario. Certainly trying to put the pressure off, if I don't get myself into the top 125 it's not the end of the world for me. I still feel like I can play a great schedule next season."

By finishing Nos. 126-150 in points after this week, McDowell would retain conditional status that would likely ensure him at least 12-15 starts next season. He would also still have privileges as a past tournament champion.

But he's not the only winner from the 2015-16 season whose two-year exemption is on the verge of running out. Fabian Gomez (160th), Peter Malnati (164th) and Billy Hurley III (202nd) all need big results in Greensboro to keep their cards, while Shane Lowry, David Lingmerth and Matt Every all earned three-year exemptions for victories in 2015 but currently sit Nos. 139, 140 and 184 in points, respectively.

Last year four players moved into the top 125 thanks to strong play at Wyndham, with the biggest jump coming from Rory Sabbatini, who went from No. 148 to No. 122 after tying for fourth place.