Oakhurst Links: Hickory shafts, gutta percha balls

By Jason SobelJuly 6, 2013, 9:34 pm

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – There is a certain reverence when a golfer is confronted by old-time equipment. When he closely examines a hickory-shafted club, or feels a gutta percha ball in his hands. It would be too poetic to contend that such a feeling transports the golfer to the bygone era of Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen, though hardly a stretch to maintain there’s a heightened sense of excitement mixed with fragility when not only handling these tools but actually utilizing them on the golf course.

This is a feeling that faces golfers every day at Oakhurst Links, the oldest golf club in the United States, where primitive equipment is not just an option. It’s the only option.

Video: Historic Oakhurst

The world’s best golfers are competing at The Greenbrier Classic this week, smashing golf balls with features such as “process core technology” and “a responsive ionomeric casing layer” into orbit with 460cc driver heads that sometimes look like they would be better used for toasting bagels.

Just a few miles down the road, the game is similarly being played, only what exists here appears to be part of some suspicious time warp.

Started in 1884 by a man named Russell Montague and a host of friends, Oakhurst Links is a nine-hole layout that was operated for nearly 30 years before, as legend has it, the property reverted to pasture, fading away into the West Virginia countryside.

The course remained incapacitated for some 80 years before Lewis Keller, a golf aficionado and history buff, restored the land to its original design. Playing to a wickedly devilish 2,235 yards, Keller also restored the idea that only equipment of long-ago generations would be used on the links – and with long-ago rules, of course.

In fact, the scorecard bears three local rules:

1. Play The Stymie Rule.

2. If Ball Breaks During Play, Play The Largest Piece Until Holed Out.

3. If Ball Lands In Sheep Castings, You Are Allowed A Free Drop.

These were the rules in place when the club hosted a handful of editions of the National Hickory Championship, a tournament featuring those who prefer to compete with the tools of more than a century ago.

Again, though, the course fell on hard times.

“One of golf’s real treasures kind of got lost,” says Jamie Hamilton, the head golf professional of The Old White TPC at the nearby Greenbrier. “Its future was really uncertain.”

On a course where history isn’t always a thing of the past, it appeared doomed to repeat itself. Once again, the land reverted to pasture; once again, it faded away into the countryside.

Until last year.

That’s when Jim Justice, the ubiquitous owner of The Greenbrier, took an interest in the property and decided to add it to the already formidable cadre of courses here in the foothills.

“It could have become a housing development and we would have lost a treasure,” Justice explains. “Sometimes you’ve got to step up. Maybe it doesn’t make financial sense, but there are times you just have to step up and save a treasure. I got calls from people all over the world who generally had some concerns, so it was good.”

Yet again, history has been restored.

There are plans to once again host the National Hickory Championship, and Oakhurst Links is again open for business, with golfers brandishing mashies and niblicks – and many dressing the part of turn-of-the-century competitors.

All is right in this world now, not long after the course could have faded away for good.

“To have a piece of golf history just down the road from a place like The Greenbrier, if this place would have went away it would have been a real sad thing,” Hamilton says. “It was a lot of hard work that went into bringing it back. It’s a fun project to run. It’s the same, but it’s so different from the game of golf that we all know and play now. People learn a lot about it and I know we learn a lot being involved in it.”

No longer is it just the purveyors of 19th century equipment who can feel the butterflies of grasping these tools in their hands and traveling back in time. The course is open to all comers, each of whom senses that mix of excitement and fragility.

And so Oakhurst Links continues on, a place where every day is 1884 all over again.

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Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the season-ending Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.

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Pavin's season nearly ends after slow-play penalty

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 1:50 pm

Corey Pavin's season on the PGA Tour Champions nearly came to an end because of a slow-play penalty.

Penalties for pace are often discussed or threatened, but rarely doled out on either the PGA Tour or the over-50 circuit. But that changed Sunday during the final round of the Dominion Energy Charity Classic, where Pavin was told by a rules official after completing his round that he would receive a 1-stroke penalty for slow play.

The penalty was on the surface rather harmless, turning an even-par 72 into a 1-over 73 and dropping Pavin into a tie for 15th. But this was the first event of a three-tournament postseason for PGA Tour Champions players, and only the top 54 in points advanced to this week's Invesco QQQ Championship.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Pavin, who has two top-10 finishes in 20 starts this season, barely held on at 53rd place after the penalty was enforced.

Slow-play discussions came up earlier this season surrounding Bernhard Langer at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, but Golf Channel analyst Lanny Wadkins expressed his surprise on the telecast that it was Pavin who got a shot added to his score.

"Of all the things to happen with all the times I have played - I can't even count the number of rounds - I never thought Corey Pavin was a slow player," Wadkins said. "All the guys we know are slow players have never been penalized out here. Where has this been for the last 15 years?"

The subject of the penalty also raised an eyebrow from Stephen Ames, who finished alongside Pavin in 15th place while Langer finished second behind Woody Austin: