Greenbrier Sporting Club's 'The Snead' - Legend For Many Hearts

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Kevin Gaydosh


WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WV – In the history of golf, there’s never been a celebrity so revered as Sam Snead.  Perhaps because of it, the lasting ‘ownership’ of his legend has never been more in dispute -- amongst the many people and places he touched in his long and fruitful life.


Both of the Mid-Atlantic’s ultra-luxury mountain resorts claim Snead’s legacy as its own.  The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, is close to where Sam lived and grew up.  The Greenbrier, just over the state line in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, is where Snead held his first and only Head Golf Professional job, earning the position in 1936 and carrying it with him most of the rest of his career.

You won't have to look far to see why the Greenbrier Sporting Club's golf course is named 'The Snead.'


Even the respective states get involved.  Both Virginia and West Virginia compete for Snead’s name and legend in the same way.  His contributions to them are undeniable.


So who ‘gets’ Sam Snead’s legacy?  Who can rightfully ‘claim’ him?


Luckily for us, there’s enough of his persona to go around.

The Slammer would certainly have enjoyed the challenge of the 256 yard par three 3rd hole.


That might’ve been the thinking behind naming The Greenbrier Sporting Club’s brand new golf course ‘The Snead,’ in honor of the golfing prodigy who brought fame, fortune and notoriety to this neck-of-the-woods, and left thousands of stories behind in his nearly ninety years on earth.  Snead spent most of his life on the professional golf Tours, but his many trips home seems to have left just as lasting an impression.


“Everybody’s got their own Sam Snead story, even those who didn’t really know him,” said Tom Fazio, The Snead’s course designer.  For Fazio, designing a course to be named after a legend in a place nearly as old as American golf itself was a great honor – and a tremendous responsibility.


“Sam was a very close friend of my Uncle George,” Fazio went on.  “Snead, in one of his books, talks about my uncle being nice to him when he first came out on Tour, and one of his first tournaments was with Uncle George up at Hershey Country Club in Pennsylvania.”

The view from the 14th tee hints at The Snead's beautiful natural gifts.


“My uncle introduced me to Sam when I was a teenager, and over the years – knowing him from the PGA Tour, or seeing him around was quite an honor,” Fazio added.


Even a casual acquaintance with the all-time leader in PGA tournament victories leaves a lasting impression.  This writer’s even got a Sam Snead story, though I only spoke with him briefly and shook his hand.  Things like that you just don’t forget.


But at any rate, the folks at the Greenbrier Sporting Club decided the ultimate honorarium to Snead would be to coin its new golf course after him – which was decided even before Sam passed away two years ago.  It’s the only course I can think of that’s actually named for a player (though there are some with nicknames, such as ‘The King and The Bear,’ or ‘The Slammer and the Squire,’ both at the World Golf Village in Florida).

The downhill tee shot to the par three 8th hole highlights the variety on the course.


Knowing it was to be called ‘The Snead’ didn’t make anybody feel uneasy, either, since just being in these mountains makes you think of the man.  “Somebody asked me – was it strange to put a name like Sam Snead’s on a golf course?” Fazio elaborated.  “I said it wasn’t strange at all, it’s a great honor.  We have ways of, unfortunately, forgetting about some of the old great players, especially when you consider the hype surrounding some of the younger players these days.”


“Players like Sam, Jimmy Demaret, Byron Nelson.  People don’t appreciate just how great those players were, and with Sam Snead’s involvement in this course with his name, it’s a way of remembering the past in a very appropriate way,” said Fazio.


I couldn’t agree more, and so do the people behind the Greenbrier Sporting Club.  Separate from the resort, the Sporting Club caters to local private members and residents of the upscale housing development growing amongst and around The Greenbrier’s links of green (there’s very little intrusion onto The Snead from the houses, at least for now).

Two swans reside in the pond bordering the par four 17th hole. Not a bad place to take up residence.


And according to The Snead’s Head Golf Professional, Robbie Gilmore, the club itself is more than just a golf course:  “Sam Snead was a true sportsman – he loved to hunt and fish as much as he loved playing golf.  And that’s kind of what the Sporting Club’s all about – we’re not just a golf course.  We have a variety of activities going on, such as a 25-foot rock climbing wall, and our fitness center has all the latest equipment.  We also have a Spa with seven treatment rooms, complete food and beverage service, and stables for riding.  You could come here and practically never leave.”


Once you see the clubhouse and play golf at The Snead, you probably won’t want to leave – the club members are fortunate to be there, indeed.  Being associated by name with the Greenbrier’s three fine resort courses is special in itself, but Gilmore says The Snead is unique in its own way.


“We already had three outstanding resort courses here at The Greenbrier, and they all have a personality all their own, even though they occupy much of the same land,” Gilmore expanded on the idea.  “The Snead is unique still, and one of the major differences is the use of the new hybrid bentgrasses on our course.  The greens are A4 bentgrass and they love to be mowed tight.  The newer grasses make the playability of the layout that much more fun.”

Looking from the tee of the 389-yard, par four 7th hole. If you can manage the carry, chances are you'll be alright.


“And the thing I like best about Tom Fazio courses is – from day one, they just look like they’ve been there forever, the way he blends in the bunkers with the topography, and those collection areas around the greens.  We’re the only Fazio designed layout in West Virginia, which is pretty special in itself,” Gilmore added proudly.


As would be expected of Fazio, he’s taken land that once served as a WWII prisoner-of-war camp and shaped it into a golf course that bears no resemblance to blandness and barbed wire.  During and after the war, the property contained an airstrip that brought in visitors and officials until the much larger airport was built nearby to service the Cold War Bunker, constructed underneath the hotel’s West Virginia Wing in the early 60’s.


Fazio says the project was a long time in the making:  “It was about 14 years ago that I first saw the site.  We did some initial planning, and for lots of different reasons the course wasn’t built at that time.  The old landing strip was still there, of course, and it was a bit overgrown at that time.  When the decision was made to move forward, the first thing was to take out the runway.  I’ve done some golf courses on old airport sites before, so we basically took up the airstrip and went from there.”

It's not just a hat on a 150-yard pole -- it's a fitting tribute to the man himself.


As you’ll see from the property, there were many natural gifts to work with – the mountains surrounding the reasonably flat valley below, and some gradual hillsides to provide altitude variety.  About 2/3 of The Snead is on the flat land of the old camp/airstrip, and the balance contains dramatic elevation changes.  Quite a varied trip, altogether.


Gilmore mentioned above the collection areas around the greens.  To have collection areas, you’ll first need elevations in the greens surfaces.  “Because we were in the valley, the greens on the flatter areas are raised up, specifically for flood stages.  Those elevated greens settings also helped us with the other parts of the property where we’re on higher terrain – it was a combination of trying to incorporate all the different environments of the site to create some distinctive variety,” Fazio said.


In addition to the terrain variety, the challenge involved at The Snead is navigating those raised putting surfaces.  Proper placement and distance control on your approach shots is crucial to holding those greens – and if you find yourself going over them, you’re a goner in many situations.

The fairway is 85-feet below the tee on the par five 16th hole. Even if you hit it in the water, you can't help but feel exhilerated.


Short’s no picnic either.  “I think The Snead’s difficulty lies in the ‘false edges’ on the greens,” Gilmore said.  “If you miss it a little bit to a tucked pin, you’re going to run down into the collection areas, where it’s a very difficult up and down, taking into account the slopes on the greens.”


He continues, “You also need to avoid the fairway bunkers at all costs, because they’re really severe.  The average fairway bunker – you hit the ball in 50% of them, and you’re just wedging out.  The fairway widths are generous for the most part, but if you’re in trouble, it’s a penalty in one form or another.”


Fazio’s said his bunkering is the ‘frame’ on the picture.  One thing’s for sure, his framing is always a test, but it’s also nice to look at.

The 566 yard, par five 6th hole provides difficulty and a birdie chance at the same time.


One final note before describing a few of the highlight holes – The Snead has 150-yard markers that you’ll certainly remember.  Instead of a plain pole that you’ll see nearly everywhere, it’s a post with a bronze hat on top – Snead’s ‘signature’ hat that he’s famous for.  It’s a very nice personal touch, which adds yet another layer of uniqueness to the experience (it was Gilmore’s idea).


Highlights on a course like The Snead are, as always, difficult to separate from the others.  The first five holes are on the flat central portion of the property, holes six through eight are across the highway up into the hills, and then nine brings you back to the flats again.  Ten through thirteen are again fairly level, fourteen through sixteen are up, then down, and the finishing two links lead the way back to the clubhouse.


Three is a very intimidating, difficult par three at 256 yards from the ‘Slammer’ tees.  You’re shooting over water most of the way, but there is a wide landing area short of the green.  The day we played it was into the wind, too.  Thanks to modern equipment and golf balls, there was a dry conclusion to the hole.

Big bunkers, big sky and big clubhouse -- The Snead is all about grand scale.


Seven is probably the front nine’s most picturesque hole.  From the back tee there’s a 200+ yard carry to a plateau fairway flanked by bunkers on both sides (but plenty of room to land the ball), leaving a short iron into an extremely undulating green.  Gilmore says this is a birdie hole if you get a good drive, but if you miss your second shot even slightly, bogey might be a satisfactory score.


The back nine’s closing sequence, starting with the fourteenth hole, is nothing short of spectacular, highlighted by a huge drop from the tee of the par five sixteenth hole.  Wow, what a view.  If you hit a solid tee shot, the green’s reachable in two – but there’s a false front to the green – and if you’re short, the ball will roll back quite a ways.


On eighteen, you’ll finish up with a challenging 452 yard par four with a green that slopes front to back, protected by bunkers short and long.  You won’t earn a cheap par on this one – but then again, Sam Snead would’ve wanted a tough challenge to settle the bets at the end of the round.


In that way it’s fitting, but the entirety of The Snead is an appropriate tribute to the man who meant so much to the people of these mountains.  Sam Snead may have come from modest means, but he’s left a legacy that few can match.  Fortunately for us, there’s more than enough of Sam’s legend to go around.


Note:  Check out the Greenbrier Overview link below for a look at The Greenbrier Resort's history and activities.


The Snead at the Greenbrier Sporting Club

One Sporting Club Drive

White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986


Phone:  (304) 647-6440; FAX: (304) 647-6111




Course Designer:  Tom Fazio

Head Golf Professional:  Robbie Gilmore Jr.



Slammer       7025   145/74.9

Masters         6479   135/71.4

Medal            6032   125/69.2      

Meister          5477   115/66.4       124/71.9 (L)

Forward         4953   118/68.3 (L)




Membership inquiries should go to Janet Jarrell, Membership Director.  (304) 647-6405.


Check the website for more information on real estate and the various club amenities/activities.


Note:  The Snead has one of the largest and best practice facilities we’ve ever seen, with authentic looking raised practice greens, short-game practice areas and enough putting green space to practice British Open length putts.

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