Greenbrier Resort's Greenbrier Course - Taking One for the Team(s)

By Jeffrey A. Rendall; Photos By Kevin Gaydosh

 

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, WV – There’s little doubt, in contemporary times, professional golf’s team competitions have taken on lofty meanings – and almost by default, the venues they’re contested at earn legendary reputations.

 

The Ryder Cup for men, and the Solheim Cup for women, have become larger than life for participants and fans alike.  The players crave being on the teams -- perhaps it’s the chance to represent their country, perhaps it’s because it’s America vs. the ‘Mother’ continent in Europe, or maybe it’s because they’re playing for something other than an individual trophy and another fat check to pad your personal bank account that gets the contestants all riled up.




The 305 yard 14th hole is The Greenbrier Course's shortest par four -- but if you try to get close to the green off the tee, watch out.

 

Whatever the reason, when talking about these events, you’d better have a golf course worthy of the competition’s stature.  When the cards are on the table, you can’t have a ‘weak’ draw deciding the outcome.

 

Fortunately, the Greenbrier Course at The Greenbrier Resort met the challenge – in fact, the layout accomplished it so well, it’s the only course in the world to have hosted both the Ryder and Solheim Cups.  The folks at the PGA and LPGA of America must’ve thought pretty highly of the layout to grace it twice, not leaving out The Greenbrier Hotel itself.

 

The fact the Greenbrier Course is open to the public makes it all the more special (most of the famous Ryder Cup venues are private).  Robert Harris, The Greenbrier’s Director of Golf, says that’s what he wants guests who play the course to leave with – the significance of pitting their skills against some of golf’s best team performers who once did the same, over the same set of holes.




Looking across towards the par four 2nd hole. It doesn't take fountains in a lake to appreciate the beautiful surroundings -- but it doesn't hurt, either.

 

“I think it’s pretty significant, when you think about it, that we’ve hosted the most important team competitions on both the men’s and women’s Tours,” Harris said.  “Our guests and members who play it – they’ll know they’ve been challenged by the same holes that Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Tom Kite, Sevi Ballesteros and Nick Faldo faced in 1979.  They’re also the same ones that great women players took on, like Patty Sheehan, Meg Mallon (2004 Women’s US Open Champion), Laura Davies and Annika Sorenstam did in 1994.”

 

“There’s some great golf talent who’ve played The Greenbrier Course under intense pressure, and when you visit, you’ve got the same opportunity to step out on that tee and see how your game stacks up,” Harris added.

 

This writer’s talent wouldn’t compare to any of those aforementioned players, but it was fun to take the plunge, all the same.  When you’re touring the course for the first time, you’ll certainly admire the aesthetic beauty of the setting, but you also can’t help but wonder if you’ve got a putt or two that might’ve been instrumental in one of the matches.




There's not a lot to shoot at on the par three 11th hole, but at 176 yards, you probably won't miss by too much.

 

And for those die-hard Yanks amongst us, we’re darn proud that the home team won both competitions – which makes playing the course almost like a victory lap.

 

Even beyond the Cups, there’s an interesting history to The Greenbrier Course.  Originally designed by Seth Raynor, it opened in 1924, the second of the grand resort’s 18-hole championship golf courses.  Old White was first in 1913, taking the name of the original hotel on the property – so The Greenbrier Course took on the aura of the ‘new’ hotel and resort.  The golf courses, though only about a decade apart, were a tribute to the old and the new.

 

Then, during the late fifties and early sixties, the building of The Greenbrier Resort’s Cold War Bunker brought some changes to the Greenbrier Golf Course, too.  Architect Dick Wilson was expanding the Lakeside Course (now the Meadows Course) to eighteen holes at the time – so he ‘borrowed’ some of the Greenbrier Course’s holes to do it.  As a result, five new holes were added to The Greenbrier Course, providing a bit of new flavor and elevation changes to the layout.




The par three 4th hole is one of the 'new' 60's vintage holes on The Greenbrier Course. It's an uphill challenge.

 

Most recently, in the mid-seventies, it was decided that The Greenbrier Course needed some modifications to prepare it for the upcoming Ryder Cup matches, so Jack Nicklaus (as an architect) was hired to add elements that would challenge the game’s best players.  A nice way of saying -- he added some teeth to the monster.

 

Harris elaborates:  “When Nicklaus came in, he didn’t change the original routing, but instead redid the green complexes to build in more demanding shots.  He basically took out the Raynor pitch and run approach options and installed target golf – now you’ve got to work the ball in there to get close to those pins.”

 

“More than that, the greens were re-shaped to include championship pin positions, essentially putting ‘mini’ greens within the larger greens.  That really helps us with variety on the course, because we can still set some tough pins if we need to,” Harris said.




The longest par four on the course at 456 yards, the 6th hole seems like it goes on forever.

 

Noted golf course designers Jay Morrish and Bob Cupp were working for Nicklaus in the late seventies, and they were the project architects on The Greenbrier Course renovation.  Just a couple extra names to drop in social situations, in case you’re ever asked what fashionable designers’ courses you’ve played.

 

Because of its history and evolution, The Greenbrier Course plays a bit differently than its resort siblings.  It’s a more difficult test, but you won’t necessarily notice that fact until you add up your scores.

 

Harris describes it:  “The Greenbrier Course is a tournament course.  The low handicapper can go out there and test himself and not be brutalized – it won’t be easy, but you still feel like you’ve had a chance.  It’s not so sharp and edgy that balls are ricocheting off of huge mounds or steep angles… the turf is lush and soft, so go do it.  Very people break their handicap on it, but you feel like you’ve had your opportunities.”




You'll finish the front nine with a par three that features many of those 'mini' greens Robert Harris was talking about.

 

In that sense, the course sneaks up on you a bit.  As most challenging courses do, it’ll lull you to sleep on most of the tee shots, but bite you when you get close to the hole.

 

“It has five par fives, it’s easy to walk, there are no tricks to it – no blind shots, no hidden hazards, everything’s right in front of you.  It’s got enough short holes, too – so with the par fives, scoring chances will be there.  And the greens are dramatic but not severe.  You certainly can three-putt there, but it’s not like some modern courses I’ve played where it seems you’re pre-destined to three-putt every green,” Harris said.

 

Pretty accurate, Harris’s summation.  The course’s conditioning and set-up also add some difficulty that you won’t get at non-tournament type layouts.  Because of those ‘mini’ greens, a few of the pins were darn near inaccessible without pinpoint accurate approach shots.  A good example was the fifteenth hole, named ‘Biarritz.’  The day we played, the pin was set at the bottom of the large swale that divides the green – if you shape your shot into it, the ball would feed towards the hole.  But if you’re on either side’s plateau, you’ve got a downhill/sidehill sloping putt that requires incredible touch to leave a surefire tap-in par.




There's 554 yards of lush turf between you and the finish on the par five 18th hole.

 

The greens are large, but if you’re on the wrong sides, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

 

Something else you might not account for at first glance is the rough (which is true on all the Greenbrier’s golf courses).  The fairways are wide in most spots, and even the rough buffer will provide some added security against your golf ball finding the forest.  But if you’re in that stuff, in most cases you’re only advancing it a fraction of the yardage you’re able to do in the short grass.

 

“The rough here gets pretty full,” Harris added.  “This valley, it gets inversions, so on a typical summer morning, it’s foggy.  The weather gives it that ‘old world’ feel, but it also keeps everything very lush, year-round.  It may thin-out a bit in the fall, but when you come here, expect the grass to be growing strong.”




Work the ball in on the par four 15th hole. You'll need to place your drive off the tee, then hit it dead-on for the approach, too.

 

So strong, it makes the courses play much longer than their listed yardages.  From the back tees, The Greenbrier Course plays at just under 6,700 yards.  But unless you’re hitting the ball pretty straight, tack on several hundred more – because distance is what you’re adding every time you’re hitting out of that stuff.

 

A final note before looking at a few of the highlight holes, is The Greenbrier’s practice facility.  Your daily greens fee includes range privileges all day long – so if you want to iron out that flaw in your draw swing, you’ve got practically all day to do it.  Vijay Singh could live and thrive here very easily.

 

The range itself offers natural grass tees (when conditions permit), target greens, and short-game areas, including sand bunkers.  Practice all the shots, then head back out on one of the courses (the daily greens fee is also good all day on all three courses, where you’ll only need to pay a $35 cart fee to play another round).  The Greenbrier is the perfect place for the golf addict – play and practice ‘til you drop, then come back after you’ve recouped at the Greenbrier Spa.




The par three 17th hole is named 'Short.' At 160 yards, it is, but you still won't get off easy if you're not accurate.

 

Highlights on The Greenbrier Course include the 2nd hole (403 yard par four), named ‘Cape,’ due to its perched green on the edge of a lake with a fountain.  This is the hole you’ll see on the advertisements, and after seeing it, you’ll understand why.

 

The most interesting stretch on the front nine is holes six through eight, which begins with a tough, 456 yard, uphill par four, then a challenging 211 yard, downhill par three and concludes with a risk-reward, 490 yard par five.  It’s a nice mix of holes – a power hole, then sort of an in-between hole, then a finesse hole, all in the span of three links.

 

On the back nine, you’ll remember ten and eleven because of their approach shots over the river bordered by rock walls.  Very picturesque, very Greenbrier.




The Greenbrier's practice range is spacious and attractively landscaped -- makes it someplace you want to be.

 

The inward nine’s most noteworthy stretch is a trio of par fours that’ll test you in similar ways to the front nine’s group mentioned above.  Fourteen is called ‘Sahara,’ because of the large bunkers guarding the approach to the green.  Here’s your chance to drive the green on a short par four (305 yards and uphill), but the target’s pretty small, and the penalties for missing can be severe.  Come see if your short game can buy you a birdie, or save par should you gamble and miss.

 

Fifteen’s the tough par four with the previously mentioned green.  Sixteen, according to Harris, is where all the Ryder Cup action took place, where most of the matches ended.  It features a dramatic downhill tee shot with plenty of room to drive it, but then there’s a treacherous mid to short-iron over water into the green.

 

Harris said they’re certainly going to try and attract important professional competitions to The Greenbrier Course in the future, though they’ll probably have to stretch it out to beyond 7,000 yards to do so.  There’s no question the playing strategy for hosting such competitions is already built in, so a new tee here and there might do the trick.

 

If it happens, maybe even the teams will come back – and what an appropriate place to have them return.


Details:

The Greenbrier Course at The Greenbrier

300 West Main St.

White Sulphur Springs, WV 24986

           

Phone:  (800) 453-4858; FAX: (304) 536-7872

 

Website:  www.greenbrier.com

 

Course Designers:  Seth Raynor and Jack Nicklaus

Director of Golf:  Robert Harris

Head Golf Professional:  Hill Herrick, Jr.

 

Tees/Yardage/Slope/Rating

Gold    6675   135/73.1

Blue    6377   134/71.7      

White  6008   121/69.0       136/75.3 (L)

Red     5095   120/70.3 (L)

 

Rates

 

$180 per day for all three Greenbrier Resort courses, includes golf cart.  Replays available for an additional $35 for cart fee.  Greens fee is good for the whole day, on all courses.

 

Walking is allowed anytime, with a $35 credit for the golf cart.

 

Caddies are available.  No pull carts.

 

Fees include unlimited range privileges, all day after paying fee.

 

Several packages available including golf, meals and accommodations at The Greenbrier.  Consult the website for more information.

 

Fees include a complimentary locker, club cleaning, bag storage and transportation.


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E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor:
jrendall@golftheunitedstates.com