This will be a very special week on the PGA Tour and in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia.
Devastating rain and floods washed away the town of White Sulphur Springs and most of the Greenbrier Resort’s golf courses last year around this time. What was usually a beautiful green valley nestled between the mountains became a muddy torrent of water from Howard Creek, as the water from the 10 inches of rain in the area rolled down the mountain sides and collected in the usually calm creek.
The historical rains forced the cancellation of the Greenbrier Classic last year. After the flood waters subsided, the Greenbrier’s TPC Old White Course a mess. Burt Baine, VP of Golf Operations, and his golf staff were shocked at what they saw. Tons of dirt, silt and debris littered the golf course. The sod was contaminated and grass would not grow back, bunkers were nothing more than exposed drainage systems, and trees were uprooted from the flood.
Today, players will arrive back at the Greenbrier for the re-birth of the Old White Course and this year’s Greenbrier Classic. They will see a golf course, while the layout is for the most part the same as the Charles Blair McDonald design it, that has come a through a year-long renovation and restoration to get it ready just for this event. In many ways, the golf course staff had to start from scratch to rebuild the Old White. Green complexes and bunkers had to be totally be built.
The Old White is truly a gem of a design. Only a few PGA Tour events get played on get played on classic old-school designs such as the Old White. It is not a course which one will overpower. Players must plod and plan their way around this 7200 yard, par 70 layout.
The first unique hole the players comes across is the 3rd…the Biarritz Hole. At 200 yards from the back tee, players will hit anything from a 9 iron to a hybrid/fairway wood on this hole. Why is that? The green measures around 70 yards in depth and features a 4 ½ foot deep gully that runs through the middle of the green. The long slender green is surrounded by bunkers. When the pin is located on the back of the green, players will have to fly their long irons all the way to the back tier to avoid having to putt through the gully.
The other par 3 on the front nine if also one of my favorites. The Redan Hole, modeled after the 15th hole at North Berwick in Scotland. Playing as long as 230 yards to the middle, this green slopes from right to left and from front to back. Players must account for release when figuring out what to hit. A large deep bunker protects the left side, making par a challenge if you find your ball there.
The 13th is a difficult par 4. Running along the base of the mountain, it measures 489 yards from the back tee. Avoiding Howard Creek on the left and finding the fairway is imperative. As you come down the fairway and the green comes into view on the right, you will now realize why they call this the ‘Alps’ hole (modeled after a hole at Prestwick in Scotland). A large mound (would be a dune if you on a links course) guards the front right of the green. Mishit your shot or misclub, you can easily find your ball ‘in the mountainside’ guarding the hole. A slick green that runs from back to front also doesn’t make getting a par here easy either.
Very rarely will a course end on a Par 3, but the Old White does. From the tee, it looks very simple and beautiful. With the clubhouse in the background, the 170-yard hole crosses Howard Creek (not coming into play) and sets built into small hillside. It is the green complex which makes this finisher a challenge. With a pronounced hogback running in a horseshoe shape through the green, you must find the right distance to put your ball on the proper tier. If you don’t, especially when the hole is in the front, you will face a difficult two putt.
Having played this course several times, I am looking forward to its rebirth this week. It is a classic gem that I always find enjoyable to play and worthy of its Top 100 ranking in the US.