Tag Archives: Charles Blair Macdonald
Editor’s Note: This is part two of a two-part series on playing golf at The Greenbrier last summer. Yesterday’s post was on The Greenbrier Course. Today we see how I fared on The Old White TPC, now home to The Greenbrier Classic.
The Old White TPC
August 10, 2011
There is no doubt about the forecast this morning: today is going to be a beautiful day in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. The previous evening, my family and I enjoyed dinner at Slammin’ Sammy’s, which is located above the pro shop and overlooks the eighteenth green of The Old White TPC. The Sam Snead memorabilia in that room is simply amazing, and the food was as smooth as the man’s famous swing. It was this combination of perfect morning and over-doing-it dining from the previous evening that prompted my brother and me to eschew the luxury of the shuttle and brave the ten-minute walk down to the clubhouse.
As was the case yesterday, we are the first ones off on either course, but we see no need to arrive at the pro shop as early as we did the day before. Instead of requesting a rendezvous at the elevators at 6:45 – for an 8:10 tee time – I let Bob sleep in until 7:00. Hey, I’m a nice brother.
And yet we still manage to arrive before anyone else. Seemingly. I mean the lights are on, the doors are unlocked, the coffee pot in the locker room is humming. But where is everybody? I swear I’ve seen a Star Trek episode like this before…
Not two minutes later a friendly attendant appears and offers to find our golf shoes for us. When he places two pairs of shoes on the table, we both do double-takes. Uh, these shoes resemble what was left here after our round yesterday, but there must be some mistake. You see, these shoes have all their spikes intact and there are zero mud stains. The laces match, too!
We sheepishly grab our shoes, generously tip the man for his astounding work, and head around the corner to our lockers. Sitting on the edge of his bench, Bob starts laughing. He can see his reflection in his perfectly-buffed black wingtips.
A few minutes later we are back on the veranda enjoying our coffees and the view of the mountains beyond the eighteenth green of The Old White. The final round of The Greenbrier Classic was just ten days before, and several grandstands are still under various stages of disassemble…ment. Honestly, I’m amazed at how great the course looks when the area right in front of us, on the previous Sunday, probably resembled Union Station on the Fourth of July.
I spot our caddie from the day before, and do a slow fist pump. You can request a particular caddy in the pro shop ahead of time, but they cannot guarantee his availability. Zach expertly navigated us around The Greenbrier Course yesterday and Bob and I are happy to have him join us again. Plus, I’m psyched to already have an established player-caddie relationship with someone before even stepping to the first tee of the great *The* Old White TPC. You know, I feel like we had something special going during those final holes on The Greenbrier Course. I’m sure he feels the same way…
*(I think I should always use the “The” before The Old White TPC.)*
The pro shop door behind us pops open, and we hear, “Good morning, fellas.” The father and (grown) son duo we paired up with yesterday are back for more, and after about 2o minutes warming up on the driving range we all meet up on the first tee.
I won’t even bother trying to describe the first hole, other than to say that it’s a par 4. Oh yes, and it’s awesome. I split the fairway off the tee – as I envisioned myself doing repeatedly in the six months leading up to this visit – and take a deep breath before picking up my tee. I hand Bob my Diablo driver (be sure to read the previous post for an explanation) and watch as he launches his ball about 15 yards past mine. The Texans fire away as well, and the round has begun.
As we walk down the numerous steps next to the tee and across the bridge over Howard’s Creek toward the opening fairway, I’m excited about having the chance to measure my game against the pros who walked these very paths only a few days ago. I have no doubt it will be a kick in the face. Still, to play a course that is specifically set up for the big guys, and to putt on greens that are as perfect as a regular PGA Tour stop needs them to be, will be a pretty cool experience.
Unfortunately, this little walk in the clouds once again has me in the worst mindset possible before playing a course of this caliber. So I quickly snap out of it (right after taking another picture of the clubhouse from the fairway).
Once you reach the fairway the rest of the hole – and much of the course – is overwhelming flat. The fairway curves slightly to the right to a narrow green, guarded by two bunkers on either side, and one cross bunker about 10 yards short of the green in the left middle of the fairway. This is a relatively harmless introduction to what the golfer will come to view as a penal design feature throughout the course today.
On nearly every hole at Old White, indeed on most shots, narrow rectangular bunkers with raised backstops are cutting into and across the fairway. Most are angled at 45 degrees, with some pointing in and with the hole, and others cutting back and toward the golfer on the tee. From above, some holes look like patterns on climbing walls. I’m sure that’s exactly what Mr. Charles Blair Macdonald had in mind when he designed the course back in 1914.
Zach informs me that I’m 197 yards from the pin nestled on the front left portion of the green, and hands me my 3 iron. I make remarkably good contact for a long iron this early in the morning, but it draws too much and stops, pin high, in the patch of rough between the bunker and the green. The rough here is not of the typical “resort-style” variety: short, thin, fluffy, forgiving. This is some gnarly stuff. Having said that, I am pleased with myself in the first two seconds immediately following my chip shot. But once the ball stops bouncing, the speed of the green becomes apparent, and down past the hole it goes, stopping a mere inch from the front fringe. I give the 12-footer for par a run for its money, but miss on the right edge. Eh, an acceptable bogey.
No. 2 is a 415-yard par 4 with another tee shot over Howard’s Creek, although this time the water truly comes into play off the drive. The tee box is set to the right of the perfectly straight fairway, creating a left-to-right shot. Running down the center of the fairway is a subtle “spine” that can create some havoc with an imprecise tee ball. My caddie tells me the best approach is a fade over the water to the right side of the spine, where the ball should kick forward into the optimum position to attack the green. I ask him if he’s been carrying someone else’s bag the last 19 holes (in fact he has…my brother’s!) and proceed to hit a draw that ends up on the far left side of the fairway. Bob, and both our partners, end up hitting tee balls into various spaces between the left trees.
We find Bob’s ball only a few feet into the rough, but under a tree and still about 200 yards from the green. He punches out safely to the middle of the fairway, about 10 yards shy of a bunker in front of the green. We spend the next several minutes searching for golf balls, belonging to our partners, in a section of deep, brown rough between the second and tenth holes. Once located, I jog over to get ready for my second shot.
With 176 yards to the green, Zach recommends the 5 iron. There are three bunkers surrounding the narrow green, which has a strong right-to-left tilt and a large collection area to the lower left. I once again hit a weak draw that barely avoids the bunker in front and bounces into this large valley of short grass.
From here, the right play is to pitch my ball into the face of the slope and get it to check up on the upper tier near the back left pin. The plan is flawless; the execution less so. My ball makes it to the very edge of the ridge, stops, and then rolls all the way back to the edge of the green. Three putts lead to a double-bogey six.
Bob bogeys to take the one-up lead.
The third hole is a long par 3 at 205 yards, and it has the most memorable green I think I’ve ever played. The narrow putting surface is 64 yards long and maybe 15 yards wide, with four bunkers bordering the sides. The unique feature, however, is a five-foot swale running right across the middle, which from the tee looks like two greens back-to-back. I’ve never seen anything like it and, until the massive restoration of the course in 2006, golfers at the Greenbrier hadn’t seen it for decades either. I’m told the design feature was a Macdonald original, but had disappeared over time with course changes here and there. Pretty bold thing to “restore” if you ask me.
Today the pin is on the back portion and I decide the hybrid is the right club to get me all the way home. Still frustrated with my three-putt double on the previous hole, I absolutely crush my tee ball through the back of the green and off the right edge. Ending up about 10 yards deep, I’m forced to attempt the always enjoyable chip over flat land to an elevated green without rolling it over the other side. My first attempt makes it to the upslope. My second attempt makes it to the fringe. My twenty-foot putt burns the edge. My tap in for double-bogey makes me mad.
(One of my favorite websites is GolfClubAtlas.com, a fantastic place to spend your time if golf architecture is your thing. The editors, who are experts in their field, visited The Old White TPC recently, and I highly recommend reading their hole-by-hole essay and viewing their professional pictures. You’ll understand if I didn’t snap a pic of the green after my double.)
Turning west, the par 4 fourth hole provides another stunning view of the mountains. I step up to the tee on this perfectly straight hole and hit a line drive into the right trees, which kindly spit my ball out into the first bunker. The lie is not great and the lip of the bunker interferes with any real chance to chip away at the nearly 200 yards left to the green. But that doesn’t stop me from pulling out a 5 iron and hitting it directly into said lip, where the ball pops straight up and advances all of six yards into the thick rough. A really good caddy can keep a straight face after a golfer rejects his recommendation and proceeds to execute the exact error he was advising against. In this case, a 9 iron was offered to get back in play, but I knew better and requested the 5. Zach has a tremendous poker face.
The rest of the hole gets pretty ugly. My next shot out of the rough finds the fairway again, but still has me about 50 yards short of the green. I fly the green completely with my sand wedge, chip on, and two-putt from 15 feet. That would be a triple-bogey 7 on a 396-yard par 4 that is one of easier holes on the course.
Four holes. Eight over. Just once I’d like to make it through the front nine on a great course without taking myself completely out of it. Even worse, I’ve apparently driven away half our group again. The Texans, as they did yesterday after six holes, decided they were not moving fast enough to make their afternoon family activity, and forged ahead without us. This time, however, they didn’t even have the courtesy to wait for Bob and me to putt out on No. 4 before teeing off on the next hole. They apparently did said goodbye to our caddie, and took off.
Hey. Great playing with you. Fellas.
To be honest, we don’t take it personally. We’re not here to break any land speed records, and we have nothing on the schedule for the afternoon. If they do, they should make every effort to get back to their families in time. I’m just glad we no longer have to see, in our peripheral vision, two guys checking their watches every time we line up a putt. I don’t know about you but I came here to enjoy myself.
Bob has the honor – now 3-up after his bogey on No. 4 – and, once our former teammates clear the fairway, he hits a great drive up the right side of the hole. I quickly follow with my own solid drive down the middle and well past the lone bunker on the right. This is the shortest par 4 on the entire course at 320 yards. Today the blue tees are back a little and the entire hole is on a slow, uphill climb. A tiny creek runs along the front of the green, one bunker guards the right, and several large cone-shaped mounds dot the left side. They look like grassy huts, and the closest one actually blocks a clear view of the left side of the putting surface. The pin is dead center, and with my crushed drive I have no more than 78 yards left. Having nothing to lose, I aim at the cup and come darn close to hitting in on the fly. The ball lands a few feet left of the hole, and checks up about 12 feet away.
Five minutes later I drain it for birdie, and wonder where hell that came from. I laugh and tip my cap sarcastically to the nonexistent gallery. Whether the Texans were making me nervous or there’s never a bad time for a birdie, I suddenly remembered how to play this game again. The next four holes I put together a bogey-par-bogey-par run that helps me finish the front nine with a not-terribly-embarrassing 43. (Not one of those holes is a pushover!)
Now, there are no par 5s on the front and par is 34, but I’ll still take a 43 after the double-double-triple stretch out of the gate. Bob also fired a 43, but his ride through the front nine was considerably less bumpy.
Naturally, I quickly start the back nine with two bogies, which will happen when you miss the large, inviting fairways on Nos. 10 and 11. The good news is that we’ve finally reached a refreshment stand behind the eleventh green, and we are starving. And what’s the absolute best thing to have at 10:15 in the morning? That’s right: a foot-long hotdog. Which is exactly what Bob orders without flinching. I love it.
No. 12 is the first par 5 on the course. It is 549 yards long and makes a slow right hand turn around the mountain, which is quite steep and looming on that side. Another signature bunker is strategically located on the right side of the landing area with a large tree just beyond this area on the left. An intimidating tee shot, to be sure, and although I make a great swing with the Diablo, the ball won’t draw and ends up in the rough to the right of the bunker. Bob hits his ball way left. I’m sure Zach appreciates our zigzagging off the tee.
My lie is once again terrible in the thick rough, but this time I heed my caddie’s advice and hack out with an 8 iron to the middle of the fairway. Still 245 yards away from the green I must decide whether to lay up or attempt to fly a narrow creek that snakes diagonally across the fairway from right to left. There is a patch of fairway beyond the creek that will leave you anywhere between 40 and 100 yards to the green, depending upon where you decide to carry the water.
I’m suddenly feeling overconfident again – for no good reason – and decide to swing as hard as I can with my 3 wood directly at the green. The ball easily flies the creek but lands in the right rough, 40 yards shy of the green. A weak chip to the left edge of the green leads to a miserable three-putt double-bogey.
And with that, I can kiss any chance of breaking 80 today goodbye. Ah well.
Strangely, I’ve noticed that once I tell myself I have nothing left in the tank, I very often will immediately turn around and execute a perfect hole. This occurs on No. 13, a longish 415-yarder, where, after a perfect drive and perfect 6 iron to 16 feet, I burn the edge for birdie. So frustrating, but perhaps a sign that not all is lost.
The fourteenth hole turns south, away from the closest mountain, and it is here that I suddenly decide that I could not care less about my mediocre round of golf. There really isn’t a bad view from any part of this course, but this particular spot gives you a wide open view of mountains in every direction. The first 80+ yards of this par 4 is lined with tall trees along the left, where a 100-yard-long bunker awaits along that side of the fairway. On the other side of the fairway is another one of those perpendicular bunkers cutting in from the right rough and halfway across the middle of the fairway – exactly where well-struck tee shots are expected to land – before the hole doglegs left toward the green.
On the advice of counsel, I select a 3 wood, aim down the middle of the fairway, and make a nice and easy swing. I hit it perfectly and the ball draws all of 10 feet to land right in the middle of the narrowest patch of fairway between the two large bunkers. Unfortunately, laying back off this tee will necessitate hitting a much longer iron into a green that is angled from right to left and over two large bunkers in front. The farther one drives his tee shot up the right side of the fairway – and over the bunker – the better his angle will be into this tough green.
With 186 yards left, I need to hit all of a perfect 4 iron to get to the back middle pin placement. A gust of wind – or fatigue (or simple weakness) – leaves my great approach shot about 5 feet short of the green. This is nothing to worry about because it allows me to play one of my favorite shots: the hard pitch into the green where the ball flies 80 percent of the way to the pin, bounces twice, and checks up and rolls a few more feet. The Vokey is great for pulling off this shot but it can only be done (by me, at least) from a perfect fairway lie. Amazingly, I produce the exact shot I just explained but leave myself about 8 feet. I miss my par attempt on the low side and tap in for bogey.
I bogey the beautiful par 3 fifteenth hole, which includes a shot over the southernmost portion of Howard’s Creek to a green guarded by two deep bunkers in front. This is followed by a pretty nice scrambling par on the par 4 sixteenth. By missing the green short again I was quickly given another chance to pull off my favorite pitch shot, and this time I didn’t disappoint. The ball not only checked up, it bounced six feet past the hole and sucked back to within four inches of the cup.
I’ve still got it, my friends. To the final two holes we go.
No. 17 is only the second par 5 on the course, and relatively straight for most of its 541 yards. Howard’s Creek again comes into play off the tee along the right side of the hole, although this is far more of an issue for the pros playing in The Greenbrier Classic, as their tee is another 75 yards behind the blues and back across the creek near No. 16 green.
Wanting to finish strong, I step up to the tee with my Diablo and take several practices swings to find the right tempo. Moments later I hit a solid drive right up the middle that appears to clear the first fairway bunker on the left. Bob almost comes out of his shoes, and launches an unbelievable drive well past my ball and very close to the second fairway bunker on the right, nearly 300 yards away! Get this man another hotdog!
My ball did clear the bunker, but not enough to reach the fairway on the other side of the mound. With about 290 yards to go and a poor lie in the thick rough, I punch my second shot up the fairway with a 6 iron, carefully avoiding the last several Macdonald-signature bunkers on the course.
When we finally get to Bob’s drive, Zach explains to him that with a solid 3 wood he can easily reach the green in two. Seeing no reason to hesitate – the only trouble ahead is sand – Bob concurs and reaches out his hand. Zach smiles and hands him my 3 wood, the brand new Diablo, not his own, the persimmon Accuform from 1984. He laughs and takes the club. Getting one last tip on where all the bunkers are located near the green, Bob takes one practice swing with a club he’s never held before in his life, steps up to the ball, and hits it on the screws. The ball takes off like a rocket and never leaves the flagstick.
Unfortunately, he didn’t quite have the right distance. It rolled over the back of the green! But while his power is impressive, his lack of playing time shows around the greens, and it takes him three to get up and down from the back edge. I match his par with a nice 9 iron to 15 feet and two putts. I wave to the empty grandstands along the left side of the hole and behind the green. I imagine the applause to be polite but brief.
The final hole at The Old White is a seemingly straightforward and simple par 3. It’s 140 yards, there’s a big green to hit, a creek running across the front – the presence of which is nothing more than a scenic addition to the awesome vista – and four bunkers surrounding the edges of the green. The hard part is focusing on what’s in front of you, and not the view of the distant mountain range, or the faces pressed up against the glass of the clubhouse to the left. I can only imagine what it’s like to step up to this tee box during The Greenbrier Classic, when all the grandstands are set up around the perimeter of the hole allowing several hundred patrons to breath down your neck on your final swing.
The other hard part is the three-foot hump right in the middle of the green, which punctuates the two-tiered putting surface. Today the pin is in on the back (upper) tier, just left of and behind the hump. Finally finding a groove with two pars in a row, I aim for the flagstick and hit a perfect 8 iron right over the top of the hump and to within 12 feet for birdie. Bob steps up and plants his tee ball in the front right bunker.
We make our way across the bridge and up to the green. Bob heads toward his ball in the bunker while I stroll across the putting surface, enjoying every last ounce of my nice shot on the home hole before finally throwing a mark behind my ball. Bob takes a few practice swings and then blasts through the sand sending his ball high into the air.
It lands on the very top of the hump… and stays there.
I do a double-take. Zach laughs. Three guys on the veranda above the green start clapping. A maintenance man, who had stopped his work on the adjacent bunker out of deference to Bob, said, “I’ve worked here for 2o years and I’ve never seen a ball stay on top of that thing!” Bob smiles broadly and waves to the crowd. Unbelievable.
On the way to the green Zach says, “I’m afraid I can’t give you a read on that putt. I’ve never seen a ball there before.” Then he added, “I do know it will be fast.”
And it was. Bob barely tapped it and it ran off the slope about 15 feet past the hole. He was 8 feet when he started. Luckily most of the people watching from the clubhouse above had left the scene before he completed his three-putt. That’s okay, Bob wrote himself into the Greenbrier history books with his gravity-defying bunker shot.
I left the course on a high note as well. Leaving my birdie putt on the left edge meant a par-par-par finish. My overall score of 85 is nothing to be pleased about, but finishing strong always helps to smooth out the rough edges of a disappointing round. I’ll take it.
And with that our two days of golf at America’s Resort have concluded. I can’t say enough about this place. Many years ago I was lucky enough to play both courses – and what was then Lakeside, now The Meadows – when I was just a kid. To return as an adult and to play with a true appreciation for the history of each course, the incredible conditioning, the peaceful surroundings, the southern hospitality, etc., made the return visit simply unforgettable.
Do yourself a favor and go play some golf at The Greenbrier.