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Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on my trip to The Greenbrier last summer (2011).  Today’s post is about my round at The Greenbrier Course, and tomorrow’s post will tell the tale of my trip around The Old White TPC.  Be sure to tune in for The Greenbrier Classic this week!

The Greenbrier Course
August 9, 2011

The forecast said nothing of rain in the final days leading up to the uber-vacation my family and I had been looking forward to all year, but when we checked in to America’s Resort on Monday afternoon, rain suddenly appeared on the weekly printouts for Tuesday morning.  That’s okay; I will play in the pouring rain if I have to.

As I was falling asleep the night before I could hear the rain hitting the window of the old, magnificent hotel and I prayed for it to clear.  Six hours later when my alarm went off, it was still coming down.  I met my brother in the hallway by the elevators at 6:45.  Poor Bob, he is not exactly a night owl but he’s not a morning person either.  The one thing that can get me out of bed without hitting the snooze button is golf; Bob doesn’t even have that one thing.  So when I emailed him in early March about our two tee times at sunrise, he responded, “That’s fine, I can shower the night before.”

We took the shuttle from the front of the hotel down to the golf club near the bottom of the hill.  When we stepped onto the shuttle and told the driver where we wanted to go, he very pleasantly said, “Sure, you might get a round in today.”  Great.

The golf club is open and the lights are on, but there are few signs of life.  We’re beginning to wonder if someone forgot to lock the doors from the night before.  Or if the staff know the forecast and see no reason to come in today.

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 1

That’s Tom Watson on the far right saying, “YOU are too early.”


This gives us plenty of time to get our shoes on, grab a quick breakfast, and tour the mini-museum dedicated to Sam Snead, Tom Watson, the Ryder Cup, the Solheim Cup, and the Greenbrier Classic.  That’s a tough history to beat, and the display throughout the clubhouse is pretty cool.

The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 2

That rug really ties the room together.


The Greenbrier - Pro Shop 3

Mr. Snead’s gear from a little thing called the 1969 Ryder Cup.


Other people start to arrive, both golfers and pro shop staff, and we get an optimistic assessment of the weather at check-in.  The rain should let up at, or before, our tee time.  Our bags are waiting for us outside on the back of a cart when we step onto the veranda overlooking the 18th green of Old White.  It’s still raining hard enough to make people run to and from their destinations, and the thick fog takes away what would normally be a beautiful view of crisscrossing holes and the mountains of West Virginia.

Only one man is brave enough to stand in one place unsheltered from the cold morning rain: our caddie, who at this moment is wondering what two fools would want to play this early on such a miserable morning.  That would be us, and we venture down the steps to introduce ourselves.  I ask him if he wants to wait inside to dry off while we head to the driving range, but he says “nonsense,” and down the hill we go.  As soon as we pull up to the empty practice tee, the rain stops and the fog lifts.  I am not making this up.  I actually felt guilty about the crazy timing and wondered if I had used up all my good luck on this one round.  I’ll have to make it count.

As it turns out, we weren’t the only ones who wanted to tee off as early as possible in order to enjoy other resort activities in the afternoon, and we meet the rest of our foursome on No. 1 tee: a father and son duo from Texas.

The first hole is a 402-yard par 4, relatively straight but for several large trees on the left side of the fairway that make it a dogleg left.  The fairway runs slightly downhill before leveling off past a bunker on the right hand side near the landing area.  The large green is guarded by two bunkers, one left and one on the front right.

As usual I’m overly excited to be playing a top-tier course (a Ryder Cup / Nicklaus redesign no less) and I hook my tee shot into the left rough behind one of the big trees.  Bob finds the fairway with ease.  Not bad for his third round of the year.

My lie in the rough is fine but I have no shot at the green, so I hit a low hook around the biggest tree in front of me and leave the ball maybe 15 yards short of the right bunker.   From there I chip to about four feet.  Bob’s second shot is not as pretty as his first.  He slices a 6 iron well right of the green and down a little hill behind another large tree.  The caddie hands him his pitching wedge (Bob doesn’t have a sand wedge), he takes two practice swings, shrugs his shoulders in indifference, and takes a massive flop swing.  His ball clears the last branch of the tree, lands on the green, and rolls twenty feet before banging off the pin and dropping for birdie.

An unbelievable start for someone who’s been playing with his set of clubs for exactly seven minutes.

Long story short: I won a set of brand new Burner 2.0s a month ago; but I just bought my own new set of Titleists in the spring; Bob’s clubs are fake Pings from 1995; I took pity on him; I handed him the still-shrink-wrapped clubs the day before in the Greenbrier parking lot; his first swing ever with the pitching wedge finds the bottom of the cup.

Our new friends from Texas probably don’t know what to think, especially since Bob and I teed off using the same driver.

Another long story short.  Okay, other than the brand new set of Burners (pitching wedge through 4 iron) in Bob’s bag, the contents are as follows: my original Big Bertha Warbird with a graphite shaft, a persimmon Accuform 3 wood, the 3 iron from his fake Ping set, and a replica of the mallet putter the Bear used at Augusta in ’86.  It’s actually quite hilarious and perfect for someone who has more talent than desire for the game.  I believe that if he truly wanted – and if he found the time – he could be a scratch golfer, but he’s talented enough to play once every four years and still break 90 with ease.  And he’s happy with that.  The reason he’s sharing my driver on most holes is because I’m convinced the shaft on the Warbird is ready to snap and kill someone, and I’d prefer it not happen here at The Greenbrier.

By the way, I missed my four-foot par putt.  Already one-down.

The second hole is on the other side of the street and at the base of a steep and well wooded mountain.  The trees and slope run all along the left side of the hole, while water comes into play off the right side of the fairway.  The 388-yard par 4 is a bit of a double-breaker.  The fairway doglegs left around the trees but then narrows and curves back to the right the last 90 yards or so, toward the green and around the pond.  It appears to be the course’s signature hole, and I don’t disagree.

Bob pushes his drive a little right toward the water but manages to stay dry.  I yank mine left again but find only the primary cut of rough and have an open look at the green.  Bob’s ball is sitting up in the rough, but after some consultation with Zack he determines that the safest play is toward the left side of the green where there is less water to carry.  No reason to go straight for the pin, which today is on the back right edge.  In typical Bob fashion, however, he unintentionally pushes his 8 iron dangerously well right of his target, over the pond, over the front bunker, and just onto the green, giving himself a makeable 12-foot putt for birdie.  I smile and shake my head wondering if that was one of the clubs he had a chance to hit on the range, or if THAT was his first swing with it.  He now seems embarrassed.

Even though I have less water to carry than Mr. Playmaker over there, I play it safe and aim for the middle of the green with my 8 iron.  Two putts and a par.  Bob’s attempt at back-to-back birdies burns the right edge.  He settles for a birdie-par start.

By the time we get to No. 3, the fog is beginning to lift and we can make out the beautiful surroundings.  The resort is right in the middle of some of the most picturesque mountains in the land, and sure enough I take some pictures.

The Greenbrier Course - 2

Looking north toward No. 2 green and the pond.


From the blues, or “Sam Snead” tees, the third hole is a 462-yard par 5, not very long but uphill all the way and extremely tight between the trees.  The fairway narrows 150 yards out from the green and doglegs sharply left to a tiny, elevated green tucked behind two traps and overhanging trees.  We both find the fairway with the Diablo.  Neither one of us can reach the green in two, so on the advice of our caddie I lay up with a 3 iron to give myself a nice pitch to the back left pin.  I place it perfectly in the center of the narrow fairway, 40 yards short of the bunkers.  From there I find the middle of the left-to-right sloped green, and two putt for par.

The Greenbrier Course - 3

No. 3.
I love morning golf.


Bob finds trouble.  After also laying up, he smokes his third shot over the back of the green into the woods.  It takes us a few minutes to find his ball in the brush, and when we do it’s resting next to a rock.  He takes an unplayable, barely advances a few feet toward the green, and then picks up.  He absolutely hates making people wait and our partners are not the most patient golfers in the world.  I am a major proponent of speedy play and “ready golf” but these two gentlemen are a little too anxious even for me.  I encouraged him to go ahead and finish, but it was no use.  Ah well.

After we let a single play through on the par 3 fourth hole (he was one guy in a cart – seriously we weren’t playing slowly!) I make a dumb bogey and Bob adds another double.

No. 5 is a really pretty par 5.  The hole is in the shape of a crescent, a smooth left-to-right turn from tee to green, and you can almost see all 527 yards of it as the tee box is set high above the fairway below.  There are no fairway bunkers, but trees, out-of-bounds, and train tracks all border the left side.  The two-tiered green is well protected with bunkers on every side.  Inspired by the view, I take a deep breath and unload on my drive.  I make great contact, but draw it a little too much and into the left rough again.

The Greenbrier Course - 5

No. 5.


When we get to the ball we find it in the deep rough but propped up rather nicely – perfect for the hybrid, a club that I’m not completely convinced is “legal.”  Sure enough, with a nice and easy swing the (supposedly) USGA-approved club cuts right through the tall grass and sends the ProV1 flying directly at my target.

I swear I didn’t even take the time to aim.  The club just read my mind.

A perfect 9 iron to 15 feet, a lip out for birdie, and a tap in for par.  I am officially very pleased with myself for being only 2 over after five holes on this historic championship golf course.  So you can imagine my state of mind after bogeying No. 6, and then hitting my 3 iron dead right into a pine tree off the tee on No. 7.

The 194-yard par 3, though long, should not be too difficult to play.  It’s downhill all the way and the green is very large with bunkers in all four corners.  But after practically hitting my tee shot off the hosel, it ends up at the base of a tree near the bottom of the slope.  In the interest of time I decide to go ahead and swing away at my ball, twice, before getting it back into play.  Still left with about 70 yards to the pin on the far right side of the green, I somehow hit the front left portion and leave myself at least a 60-footer.

I finally stumble off the green with a triple-bogey six and a great round in tatters.  Sadly, Bob isn’t faring much better as he matches my triple and precedes it with a double on No. 6.  The wheels are coming off fast for both of us.

Perhaps this is the reason why our friends from Texas suddenly announce their intention to split up our foursome and go on ahead without us.  The father and son duo are here with their much larger families and they’ve mentioned more than a few times that activities scheduled for the early afternoon may make it difficult for them to complete a full 18 holes.  Something about a 1:00pm falconry appointment.

This explains their somewhat impatient manner all morning, and while Bob and I have been enjoying the experience of walking and playing with a caddie, the Texans have been riding in a cart.  If they break off now, they just might make it.  We shake hands, wish them good fortune, and wait for them to clear the horizon on the eighth hole.

The Greenbrier Course - 8

No. 8.
Farewell, ye men from Texas.


As nice as they were, I have no problem letting them go.  It’s now just me, my brother, and a great caddie on one of the nicest damn courses I’m likely to play for some time.  And since we purposely pre-scheduled nothing before 2:00pm during our stay, we can relax and play at our own pace (which I still contend is “solid to brisk”).

This immediately leads to a solid par on No. 8 and an absolutely perfectly struck 5 iron to three feet on the 180-yard par 3 ninth hole.  Birdieing the final hole on the front enables me to salvage a 41; not bad with a triple on No. 7.  Coming back to Earth following his birdie-par start, Bob finished with a respectable 47.

The back nine starts with a short, dogleg right, 326-yard par 4.  With plenty of room to the left of the fairway, the out-of-bounds is very close on the right hand side.  A wide creek cuts across the hole directly in front of the green moving right-to-left away from the golfer.  The green complex rises up slightly, and is well guarded with one bunker in front and two off the back.  I’ll bet this was an awesome hole to watch during the 1979 Ryder Cup.

My caddie recommends using something less than a driver, and with my hybrid I find the middle of the fairway with exactly 100 yards left to the green.  Misjudging the amount of room behind the pin on the right side, I hit my gap wedge through the back of the green and a few feet into the rough.  From there I nearly chip in from 25 feet for birdie, and take the tap-in par.

As we walk behind the back of the green and over to the eleventh tee we can see several holes of the new Sam Snead Course, which looks insanely pristine and practically untouched.  In fact, it’s a members-only course for those in the Greenbrier Sporting Club and, judging by the number of golfers we see…it’s quite possible no members are in the area today.  Hmm, remind me to pick up a membership application form in the pro shop.

The Greenbrier Course - View of Sam Snead Course

View of Sam Snead Course and those gorgeous mountains.
Obviously, they blocked off a window of tee times so that my brother and I wouldn’t be disturbed
over here on The Greenbrier. We greatly appreciated this.


The eleventh hole on the far corner of the course is a 145-yard par 3, back over the same wide creek that cuts across No. 10 – this time from left-to-right away from the golfer – with one giant bunker in front of the green.  The green itself is wide, but has a back-to-front slope that should be receptive to shots.  I hit my 8 iron a little thin, but manage to catch the back left corner of the putting surface, giving myself a long 45-footer for birdie.  The first 42 feet of my journey to the cup are great, but the final three require two putts.  That would be my fourth miss under four feet today.

The Greenbrier Course - 11

No. 11.


I bogey the par 5 twelfth hole, but come right back and make a great par on the thirteenth.  My ball finds the fairway bunker off the tee, and with 150 yards left to the hole I hit a perfect 7 iron to about 15 feet.  Too bad my putting isn’t as solid as my long-range bunker shots.  My birdie putt never had a chance.

The next hole is the shortest par 4 on the course at 305 yards.  It is gradually uphill and rifle straight, but because the tees are back and to the right of the fairway, it feels like a dogleg right.  Trees line both sides of the hole, and one large bunker takes up the final 100 yards of the left side.  Another bunker guards the front right of the green, protecting it from any big hitters who think they can just run it up the middle of the fairway.  I am no architectural expert but this hole strikes me as brilliant.

There is no reason for me to hit driver and bring the left bunker into play, so I pull out the 3 wood and hit another perfect draw to the center of the fairway.  “A-1 position,” according to my caddie.  Unfortunately I follow it with a “D-6″ sand wedge to a tiny piece of grass between the green-side bunker and the fringe.  A chip, another miss under four feet, and a miserable bogey…

…followed by a three-putt bogey on no. 15.  Sigh.

The Greenbrier Course - 14

No. 14.
Bob ready to unload on his ball. I wish he’d ‘unload’ that hat.


On a typical day at the golf course this sort of poor execution would be driving me nuts and ruining my mood, and likely the moods of everyone else around me.  It helps to be playing with my brother who couldn’t care less about his round (which is a good thing and the reason I haven’t been writing about it on the back nine) and a caddie who is relentless in his pep talks.  With three holes to go, it is he who reminds me that with a strong finish I can still shoot a 39.  And with two pars and a birdie (18 is a par 5), I can tell my Jeep Off-Roading instructor – our late afternoon activity – that I shot an even 80.

He won’t care, of course, but I can still tell him.

This locker room speech, however, ends up having more of an effect on Bob than it does me.  The par 4 sixteenth hole is just under 400 yards and returns to the same pond that gives No. 2 its signature look.  The fairway is crowded by overhanging trees on the right creating a dogleg right off the tee, while the second shot must carry the pond to a green that is tucked back and to the right.  One lone bunker guards the left front of the green, giving the golfer nowhere to bail out on the approach.  My errant tee shot into the right trees forces me to punch out to the fairway.  Bob on the other hand hits his best drive of the day and has no more than 130 yards left to the green.  He hits a beautiful 9 iron to 12 feet and comes up two inches short of making his birdie.  Nice par.  Bogey for me.

The tee box for the par 3 seventeenth hole is behind the sixteenth green and right up against the trees blocking the road.  At 144 yards and perfectly flat, the hole is not terribly treacherous – but for the OB left, the narrow two-tiered green with long bunkers on either side, and the last bit of the signature pond coming into play along the right and in front of the green.  No problem at all.

Bob steps up and fires a shot right at the pin that hits hard and bounds off the back of the green into the rough.  Coming off bogey I decide I have nothing to lose and also fire right at the pin on the upper tier with my 8 iron.  The moment I made contact I knew it was my best iron shot of the day.  Drawing ever so beautifully over the water and onto the middle of the green, the ball bounces up the right side and stops about 12 feet from the cup.

The Greenbrier Course - 17

No. 17.
Indeed I am posing.


With his ball about 20 feet over the green, down a slight embankment, and under some low hanging pines Bob nearly pulls off the same miracle shot he had on No. 1.  Forced to hit a low punch-chip to avoid the branches, his ball hits the side of the hill, pops straight up in the air, lands on the green, and runs right over the cup.  He’s left with a six-footer that he rams home for back-to-back pars.  Ho hum.

Caddie Zach gives me a great read on my birdie putt: left edge, uphill, “give it some pace.”  I set up over the ball, take one more look at the hole, see the line perfectly, glance back at the ball, start the club back, pause, and stroke the putter through the ball.  I look up and immediately realize it doesn’t have enough.  My ball runs out of gas less than two inches from the hole.  I can feel the light mist on my face off the fountain in the pond, and consider jumping in head first.

The final hole is back across the street and a straight shot toward the clubhouse.  It is the longest hole on the course at 537 yards, tree-lined, and very narrow.  Nothing flashy about the finishing hole on this great course, except the oddity of sharing one giant green complex with the eighteenth hole on The Meadows Course.

Both courses finish in front of the resort’s outdoor swimming pool, which was recently renovated to include an infinity edge.  And like any pool with an infinity edge, 4 out of every 5 people in the water at any given time end up hanging out on that end of the pool with their arms resting on the edge.  If you were standing on the green and didn’t know there was a swimming pool there, you might find it peculiar to see 15 people with wet heads staring at you from behind a white wall.  Fortunately for all of them they were treated to two ho-hum bogies from Bob and me.

The Greenbrier Course - 18

No. 18.
Aw yeah.


An 83 for me and a 94 for Bob.  I suppose I can’t be too upset with an 83 on this course, but I played so much better than my score would indicate.  I had one disaster hole – a triple on No. 7 – and a total of 36 putts, missing six under four feet.  That sort of thing can wear you down.

Bob was simply happy to be heading to lunch.

We thanked Zach for being such a great caddie and asked him what the policy was on requesting him for our round at Old White the next day.  He said he’d be happy to join us but that the pro shop handles all such requests.  So off to the clubhouse we go, and who do we bump into in the locker room?  The Texans, who finished all of eight minutes before us.


Tomorrow in this space, be sure to read my epic post about our round the following day at The Old White TPC.



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