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The Greenbrier Sporting Club

Imagine living at the country’s quintessential resort, then throw in exclusive amenities available only to members and you begin to see what all the excitement is about

By: James A. Frank

Appeared in 2012 Fazio Premier Clubs

Everyone who’s ever visited The Greenbrier has wondered what it would be like to live the good life as practiced at “America’s Resort” full time. From golf to high tea, delicious dining to spa treatments and outdoor adventures, how nice would it be to have access to the ultimate in activities and hospitality whenever you want? Very nice, indeed.

That’s part of the appeal of The Greenbrier Sporting Club, a luxurious private residential enclave nestled in the lush and lovely Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia amid the 6,750 acres of the country’s most comfortable National Historic Landmark. “Part of” because while members have total access to the resort’s wide variety of amenities and activities, the Sporting Club has its own attractions available only to those lucky enough—and smart enough—to belong.

In keeping with the traditions of The Greenbrier, the primary lure is golf. Club members have their own course, a Tom Fazio-designed gem that honors the legendary Sam Snead, who was associated with the resort for nearly 70 years: The Members’ Lodge, which serves as clubhouse, dining room, and activity central for the Sporting Club, features a mini-museum of “Slammin’ Sammy” memorabilia. And the course, called The Snead, sits on land rich in its own history, having been, among other things, a large horse farm with racetrack, an airstrip, polo field, the resort’s first skeet and trapshooting club, even a World War II POW camp.

As graceful as its namesake, The Snead glides along the floor of Greenbrier Valley among lakes and streams—water comes into play on all but two of the 18 holes—combining the natural corrugation of the land with manmade enhancements, notably fast, undulating greens and deep, voluminous bunkers. Despite its wide fairways and immaculate conditions, The Snead is much like the man was: tougher than it first appears. Adding to that toughness is the steady wind that blows through Midland Gap, a V-shaped pass in the mountains at the western end of the valley.

The opening holes offer a fast introduction into what to expect during the rest of the round. Numbers 1 and 2, mid-length par fours, have water on the left and strategically placed bunkers on one or both sides of the fairway as well as short of the greens. Number 3 is a virile par three—250 yards from the longest of five available tee boxes—over water to a green book-ended by sand.

All three holes, and most of the other 15, finish at broad, deep greens that play much smaller due to pronounced slopes and angles that must be expertly negotiated to get the ball anywhere near the pin. “The real defense of the golf course are the green complexes, which are very undulating,” says head pro Robbie Gilmore, who has been at The Snead since its opening in 2004. “They have false fronts and false edges, and even good approach shots if they’re not hit just right will roll off the green leaving very severe up-and-downs.”

Severe also describes the bunkers, 90 in all, which often give the unlucky golfer no option other than wedging out. On some holes the sand comes in bunches—the long par-four 5th boasts 10 bunkers, the short par-four 9th has 13—while four holes have but one each, usually guarding the green.

There are eight bunkers on the 6th hole, a confounding par five that isn’t overly long but plays into the prevailing breeze. Six of the sandy hazards sit on the left, pushing the action toward a natural wetland on the right, which extends a long skinny finger that becomes a stream fronting the green. There’s also a large bailout area just over the water: Large, tilting collection areas guard many of the greens, placing a premium on short-game savvy.

Number 6 also kicks off a troika of memorable holes on the far side of Route 60, known as “Sam Snead Boulevard.” The 7th is a nearly drivable par four, its crowned fairway wedged between water and five bunkers, with a long green that slopes like Kate’s Mountain, which looms in the distance. The water-free 8th is a medium-length par three beginning from an elevated tee and ending anywhere on a massively long, tiered green bracketed by collection areas in front and behind.

The back nine is just as wet and nearly as sandy. Howard’s Creek—named after John Howard, who led an exploratory party into the valley in the 1740s—flows into play on the long, curling par-four 14th and remains a factor all the way home. A steep climb leads to the tee of the short par-three 15th, called “Postage Stamp” due to its resemblance to the notorious 8th hole at Scotland’s Royal Troon: a small green set on a ridge and made trickier by the wind.

The tee shot on the par-five 16th drops 85 feet back to the valley, its fairway lined by acres of sand and the creek. Once safely on terra firma, the next few shots must tack side to side to locate the green. The creek, alive with trout, bass, and other potential prey, continues to define the right side of the final two holes, which require flirting with more sand and firing precise approaches to spacious putting surfaces.

Behind the final green is the Members’ Lodge, and next to it the private Sporting Complex, complete with fitness center, squash courts, outdoor infinity pool, outdoor tennis courts, even a climbing wall. Just beyond is the Eastern-inspired spa, Ananda in the Alleghenies, which offers a tempting array of body treatments and salon services.

There are countless other diversions available to members, such as fly-fishing, hunting, rafting, snowshoeing, children’s programs, sporting clays, miles of hiking and biking trails, and an equestrian center with both English and Western riding. Many of these pursuits are available at the club or through the resort, as well as on top of Greenbrier Mountain at the members-only Summit Village, which sits at 3,300 feet: The Summit Activities Barn has basketball and volleyball courts, its own infinity pool, and access to miles of trails that lace through the hills; the charming Summit Lodge offers casual dining, an inviting lounge with pool tables, big-screen TVs, and bar games, plus spectacular views in all directions—including awe-inducing panoramas of the shimmering night sky.

Between mountaintop and valley floor are more than 500 home sites in 15 distinct neighborhoods (land ownership is a prerequisite to Sporting Club membership; sites begin at $300,000, finished homes at $1 million). Elegant houses, designed to complement nature’s beauty, line the hilly ridges that stair-step down the hillsides, most tucked in among the tall trees and natural cul-de-sacs. Every home site has been positioned to offer unparalleled vistas and privacy. Homes feature the latest in furnishings and appliances as well as an understanding of the needs of busy families looking for unhurried time together.

There are also homes closer to the main hotel, around the resort’s three golf courses—The Old White TPC (home of the PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic), The Greenbrier (site of the 1979 Ryder Cup and 1994 Solheim Cup matches), and The Meadows—and with easy access to other local attractions such as the casino and the famous Greenbrier Clinic. (A new health facility, The Greenbrier Medical Institute, specializing in cardiovascular health, plastic surgery, and sports medicine, is scheduled to open in 2013.)

Visitors have been coming to Greenbrier Valley since 1778 to “take the waters” of the natural springs, making the region rich in history. The Greenbrier Sporting Club offers families, sports enthusiasts, and anyone else looking for a luxurious leisure lifestyle the chance to make a little history of their own.

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