Clifford Roberts, the major domo of Augusta National Golf Club was to spend a few days in the summer of 1968 at Grandfather Golf & Country Club in Linville, North Carolina, bringing along a discerning eye, irascible nature and, the staff suspected, impossible demands. “Everyone was quivering and quaking, scared to death about his visit,” remembers Hugh Morton, one of the club’s developers.
On the final day of the visit, Morton had lunch with Roberts. “Hugh, most mountain golf courses aren’t worth a damn,” Roberts said. “But this is the best one I’ve seen.”
High praise from people with rigid standards would become the norm for this summertime paradise at 3,500 feet, under the peaks of Grandfather Mountain (so named because early settlers saw in them a bearded man looking toward the sky) in the Blue Ridge Mountains. At forefront of the golf community, Grandfather was the brainchild of Agnes Morton Woodruff, who won four Carolinas Women’s Amateur titles from 1948–58.
The county’s one golf course, Linville Golf Club, had become so popular that tee times in the prime mid-morning slots were difficult to come by. “I was sitting around with a couple of friends and said, ‘You know, it’s about time I built my own golf course,’” says Agnes. “It was getting too crowded. I was kind of joking. But then I got to thinking about it.”
Designed by Ellis Maples, the course opened in September 1967. What makes the course work is that it’s routed mostly in a valley beneath the spires of Grandfather. While there are crests and glens throughout, the mountain is more around you than under you. Streams and ponds are hazardous on many holes, and native boulders crop out from the bentgrass fairways here and there.
Two of the best choices are the 8th and 18th. No. 8 is a short par 4, uphill to the green with a spectacular view of Grandfather Mountain and the famous “Mile-High Swinging Bridge.” The home hole is a long par 4 with a peninsula green surrounded on three sides by one of seven lakes built around the clubhouse.The Carolinas Golf Association held its 1999 Carolinas-Virginia Team Matches at Grandfather at the invitation of Dick Hix, the Carolinas captain and a longtime Grandfather member. Crisp October weather, a kaleidoscope of color on the mountains, fast greens and good competition made for a memorable weekend for two dozen top amateurs.
“You can’t beat the ambiance at Grandfather,” says CGA Director Jack Nance. “It was one of the better matches we’ve had in that series. It’s a special place. Driving through the gates and around the lake to the clubhouse puts you in another world.”
The club has done a couple of renovation projects over the years, one engineered by Ellis’ son Dan in the late 1980s to restore the green dimensions and another in the late 1990s, under David Graham’s supervision, to rebuild the bunkers.
“Dad’s courses are like Donald Ross courses,” says Maples. “The fundamentals are so good, all you need to do is minor tweaking.”
As for Roberts, he joined the club in the early 1970s and bought into a 24-unit, lakeside condominium village. When he learned his unit was going to be numbered 24, Roberts “requested” that the unfinished units be renumbered so that his was No. 1. Wish granted. Roberts, incidentally, abhorred uphill par 3s, and upon finding one on the 5th hole of an executive course built at Grandfather in the mid-1970s, he told Morton he wanted to see no more of the course.
“He never again set foot on that executive course,” says Morton, accepting that you cannot win them all.
Year founded: 1967
Architect: Ellis Maples