West Virginia: Golf at The Greenbrier

The 16th on The Snead Course


“Taking the waters.” It’s a notion that harkens to another time, when the rich and famous went to the country for the restorative effects of the mineral springs found there.

The spirit of modern spas and resorts owes much to these springs, one of the first of which was the one at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where wellness seekers first arrived in 1778.

The sulphur springs still form the backbone for the spa at The Greenbrier, which has grown to become one of the most prestigious golf resorts in the country. Set in the Allegheny Mountains, the 6,500-acre Greenbrier now boasts not only 721 rooms,  but also dozens of activities including horseback riding and cooking classes, and 54 holes, including an 18 designed by one of the founders of golf in the United States.

That layout is the Old White, which opened in 1914. The course was designed by Charles Blair Macdonald, who previously had laid out the historic Chicago Golf Club, the first 18-hole course in the U.S., and the National Golf Links of America on Long Island, the country’s first great course. In 1895 Macdonald was also the winner of the first U.S. Amateur, which at the time held far more importance than the U.S. Open.

Like many of Macdonald’s layouts, Old White features the template holes that he imported from the British Isles, including Redan, Alps and Eden. These holes are timeless classics, testing both course management and execution regardless of whether you are playing with hickory and gutta percha or titanium and polyurethane.

Macdonald’s longtime associate Seth Raynor designed the resorts second course, the Greenbrier, which opened in 1924. After a Jack Nicklaus redesign in 1977, the course hosted the Ryder Cup just two years later. (The third course, called Meadows, was renovated in 1999.)

In addition to hosting many famous golf visitors from Ben Hogan to Arnold Palmer to Dwight Eisenhower, the Greenbrier was the longtime home for Sam Snead, who was the resort’s golf professional. Tom Watson currently holds this position.

But to come to the Greenbrier just for the golf or the waters is to miss out on numerous opportunities for recreation and relaxation. Even hardcore golfers should make time for the resort’s unique amenities. After all how many resorts offer falconry classes or an off-road driving school?

And no resort anywhere has a hazard to compare with the bunker, which was built during the Cold War as a backup facility for the U.S. government and was kept secret and in a state of constant readiness for more than three decades. Since the government ended the lease agreement in 1995, visitors have been able to take tours of the massive underground complex, which was designed to accommodate more than 1,000 government workers, including the entire Congress, in case of a nuclear attack on the nation’s capital.

A tour of this fascinating piece of American history no doubt will give you a new perspective the next time you hit a shot into the sand at Old White or Greenbrier. Compared to the one under the hotel, getting out of a greenside bunker is a cinch.

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