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Golf Course Review - The Greenbrier (Old White TPC)

FACTS AND STATS: Course 06, restoration), PGA Tour Design along with McDonald and Sons (2010-11). Year Opened: April 1914. Location: White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Slope: 141. Rating: 75.7. Par: 70. Yardage: 7,274.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 449 Yds 10 - Par 4 385 Yds

2 - Par 4 488 Yds 11 - Par 4 493 Yds

3 - Par 3 205 Yds 12 - Par 5 568 Yds

4 - Par 4 427 Yds 13 - Par 4 492 Yds

5 - Par 4 388 Yds 14 - Par 4 401 Yds

6 - Par 4 471 Yds 15 - Par 3 217 Yds

7 - Par 4 430 Yds 16 - Par 4 444 Yds

8 - Par 3 234 Yds 17 - Par 5 616 Yds

9 - Par 4 404 Yds 18 - Par 3 162 Yds

Par 34 3,496 Yds Par 36 3,778 Yds

Key Events Held: The Greenbrier Classic (2010-present).

Awards Won: Ranked #1 by Golfweek - Best Courses You Can Play in WV (2011), #5 by Golf Digest - Best in State Rankings in West Virginia (2011), Ranked #3 by Golfweek - Best Public Access Course in WV (2010), Ranked #7 by Golf Digest - World's 50 Best Golf Hotels (2010), AAA Five Diamond Award (1976-2012).

Golf Professional Emeritus: Sam Snead (1994-2002 - Head Professional in 1936), Tom Watson (2005-present).

Course Record: 59 (Stuart Appleby, 2010).

Website: www.greenbrier.com

HISTORY: Although the course was built in the early 1900s, The Greenbrier really dates back to the late 1700s, as many a traveler made the trek from far and wide after hearing about the amazing healing and medicinal waters of the sulphur springs.

Communities were springing up in and around the region and by the mid 1800s, the Grand Central Hotel was built. Commonly known as the Old White Hotel, it stood on the grounds from 1858 to 1922.

For the not-so-paltry sum at the time of $150,000, the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Railway purchased the property in 1910 and began to transform the land into a world-class resort.

Soon after, famed architect Charles Blair Macdonald, along with Seth Raynor were brought in to design the first golf course at The Greenbrier.

Macdonald, the first winner of the U.S. Amateur Championship by a record 12 & 11 over Charles Sands, began designing courses, including Chicago Golf Club, Yale Golf Course and, what some believe his finest, the National Golf Links of America.

How important was Macdonald to the game of golf, legendary journalist Bernard Darwin referred to Macdonald as the "first great American golf course architect."

With plenty of fanfare, the Old White, named after the hotel, opened in 1914, as none other than President Woodrow Wilson was not only the first president, but one of the first golfers to play the course.

Macdonald crafted the layout in homage to some of the great holes and venues in European golf, such as North Berwick, Prestwick and St. Andrew's. The original course was laid out to a par of 70 and stretched to 6,395 yards, pretty long for its time.

By the mid-30s, dignitaries galore were coming in droves to The Greenbrier. In all, 26 presidents and thousands of celebrities have descended upon the shamrock fairways and rejuvenated their spirits over the years.

During this time, Sam Snead was signed on as the head golf professional. Snead, who passed away in 2002, was said to have made his final hole-in-one on the Old White's 18th hole in 1995. In addition, Snead also carded a 59 at the course, albeit in a non-tournament setting. He served as head professional for 40 years and was Golf Professional Emeritus from 1994 until the day he died.

During World War II, the U.S. Army purchased The Greenbrier from C&O for $3 million, using the hotel as a hospital, as soldiers were able to recuperate. Following the war in 1946, the government sold the property back to C&O for the same price.

The years of weather took its toll on the Old White and in 2001 Lester George was brought in for a revitalization and restoration of the course, a project that took five years. George reinstated many of the original design features of Macdonald and lengthened the course to over 6,800 yards.

In some eyes, The Greenbrier had slipped in stature over the years and in 2009 West Virginia native Jim Justice purchased the resort from CSX (formerly C&O Railway), a resort which it had owned for 99 years.

Justice was dedicated to bringing The Greenbrier back to world-class prominence. Not only did Justice create a whole new atmosphere around the resort, he began construction of a casino, shops and restaurants to re-establish The Greenbrier back to its elite status.

Another part of his plan was to coerce the PGA Tour to bring an event to the hollowed grounds of the Old White, and so it came to pass that The Greenbrier Classic would be part of the PGA's schedule.

Although history for the Greenbrier Classic dates back to just 2010, the inaugural tournament was an epic event.

Stuart Appleby stormed back from seven shots behind thanks to a remarkable 59 on the final day to defeat Jeff Overton by one shot. In doing so, Appleby became just the fifth player in PGA Tour history to reach golf's magic number and he was the first player to accomplish the feat on a par-70 layout.

The victory enabled the Australian to snap a four-year winless drought for his ninth tour title.

After parring the opening hole, Appleby recorded eight consecutive 3s for a front-nine 28. He made his only eagle of the tournament at the par-five 12th, hitting his 237-yard second shot to within 12 feet and holing the putt. That moved him to 19-under for the tournament -- and eight-under for the round -- for a share of the lead with Overton.

Following three straight pars, Appleby birdied No. 16 from 14 feet, moving a step closer. Then he laid up from a bunker to 100 yards at the par-five 17th, the perfect distance for a sand wedge shot. He knocked it to 10 feet and converted the birdie to move one shot ahead. At the par-three 18th, Appleby knocked his tee shot 11 feet from the cup and then holed the putt for his miracle 59.

"We spend so much time trying to have rounds like this," commented Appleby after the round. "Forget whether it's a 50 something, you're just trying to have rounds where you're scaring the hole. And when you do and they drop, it's a pleasant feeling. You just never seem to get enough of them."

The numbers at the inaugural event were quite low and players were critical of the layout, so the PGA Tour Design team, along with McDonald and Sons, came in after the event to make several changes. Nine new tee boxes, bunker work and the reseeding of the bent grass greens to name a few.

For the 2011 tournament, the course was lengthened 243 yards to combat some of the easy scoring conditions from the previous season. Current Golf Professional Emertis Tom Watson was full of comments prior to the event.

"First, there's not going to be any 59s shot," he said.

"I went out and saw the greens, and the greens are a lot firmer," he added. "They are like this (knocking on wood table). The ball is not going to stop. It's going to take a lot of skill to get the ball close to the flag positions on these greens. It's like playing the links greens where they really are hard and they release. The ball really releases, with every club in your bag. It's going to be a tough go this year with getting your eyes close to the hole."

It worked, as the winning score was 12 shots higher, as not one player carded four rounds in the 60s, compared to 46 the preceding year.

Watson continued, "The difficulty in this golf course for a guy like me is that the fairways are really soft. They are not running. And the greens are really hard and you have a big difference in transition to land the ball on the front edge and really release."

Trailing by as many as five shots during the final round, Scott Stallings birdied the final hole from four feet, one of six birdies on the final nine to force a playoff with Bob Estes and Bill Haas. The trio completed regulation at 10-under-par 270, as they headed back to the 18th.

After all three players found the green on the first extra hole, Haas was first to putt. Haas, who closed with a three-under 67, had 23 feet for birdie, but he two-putted for par. Estes, who was the first to 10-under thanks to his six-under 64 and a birdie on the 18th in regulation, ran his 12-foot birdie putt past the hole and then tapped in for par, leaving the heroics to Stallings.

Stallings' tee shot was in nearly the same spot he was in regulation. And like that putt, he drained the seven-foot birdie effort in the playoff for his first career win.

The fact that Stallings was in the hunt for the title was truly remarkable, as he posted four bogeys on the front nine without a birdie. In contrast, his back nine started with three straight birdies and five of the first seven. His lone blemish was a bogey on the easy 17th after knocking his tee shot in the water.

"The Greenbrier has been absolutely incredible," Stallings said. "The fans, volunteers, everybody that came and put the tournament together has been absolutely phenomenal. One of the best, if not 'the' best tournament on Tour."

The Old White course became part of the TPC network of courses in 2011.

"We are thrilled to add this legendary layout to the TPC Network and look forward to continuing The Greenbrier's tradition for superb golf, remarkable amenities and personalized service," said David Pillsbury, PGA Tour Golf Course Properties President and EVP.

"I am confident The Old White TPC will regain its position as one of the most iconic golf layouts in the world and help restore The Greenbrier to its original glory as one of the most exclusive resorts on the globe," Justice added.

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole is a picturesque view of the surrounding mountains, as you stand upon the elevated tee. A slight dogleg to the right, the fairway is devoid of sand, but trees stand guard on either side. Despite its length of 449 yards from the gold markers, three metal should suffice due to the elevation change to the fairway. A medium to short iron should remain to a fairly simple green that slopes from back to front. Bunkers on either side of the putting surface could make for a difficult up and down.

A new tee has been added to the second hole, turning this relatively simple par four into a 488-yard monster. From the back marker, the hole actually plays to a slight bend to the right. Over 300 yards to reach the bunker on the right, the real difficulty here is the length, as you'll be left with a long iron or fairway metal into a well-guarded green. Although just 32 paces in depth, the putting surface is very undulated and slick.

The problem on the third is not hitting the green, as it's the longest on the course at 64 paces. It will be two-putting for par. Aptly nicknamed Biarritz for its design, this par three features several deep bunkers on either side of the surface, so if you happen to miss the green, you virtually have no shot at saving par. With the size of the green, you might need a three metal off the tee if the pin is back left. Although I'm not a big fan of this style of design, it's slope is not as severe as others around the country, so you'll have a fighting chance. Do not take the third lightly, even though it rates as the 17th-easiest hole on the course. During the 2011 Greenbrier Classic, this hole played to a stroke average of 3.107, ranking eighth for the week.

The fourth hole is all about position off the tee. Avoid the U-shaped bunker down the right and the deep fairway bunker on the left 50 yards further out and you're almost home free. A step down from driver should be the play; however, if you can blast your drive over 250 yards in the air, then bombs away and all you'll have to contend with is the thick rough lining the fairway. The landing area at the 150-yard mark is less than 20 paces, so choose wisely off the tee. Your approach to the green with a medium iron needs to be precise, as the green is just 30 paces in depth and slopes hard from back to front and to the right. Any shot above the pin will have little or no chance of staying on the green and forget about two-putting.

A new tee on the fifth now lengthens this par four to 388 yards. Not a big deal by any stretch, but it plays uphill with a pair of angled crossing bunkers in the fairway at the 240-yard mark. Your approach to the green will need to carry a burn, just a few paces from the putting surface. Mounding to the left will repel any shot off-line, while a deep bunker right will capture additional errant shots. The green is fairly benign, but missing long could end up out of bounds if you're not careful.

It comes as little surprise that the sixth hole is one of the most difficult on the course. In fact, on the scorecard, it's rated the No. 1 handicapped hole on Old White. During the 2011 PGA event, it scored to a 4.174 average rating fourth for the week. The second-longest par four on the front nine at 471 yards, it features an undulating fairway that runs down and toward the left with a deep bunker that protrudes into the landing area. Your approach will be slightly uphill to a mid-sized green that's protected on the left by two deep bunkers that sit well below the surface. A back-left pin can be scary, so play toward the center, stay below the hole, two-putt and move on.

At 430 yards, the seventh is fairly simple, but it still requires accuracy off the tee, as sand, which is strategically placed on both sides of the fairway, needs to be avoided. The real challenge comes with your approach, as the putting surface is 42 paces in depth, so get out your SkyCaddie and get a precise yardage. Your depth perception will be challenged by the fairway bunkers near the green, so be careful. The putting surface is long and narrow with traps on either side. So what started out as a simple par four ended up being quite difficult.

The longest par three on the course, the eighth, is a wonderfully crafted hole with a beautiful mountain backdrop. The key to making par or better is making sure you don't cut off more that you can chew. The putting surface is quite large and swings sharply from right to left, so a sweeping draw should get the job done, as long as you play toward the center of the green. Any shot attacking the flag will finish long and left of the green. In addition, any tee ball short and left will end up in a Sahara-type bunker, filled with sand moguls and mounding, 10 feet below the surface. The eighth is a perfect example of a redan style hole, one of which Macdonald frequently used in his designs.

With an undulating fairway that tilts to the left, you'll be wise to play down the right side on the ninth. Just 404 yards from the back tees, a three metal is the best play, as your tee ball will bound down the fairway for a few extra yards. Not only is the left side of the landing area the flattest spot, it also gives the player the best angle to attack the green. A short iron should be enough to pin hunt, but be wary of the deep trap left of the green. The putting surface, elevated from the left side, is long and fairly flat and does not run with the exacting speed of the previous surfaces, but still requires careful thought. A real birdie chance, as evident from the 2011 Greenbrier Classic, as it proved to be one of the easiest holes on the course.

The back nine starts out with the shortest par four on the course and just one of two under 400 yards. At 385 yards, the 10th is aptly nicknamed, Principal's Nose. To fully appreciate its moniker, one would need an aerial view of the hole to realize its meaning. The best play here would be down the right side, avoiding the large fairway bunker on the left and playing short of the "Nose." Just a short pitch will remain to a green that slopes away and to the right. With a tee shot in the left or center fairway, your view to the green will be partially blocked and can be most difficult to stop on this canted green. It's one of the few birdie chances on the back side.

Originally, the 11th played as a medium-length par four, easily reached in regulation. Over the years, new tees have been added, included the most recent that stretches this behemoth to 493 yards. Two bunkers frame the fairway on this dogleg left on either side. Play down the right with a draw to give yourself the best chance of getting home. Don't be deceived by the bunker short of the green, as it stands 30 yards short of the putting surface. Listen to your caddie or trust your range finder, otherwise, you'll end up short of the green. A ridge in the center will provide little resistance to your stroke, allowing for an easier chance to save par. During tournament week, only 32 birdies were made out of 460 rounds.

The first par five on the course rings in at the 12th. It's a sweeping dogleg right, 568-yarder with thick trees and rough down the entire right side. A large, 15-yard wide bunker guards the corner of the dogleg, and although a blast of 260 yards will clear the obstacle, don't try this from the back tee, as you'll lose the fight. It certainly is possible to get home in two if successful off the tee, but you must now clear a stream that runs diagonally across the fairway and take enough club to reach the elevated putting surface. It would be easier and safer to play down the left side of the fairway with a medium to long iron and leaving 125 yards for your approach. Remember to take an extra stick, as the green is raised and an enormous bunker lays in waiting on the left side. No question, it's a birdie-fest.

If you thought the 11th was difficult, the 13th is no slouch, either. New tees have been added to grow this monster to 492 yards, as it swings to the right. Trees and deep rough, which sit above the fairway to the right are a no-no if you want to make par. The left portion of the landing area is the play. Although it will leave a longer approach, you'll have a clear shot to the green, while the right side will be hindered by a mound on the right. The green is one of the quickest on the course as it runs hard from back to front. Miss long and you'll be hard-pressed to keep your chip on the putting surface. The final round of the 2011 event produced only four birdies in 75 attempts.

Another realistic birdie chance presents itself on the short, dogleg left 14th. There are two options of thought here: lay up short of the extremely wide fairway bunker with a long iron, or crack a three metal or more over the trouble. Either way, you'll be left with a downhill approach to a fairly long green, guarded on both sides with deep bunkers. A couple words of caution. Tug your tee ball to the far left and a snake-shaped, 80-yard trap will swallow you whole, so be alert and do not miss the green to the right, as any shot wide of the target will bound down a hill, well below the putting surface. Other than that, piece of cake.

Par threes are generally rated as the easiest on the course, rarely producing any difficulty. This is certainly not the case at the 15th. It's not overly long at 215 yards, but is completely exposed to the elements. The stream that dissects the green and the tee area should not come into play, but the bunkers front and rear will. The putting surface is of average size, but is quite quick from back to front. This hole proved to be the hardest on the Old White during the final round of the 2011 Greenbrier Classic.

And you thought Swan Lake was a ballet. Not at the Greenbrier. It's the body of water that must be cleared in order to gain entrance to the 16th green. With additional teeing grounds added in recent years, this former pushover is now 444 yards long. Take an aggressive line and you'll be left with a short iron, not so easy when the wind is blowing. Your other option is to play over the left side of the water and now you have a 200-yard approach over the corner of the left, greenside bunker. Regardless, you'll be hard-pressed to make par at the "Cape."

The 17th and 18th holes on the Old White are one of the easiest finishing duos in tournament golf. The numbers don't lie, as the par-five 17th played to a scoring average of 4.735 and the short 18th at 2.972, finishing with 166 and 100 birdies, respectively.

The par-five 17th, although the longest hole on the course at 616 yards thanks to another new tee, is all about placement. Several fairway bunkers are strategically placed down both sides of the short grass, just enough to give you angst. Avoiding the trough-like trap off the tee down the left is key. From the back tee, it will be difficult to reach, but for the mortals who don't play from the tournament buttons, it is in range. Laying up to a likeable yardage will require a medium iron, so don't be greedy. You can make birdie the old-fashioned way. With your wedge approach, you'll have to negotiate one of the smaller greens on the course, just 30 paces in length with some undulation. If I can, you can.

Certainly not the norm, the Old White finishes with a short par three. You'll be hard-pressed to name some of the higher profile courses that have this feature. Westchester Country Club (West Course), Pasatiempo Golf Club, The Homestead (Cascades Course) and East Lake Country Club (site of the Tour Championship) are the most notable.

Playing slightly uphill, a short iron should be plenty of club to reach the green, but be careful, as a deep ridge dissects the putting surface and when the pin is up top, you'll need to be spot on to reach the right level. Deep bunkers around the green see plenty of action. What a wonderful finishing hole, especially with the crowd of resort guests looking on. Who can forget Stallings' back-to-back birdies on the closing hole, first in regulation and then in the playoff to win for the first time.

FINAL WORD: It's always fun to play a historic golf course that some of the greatest players of all time have graced its fairways. This is certainly the case with The Old White TPC at The Greenbrier.

Let's start with the conditioning and difficulty of the layout. When Mr. Justice and the PGA Tour agreed to host an annual event, they knew that the persnickety and spoiled players would only play a venue that was up to their standards.

Lester George had just spent over four years restoring the Old White to its original glory, so now it was up to the PGA Tour to tweak the venue even further.

Boy, did it.

The scores at the Greenbrier Classic in year one averaged 68.536, with a whopping 362 rounds of par or better. In 2011, with new tees added and firmer greens, 70.593 was the norm and just 231 rounds of par or better.

Lush conditions, slick greens and thick rough can do that to anyone's scorecard.

Although the course is tournament tough, The Old White TPC is a venue for all levels.

Why?

Just look at the five sets of tees, ranging from 5,019 yards to the 7,200-plus tournament markers. That's what makes a course great. So everyone can enjoy it.

In addition to the wonderful golf, The Greenbrier is a world-class resort with every amenity possible. For goodness sake, presidents have stayed here.

Speaking of presidents. Most of today's youth know little about American history, and The Greenbrier was certainly an enormous component of the Cold War.

Suffice to say, the U.S. government, planned by the Eisenhower Administration, commissioned The Greenbrier to build a top secret relocation facility for Congress in the event of nuclear fallout. Affectionately known as "The Bunker," it was built in conjunction with the addition of the West Virginia Wing of the hotel.

It took over three years to complete the project and, once developed, it included a power plant that would provide enough power for 1,100 people for up to 40 days, a communications briefing room, an in-depth security system, 18 dormitories, which slept 60 each, a full clinic, which included a full staff of doctors and nurses, and a cafeteria that could feed 400 people at once.

Three entrances into the facility were protected by massive doors of steel and concrete, able to withstand a modest nuclear blast and prevent radioactive fallout from entering.

Incredibly, the secret of the facility was kept quiet from the public for more than 30 years until 1992, when the Washington Post broke the story.

Today, The Bunker is open to the public for tours and is worth every minute of time spent away from the golf course.

Additionally, the resort features a full-fledged casino, complete with blackjack, poker, baccarat, craps and, of course, plenty of slot action.

How classy is this adult entertainment? The men need to wear a sport coat after 7 p.m. just to get in.

There is the usual outdoor activities for the family - horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, hunting, boating, tennis, paintball and rafting to name a few, not to mention a 40,000-square-foot spa. But it's the golf on the four courses that brings everyone to this regal resort.

The Meadows, The Greenbrier, which hosted the 1979 Ryder Cup and The Solheim Cup in 1994, and The Snead Course, which is open to private residents only, take a slight backseat to the main component at The Greenbrier, The Old White TPC.

Now part of the PGA Tour's TPC package of great golf courses, Old White represents all of the wonderful things that make a layout such as this, a great one. It's first class all the way from top to bottom, so it's no wonder why the resort has been named a five Diamond Resort by AAA for 35 straight years, and counting!

This is what legends are made from.

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.