As great as the first couple days of my trip were, Saturday was really the highlight day in terms of playing some top-ranked courses in the region.
I had left the Orioles game a little early on Friday night in order to drive and stay the night in Harrisonburg, VA. Originally, the courses I played Saturday were not part of this trip, but I already had the tickets for the game based on a previous route plan. Still, I did what I could to make things work and squeeze these ones in because they were both high on my wish list. In the end, things worked out nicely, even if I was pretty exhausted.
I drove the rest of the way early Saturday morning and into West Virginia to play the most well-known of all the courses I visited on this trip…
The Greenbrier (The Old White TPC) • White Sulphur Springs, WV • 8/15/15
In my mind, I always figured I’d save West Virginia so I could do a stay and play at The Greenbrier and play all the courses along with the ones at The Omni Homestead across the river in Virginia. However, I decided to go ahead and just play Old White as the main course here that is the most famous and highly ranked at the resort. It’s where they hold the PGA event each year and it’s a place with a lot of history.
In the small lot outside the Golf Club, spots are named for the past winners of the tournament, so I chose to park in Angel Cabrera’s. The place was extremely quiet first thing in the morning and it was very foggy out, which added some mystique to the setting. I did a quick drive by of the famous hotel façade, which is pretty awe-inspiring in person. I went back later and took a picture in the daylight.
This was my huge-ticket round for the trip and ended up being the most ever I’ve paid for a round of golf with no room or any other real perks as part of the deal. As a non-resort guest, the rate was $385 but then I also had caddie fees to deal with. The tee sheet was pretty much empty on a Saturday morning, so I had to pay and tip the caddie as a single player, which is obviously much more expensive than as part of a foursome sharing the services. Oh well, I didn’t come to The Greenbrier to cheap out, so I shelled out what I needed to and tried not to think about it.
The heavy morning fog definitely took away from the front nine of this great course, as you’ll see in the pictures. Ultimately, though, the sun did come out and really lit this place up, Despite being in a rugged mountainous area (which is pretty much all of West Virginia), the course itself is fairly flat without any significant changes in elevation. There is a lot of contour to the overall design, though, so don’t mistake flat for boring. This is not a course that will leave you disinterested.
The Old White course was opened in 1914 and was designed by Charles Blair (C.B.) Macdonald. It was the first of his classic courses that I’ve ever played. It definitely has some old school flair, but also feels modern with the landscaping and renovations the resort has made throughout the years. After playing this course, I can see where Pete Dye got some of his ideas with clever mounding, punishing bunkers and deceptive tee angles.
The bunkers are well-placed here and can be truly punishing. Where the sand is, the surfaces are pretty flat, but there are a lot of huge faces to hit over or around. Those are extra nasty with really deep and unkempt rough lining the edges. Basically, the bunkers are best avoided here as I found out. I hit into way too many, and also into a couple of those faces, which was true torture!
The greens are mostly square/rectangle in shape like a lot of really old courses. The most distinctive green is on the par-3 3rd, which is a “Biarritz” design with a huge valley separating the front and back halves. It is quite dramatic to say the least.
The two signature holes as I saw it are on the back nine. The 16th is a really great par-4 wrapping around the water and providing some risk/reward options off the tee. The 18th is probably the most well-known hole as a rare par-3 finisher hitting back toward the massive old clubhouse. It always provides a dramatic finish when the pros play there. When you are on the green and look back, you are treated to The Greenbrier logo as a permanent fixture.
The conditions were exceptional all the way around. It was very soggy out there in the morning and in the fog, so that definitely made the course play much longer and tougher. That would be my only complaint, but that’s the trade-off of playing an early morning round. On the positive side, it did soften the greens and that helped with approaches and pitch shots.
I ended up playing the blue tees at 6,443 yards (par-70). There are two sets behind that, including the golds (6,895) and the blacks (7,287), which are marked with black B’s and named after Bubba Watson. He owns some property here and seems involved with the courses on some level.
I ended up really loving The Old White TPC layout and the other courses at The Greenbrier also look really nice. I wish I had more time and money to spend here. Was it quite worth $500-plus after all the caddie fees/tips? No. Very few courses are worth that in my opinion, but it will always be a feather in my cap and another bucket list course I’ve played.
Some pictures from The Greenbrier (The Old White TPC) (8/15/15):
These gnarly mounds below are known as “dragon’s teeth.”
I knew I wouldn’t have the time (or money) to play a second round at The Greenbrier, but as I was exploring the clubhouse I did see some advertising for this next course. It was a 9-hole course with an intriguing history, so I decided it was well worth a quick detour before heading back into Virginia…
Oakhurst Links • White Sulphur Springs, WV • 8/15/15
Oakhurst Links is supposedly the oldest golf course built in America, opened in 1884. I really didn’t know anything about it, so I was really glad I stumbled upon it and was able to play it.
Apparently, the original owner, Russell Montague, had learned about golf in Scotland and decided to build his own course. Guests of The Greenbrier at the time only viewed golf as an oddity, so it’s interesting to see how golf-centric the resort is now.
It is a modest par-37 layout with just one par-3 and all relatively short holes by today’s standards. Even though managed by The Greenbrier and all its high-end resources, the rustic look and feel is maintained and the turf is far from pristine. It is meant to be reflective of its original design and somewhat crude conditioning.
There is one other thing that makes Oakhurst unique. They don’t allow you to play with modern clubs or balls here. Each round comes with a rental set of hickory-shafted replica clubs and gutta percha replica balls. The tees are sand and there are buckets of water to help you form your own sand tee. It’s all about the throwback experience here, and it’s not to be passed up if visiting The Greenbrier for an all-encompassing golf trip.
I had done the hickory club thing once before up in Bandon, Oregon. I actually played decently that time once I got used to things, but Oakhurst kicked my butt. It is a much tougher course than the one I played before and I just didn’t have any skill in playing with the old clubs and balls this time. Still, I had a ton of fun.
The course does not get much play, so Greenbrier guests will want to set up their rounds in advance. I got lucky as I just drove by and the guy inside let me play. Once I was finished (around noon), he was already packing up and getting ready to close. The price is extremely steep at $75 a player (including rental clubs and three balls, which you can keep if you don’t lose them), but I had to go for it and I’m glad I did.
The layout is old and funky with some blind shots and awkward angles along the fairly steep hillside. There are a lot of areas with long native grasses just waiting to swallow up your expensive replica balls. I survived with just one of my original three remaining. The flagsticks are short and cute, and it’s just an overall unique experience you have to enjoy for what it is.
The clubhouse is really just an old farmhouse and there is also a small museum inside, which I didn’t get the chance to explore before they closed up shop. I had to get back on the road for my next round anyway, but I’m happy Oakhurst Links was open just long enough for me to squeeze in my nine holes of history.
Some pictures from Oakhurst Links (8/15/15):
After a quick and uneventful lunch at a little pizza place in White Sulphur Springs, I crossed back into Virginia and wound my way up the mountain roads towards Hot Springs…
The Omni Homestead (Cascades Golf Club) • Hot Springs, VA • 8/15/15
Speaking of old resorts with a lot of cool history, The Homestead also fits this bill. Just across the river from The Greenbrier, but about a 45-minute indirect drive, it’s easy to pair the two together. This one also wasn’t part of the original plan and would have been visited on a future stay and play trip to The Greenbrier. However, once I made plans to play Old White, I knew I’d be pairing Cascades Golf Club along with it.
The Homestead has two courses, but Cascades definitely is the star as ranked in the Top 30 for public courses in the country by both Golf Magazine and Golf Digest. The other course (The Old Course) is more directly connected to the resort in town and has plenty of history of its own, whereas Cascades Golf Club is a few miles south with its own facilities. The Omni Homestead resort also has a very grand colonial façade as you’ll see in the pictures. Rather than the domes and columns of The Greenbrier, it uses bricks and a tall central steeple in its design. Both are equally magnificent to see in person.
I had a 2:10 tee time to take advantage of their afternoon twilight rate. It ended up being around $130. Though still quite expensive by normal standards, that seemed like a hell of a deal after what I paid at The Greenbrier. The overall vibe is more relaxed here. Everyone working here is great and made me feel welcome without feeling overly doted upon. In other words, it’s more my style than the uber high-end resort courses where you almost get too much attention sometimes.
The place wasn’t too busy despite it being another beautiful afternoon, so I teed off by myself a little early. I played through one older couple on the front nine and didn’t hit any other groups until midway through the back. It was slow going over the last few holes and the bugs were out in full force by this time of the day. The clouds had come in and the humidity picked up a little, so they were unrelenting. I survived, though.
Anyone who follows my blog will know that I really love mountain golf and that’s exactly what you get on Cascades. It is hilly and narrow playing through the trees. There are many great changes in elevation and it’s just a beautiful setting throughout this course. Most of the back nine plays a little flatter, but it is still quite scenic.
The layout culminates in a fun finish, with two par-5s that offer some risk/reward options with water in play. It concludes with a really nice par-3 over the water and back toward the quaint old clubhouse.
Overall, I don’t know if the design of Cascades is as interesting as the setting itself. It was done in 1923 by William S. Flynn. It is quite fun and challenging throughout with a good variety of shots required to score. There are some tight angles and a few blind shots. I know I sure enjoyed myself here on every level.
The conditioning wasn’t quite as pristine as The Greenbrier or some other courses played on this trip. The fairways and greens were still very nice by any standards. The rough was mostly good (and punishing), but a little spotty in some areas. With this being an elevated mountain course with a shorter season, it’s naturally tougher to maintain.
Cascades was well worth the visit and a great representative for Virginia, though there are several other Top 100 courses I want to come back and play someday once I’m through all 50 states as my primary goal at the moment.
Some pictures from The Omni Homestead (Cascades Golf Club) (8/15/15):
After finishing at The Homestead, I drove on some back roads throughout Virginia, where there were an awful lot of Confederate flags on defiant display. I drove back around DC and toward the shore, staying in Salisbury, MD on Saturday night.
I was ready early in the morning once again for my final round of the trip…
Bayside Resort Golf Club • Selbyville, DE • 8/16/15
Again, I realize my driving routes were not the best, but it ultimately worked out just fine to finish in Delaware and then work my way back to DC for a flight out in the evening.
I had a 7:10 tee time and was expecting a quicker round than I got. I was paired with three other nice guys and a few groups had gone out ahead of us. The pace was pretty slow for first thing in the morning, taking about 4.5 hours to complete. The price here was $145.
Bayside was the first Jack Nicklaus Signature course in Delaware, and he has designed several other nice courses in the area that I also hope to come back and play sometime. It definitely has some of Jack’s hallmarks, like tricky greens and numerous risk/reward options. It is built in a marshy area and definitely has a true East Coast feel running through the sea pines and other native coastal vegetation.
There is a lot of water in play on the course with the 1st hole providing one of the most intimidating opening tee shots I’ve ever seen. It is straight over water and then the hole doglegs left, so you have to determine how much you think you can bite off. It’s a heck of a way to get started and sets the tone for the rest of the round, which will also provide plenty of natural beauty and ample Golden Bear challenge.
Bayside has a great collection of par-3s and a good variety of holes. Though the landscape tends to blend together a bit from hole to hole, each design offers something a little different. Again, it’s not a place that will leave you feeling bored. The 18th felt like an odd hole to finish on with a double dogleg design and very awkward sight lines on each shot. It’s not as dramatic a finisher as it wants to be.
The conditions at Bayside were also fantastic. Again, in the morning things were pretty wet and I took some of the biggest divots I have ever taken in my life. The greens were the only downside as they were sanded on top. It did not affect putts much at all and it helped to provide spin on approaches, so it wasn’t too much of an issue.
I don’t know what else to say about Bayside Resort. I haven’t decided exactly where it ranks in with the rest of the courses on this trip, but it is excellent no matter how you look at it. I would highly recommend it to anyone visiting Delaware and looking for a top-notch golf experience. It’s a beautiful course and the staff was very nice. When I asked about buying a bag tag for my collection, they let me know they did not sell them. However, they went ahead and gave me one that would normally be reserved for members. I thought that was a very nice gesture.
Some pictures from Bayside Resort Golf Club (8/16/15):
Well, there you have it. It was another amazing golf adventure in a new part of the country. I got five more states checked off and even the District of Columbia. I now have just seven states remaining, and a few really premier destinations left to visit. I can’t wait until the next big trip!