300 West Main Street,
White Sulphur Springs,
West Virginia (WV) 24986,
- +1 800 453 4858
Exit #181 from Interstate 64 west, exit # 175 from Interstate 64 east
Golf – in the form of a basic 9-hole layout – first made an appearance at the famous Greenbrier spa and hotel in 1910. The Old White was the first 18-hole course to open three years later, followed by the Seth Raynor-designed Greenbrier in 1924. Dick Wilson added another course, now called the Meadows, to the property in 1963. During the construction of this third course, some of the old Greenbrier holes were incorporated into its 18, meaning five new holes were built for the Greenbrier.
The Greenbrier was given a major face-lift by the Jack Nicklaus design company in 1978 as preparation for the series of Ryder Cup matches between USA and Europe the following year. The home side won that match 17-11 and the female equivalent of Team USA also triumphed 13-7 in the Solheim Cup against the European Ladies on the same course fifteen years later.
Jay Morrish and Bob Cupp were project architects for Nicklaus at the time and, although they didn’t alter the course routing, the green complexes were reshaped to essentially remove the pitch and run approach options, installing target golf putting surfaces instead. According to Tom Doak, "Jack Nicklaus obliterated all trace of its origins. The holes where ponds were added seem particularly out of place."
The Greenbrier's fairways are laid out over a gently undulating landscape. The front nine holes of the out-and-back routing are configured in a slightly unconventional manner, featuring three par threes, three par fours and three par fives.
The most difficult of these holes is the 456-yard 6th (“Plateau”) where a very tight fairway doglegs uphill to a long, narrow offset green that sits behind a rather large, intimidating bunker.
The Greenbrier’s back nine showcased a couple of delightful short par fours. Hole 10 (“Cross Road”) measured only 339 yards from the back tees with a wide creek cut across the fairway about fifty yards short of the pear-shaped putting surface. Four holes later, the even shorter 305-yard 14th (“Sahara”) sported a long bunker down the left of the fairway which then wrapped itself around the left side of the green.
However, the Greenbrier course was one of several at the resort to suffer major damage following the flooding in June 2016. Six former Greenbrier holes (#9 through #14) now form part of the Meadows course (#10 to #15). The Sahara hole on the Meadows layout is now a long uphill par three measuring 220 yards.
Currently, the Greenbrier can be played as a 9-hole or 18-hole course. However, the story is quite complicated, so we’ll let Robert Harris, Vice President of Golf, explain:
“When you elect to play 18 holes, you actually get to play 10 of the 12 that we maintain. Play holes 1 through 7 and arrive at the Snack Stand. Make a U turn and play holes 16-17 (that is your 9-hole course), or skip #17 and play #18 back to the Clubhouse or play #18 as an extra hole.
Otherwise, when completing #17, go to nearby #2 tee, play back to #7 – U turn and play home 16-17-18. We maintain but don’t use former holes #8 and #15. If you play both the Greenbrier and Meadows, you essentially play 16 of the 18 former Greenbrier course holes!”
The current Greenbrier configuration is temporary as Phil Mickelson Design has been commissioned to renovate the layout with works including modifications to eight original holes and the construction of ten new holes, which will be routed through an old forest dissected by streams. The new holes will feature elevation changes of more than 100 feet.
Phil Mickelson, who recently was named The Greenbrier Resort’s PGA Tour Ambassador, said, “I’ve always been a big fan of Seth Raynor’s work. We have a tremendous piece of property that comes with a great history, and we are going to make it great for the future of The Greenbrier Resort and the region.”
As at October 2020, work on the new Greenbrier course is on
I also played this course before the flood. I considered it good but it felt disjointed. One of golf's challenges is embracing the past and the future. New, longer, bigger do not necessarily mean better. I appreciated Fergal’s perspective and review.
If you have not been to The Greenbrier, I heartily recommend it. Be prepared for your senses to be overwhelmed by your hotel room. Be prepared to spend lots of money. Bring your own wine opener. There is one in each room in a cellophane packet and if you open it, you buy it. This infuriated my wife. She spent 30 minutes opening a bottle with a fingernail cutter. (while I was golfing) Also, make sure you go on The Bunker tour, The Greenbrier has a special relocation center for the US Congress that was designed and built during the Cold War. Lastly, hopefully The Oakhurst Links will be open when you visit. It is the oldest golf course in the US. It is only nine holes and you play with hickory shafts. Unfortunately, it suffered significant damage in the 2016 flood.
Note: (I played the year before the flood in 2016)This course feels exactly as its history reads. After Nicklaus redid the course in the late 70's, holes were added and water was added and you can tell the modern holes don't quite flow with everything else on this property. I love the Greenbrier and it is my hope that somehow, someway they can restore this course to a trure Raynor. It deserves to be enjoyed again as it was intended to be. I also think that if it is done, the Greenbrier restores its legacy as one of the best golfing resorts in the US. Fingers crossed.
While on property, I was successful in securing a personal guided tour of the original 18-hole routing that was created by Seth Raynor in 1924, and used in the 1979 Ryder Cup, but it is a routing that no longer exists. With the help of an educated guide, you can still find the original holes as part of a different configuration. The reasoning has been well documented. Nonetheless, it was a quiet day and we were able to tour the 18 holes routed by Seth Raynor in 1924. I was also successful in obtaining a vintage scorecard from the original Greenbrier course that showed the names that Raynor gave to each of his holes. Given Nicklaus’ impact on the course in 1978, I was grateful that the card still had the names of the holes on it as otherwise you wouldn’t recognise anything. It has been said by notable voices that Nicklaus “obliterated all traces of its origins”. The template greens are gone, the putting surfaces and bunkers have been completely reshaped and striped of their Golden-Age roots. Ponds were added by the Nicklaus design team and feel quite awkward in places. The 2016 flooding meant the routing was significantly disrupted and the face of the Greenbrier course would once again change forever. While all 18 original holes from 1924 still exist, the routing is just not in play anymore. To continue my discovery of the original Raynor routing, my tour guide showed me the 6 holes now located within the Meadows course that were taken from the original Greenbrier course. You immediately see how the holes from the Meadows course (Dick Wilson/Bob Cupp construction) have a totally different feel to them with incredibly steep sod-faced bunkers.
To be clear, the ‘Greenbrier’ course that is offered today in 2019 is a very different product. Following the floods, during the 2017 golfing season, the course re-opened as a 12-hole routing using holes 1-8 and 15-18. During the 2018 golfing season, it is now a 9-hole course. Regardless of the architect, the 9-hole course we have today is a tremendous test and finishes with a dazzling par 5 hole called ‘Casino’.
From a nostalgia perspective, the evolution of this course is heartbreaking as the bones (if you can find them) of the original Raynor track are superb. There is widespread reminiscence among the staff at the club with today’s layout as it was widely regarded as the best of the 3 courses on the property prior to the 2016 flood. Touring the original 1924 routing shows just how incredibly difficult a golf course it was playing through those tight corridors of menacing trees. Changes in elevation, hyper precision off the tee and feel for distance traversing this engaging topography are characteristics that define this wonderful piece of canvas, despite the modifications in 1978. I could only use my imagination to visualise what the course looked like with Raynor designed template greens.
In the spirit of innocent hope, if all my dreams come true, the original 18 Seth Raynor holes would be fully restored by a qualified architect – and any future renovation would not involve the design team of any professional golfer, inclusive of active players. Without dreams, we have nothing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have seen the original course and immerse myself in its fascinating antiquity. It was a brilliant experience and I highly recommend visitors to play the 9-hole course to get a glimpse of history.
I appreciate your perspective and resolve.