COMMENTARY | One of my best childhood memories was attending the 1979 Ryder Cup at the Greenbrier Resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. I think my brother still has the Maxfli golf ball Lee Trevino chipped to him from the practice green.
The Greenbrier, site of this week's Greenbrier Classic, also means a lot to the golf patrons of West Virginia and Virginia who were without a PGA Tour stop after the Michelob Championship ended its run at Kingsmill in Williamsburg in 2002.
The PGA Tour's decision to return to the Greenbrier in 2010 was a brilliant one and shined a spotlight back on one of the hidden treasures of American golf. The Greenbrier Classic is contested over the Old White Course, originally designed in 1913 by Charles Blair Macdonald, the first American-born architect of note. The resort's Greenbrier Course hosted that 1979 Ryder Cup, the first to include golfers from continental Europe.
The grand old club nestled in the Allegheny range of the Appalachian Mountains has a rich golf history, mostly synonymous with the greatest player the region ever produced: Sam Snead. Snead became the Greenbrier Resort's golf pro in 1936. When not winning a record 82 PGA tournaments, the Slammer would split his time between the Greenbrier and the Homestead, a similarly historic resort on the Virginia side of the Alleghenies.
Over the years, Jack Nicklaus, who redesigned the Greenbrier Course for the Ryder Cup, Arnold Palmer, who cashed his first professional paycheck there in 1955, and Tom Watson, the club's golf pro emeritus, have been closely associated with the resort.
But the individual most responsible for the PGA Tour's return is West Virginia native Jim Justice. With the proceeds from the sale of his family agriculture and coal business, Justice bought the Greenbrier Resort in 2009 from corporate owner CSX and convinced PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem to bring a tournament to his backyard in 2010.
In just its second year, the Greenbrier Classic won a "Best in Class" award for running one of the best tournaments on the tour schedule. Last year, the Greenbrier signed an extension to host the tournament through 2021.
"Jim Justice has shown genuine passion and commitment to not only host a PGA Tour event, but to build one into a premier stop on the PGA Tour," Finchem said at the time. "Jim has turned The Greenbrier Classic into a true celebratory event during Fourth of July week.''
This year, the event has attracted major winners Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Louis Oosthuizen as well as Bill Haas, winner of last week's AT&T National and a Greenbrier Classic playoff loser in 2011. Mickelson and Watson will join defending champion Ted Potter Jr. for the first two rounds in a rare threesome of southpaws.The field also includes Champions Tour regulars Tom Watson and Kenny Perry, coming off his victory at the Senior Players Championship, as well as recent PGA Tour winners Boo Weekley and Billy Horschel.
Stuart Appleby closed with a 59 to win the inaugural Greenbrier Classic and the last two editions have been won in playoffs. So expect more fireworks this weekend in West Virginia.
Southampton Now Rivals Monterey Peninsula
If you're vacationing in the Hamptons this summer and have some A-list connections, then bring your golf clubs.
The hosting of the U.S. Women's Open this past week at Sebonack Golf Club gives the Shinnecock area of Southampton near the eastern tip of Long Island a concentration of world class golf courses to rival the Monterey Peninsula.
Sebonack, which opened in 2006 and is already ranked No. 39 in the U.S. by Golf Digest, sits astride the National Golf Links of America, rated No. 11 and set to be on display during September's Walker Cup matches. Just south of National Golf Links sits Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, ranked No. 4 in the country. Shinnecock, the site of four U.S. Opens, will host again in 2018.
Mark McLaughlin has reported on the PGA Tour for the New York Post, FoxSports.com, Greensboro News & Record, and Burlington (N.C.) Times-News. He is a past member of the Metropolitan Golf Writers Association. Follow him on Twitter @markmacduke.
- Sports & Recreation
- Greenbrier Resort
- PGA Tour
- Greenbrier Classic