During my drive home I started planning the following week in Pinehurst, given that Pat would not be flying down for another week, and quickly realized this would be a good opportunity for a mini trip. Thinking about courses/clubs I wanted to revisit or see for the first time, it became clear that the western half of NC was the closest opportunity with a reasonable number of alternatives. Nashville, TN would have offered more bucket list outstandings, but meant too long of a drive after this last week’s almost 1250 miles. Mentally going through my “to-do” lists, a potential trip started coming together starting Tuesday 11/3 and returning Thursday 11/5 (it is difficult to find courses that are open on Mondays, and I had three guests scheduled to join me at CCNC on Friday).
I knew a return to Old Town Club (“OTC”) should be part of the trip and other areas of interest included the Blue Ridge Mountains in western NC, Charlotte, NC, and Greenville, SC. On Sunday morning I outlined a possible trip and started emailing and calling pro shops and friends in these locations. One piece of excellent news was a very positive weather forecast for the entire week in all of these locations. I was surprised (but totally understood) to learn that many clubs had continued to ban unaccompanied guest and panelist play due to the volume of member play generated by COVID induced “cabin fever”. All three courses I wanted to visit in Charlotte gave that response, so that location quickly dropped off my prospect list. On the other hand, I received positive emails back from my friend Dunlop W. at OTC as well as the HP at Biltmore Forest CC in Asheville, NC, and these two provided a good starting point for the rest of the trip.
Old Town Club, November 3, 2020: Located in Winston-Salem, NC (about 1:45 from our Pinehurst home), OTC has become one of my favorite tracks in the world. I first played it in 2006, prior to the restoration work completed by Coore-Crenshaw some 7 years later. Starting in 2013 I have played it annually every fall after our return from MA except for 2015 (when I played in in May). In all, this round was my 9th at OTC. As prior posts #65, 104, and 140 describe some of those visits, I will keep this one brief.
I played with Jim E., a former OTC President and a member of CCNC, and two other OTC members. The weather was close to perfect and I had a 42 – 42 = 84. All in all, a wonderful afternoon…course was in great shape and the company was outstanding. After the round I had a 2:25 145-mile drive to Asheville, NC. During the drive I was able to line up two courses to play on Thursday November 5th, thereby filling out my dance card for this mini trip. I stayed up watching election returns which were looking good until about 10:30pm when several key states announced they were halting their counts until the next day. Seemed a little strange and unusual and I failed to notice that all of these states were controlled by Democrats. The rest is history as they say…apparently some dirty history (but I shall stop any political commentary at this point).
Biltmore Forest Country Club, November 4, 2020: Back in the late 19th century, a young entrepreneur by the name of Cornelius Vanderbilt became involved with the shipping and railroad businesses. For you kiddies, shipping and railroads were the internet in the 19th century. He did OK in these businesses and ended up one of the richest people in the history of the USA. Cornelius’ youngest grandson, George Washington Vanderbilt II, used his inheritance to build the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, NC. That home originally sat on 125,000 acres, or about 196 square miles (equivalent to a square with 14 mile long sides!)….and totaled almost 179,000 sq. feet of living space. To put the Biltmore Estate in perspective for you golfers…the home on the estate is almost three times the size of the clubhouse at Sleepy Hollow CC (NY) which of course was another Vanderbilt home.
His daughter was the original owner of Biltmore Forest Country Club which opened in 1922 with a course designed by Donald Ross. Biltmore Forest has consistently appeared on GolfWeek’s USA Top 100 Classic course list since it was expanded from 100 to 200 courses…as well as my GolfWeek Merged USA Top 400 list (#361 in 2020). Additionally it hosted the 1999 US Women’s Amateur and the 2013 US Women’s Mid-Amateur Championships. From the tips it plays to 6750 yards (par 70). This is a beautiful and outstanding club and course…and IMO, very underrated. The property is filled with steep slopes which camouflage the actual slopes on the greens, and the greens in some ways reminded me of the “rolls” that Perry Maxwell built into many of Old Town’s greens. The fairways have excellent width and there are options available on almost every hole. Golf here is absolutely fun and this is certainly a course one could play every day.
The clubhouse here has a wonderful 1920’s sense to it and feels as comfortable as an old shoe, even while being relatively formal…that is a tough combination.
I thought the best hole is #16, a 470 yards dogleg left par 4 with a Redan green protected by a sharp drop off on the left side and a green that slopes right to left much more than it looks. The 9th hole is a more traditional par 3 Redan although at 161 yards is a bit short for this Template.
Overall, a true hidden gem. It may be a little out of the way but absolutely worth the trip.
Speaking of trip, I had a 1:15 (53 mile) drive to my hotel in Greenville, SC…and when I arrived at the hotel, I discovered that I had left my golf bag and clubs at the bag drop rack at Biltmore Forest…thereby requiring an additional round trip to pick them up. The body did not need a 159-mile trip this evening, but it got one.
Green Valley Country Club, November 5, 2020: Green Valley is located north of Greenville, SC, opened in 1958 and was designed by George Cobb…who also designed the Par 3 course at Augusta National GC and Quail Hollow GC (NC). In 2001, the course was renovated by Tom Jackson. In 1966 and 1967 Green Valley was included in the “USA 200 Toughest” lists published by Golf Digest (these being the first “Top” lists ever assembled and published).
Earlier during the trip I was told that and one time Green Valley had the highest number members who were also members of ANGC of any club in the south. I also heard that at one point the club went through bankruptcy proceedings. No way of knowing regarding either claim. Based on my quick playing of the course, it may well have been fairly tough. And there are clear signs that the club has seem better days. In any case, I am afraid this is not a great track…but playing it means I only have 69 courses left to finish Golf Digest’s 1966 and 1967 200 Toughest.
After the round I drove about 50 minutes north back into NC to play Bright’s Creek.
Bright’s Creek Club, November 5, 2020: From 2000 through 2008 I was a member of Forest Creek Golf Club in Pinehurst (as well as CCNC). Forest Creek has two Tom Fazio courses (Posts #65 and #141) and around 2005 the developer of Forest Creek opened another club called Bright’s Creek located in Hendersonville, NC (and also designed by Tom Fazio). A good number of Forest Creek members bought land and joined Bright’s Creek and the two clubs were almost sister clubs (but no formal tie was ever implemented). I never made the 3:45 trip to play and see Bright’s Creek but I remember people saying it was in a simply spectacular setting.
A knew that Bright’s Creek had closed its course and terminated its operations a few years ago, and then earlier this year learned that it had been purchased (I believe out of bankruptcy) and had reopened…and it turned out that a friend of mine (Mark L.) was a member and part of the group of three who had purchased the property. Mark suggested that I play it and give him my thoughts and it geographically worked well with Green Valley for a day of this trip.
The course has 19 holes (including a par 3 19th to resolve tied matches…Forest Creek’s South course does the same). I had assumed that since it had just resumed operations this summer the course would be fairly empty this time of year…and that was a bad assumption. As a result, I was only able to play 14 of the 19 holes (1-9, 12, 13, 17-19), and that took some mad scrambling around the property searching for open holes. The DoG, Rich Albright was most helpful but with a dinner scheduled in Pinehurst that evening, I simply did not have the time to finish. I will make the following points about the property. First, my Forest Creek friends were not exaggerating…Bright’s Creek in in a simply spectacular setting, and this is a very good Fazio course. The facilities also are first class. What surprised me the most was its condition, which was very very good by any standard. Given that for some 2-3 years there was only one maintenance person managing its upkeep, and that it has only been about 4 months since the club reopened, I was amazed at how good the overall condition of the property is today. On the negative side, the course seemed to have too many long treks from green to next tee. My next trek to western NC will for sure include a complete round at Bright’s Creek, and hopefully another 18 at Biltmore Forest.
After the round I had a quick lunch and then drove eastbound to Pinehurst barely in time for my scheduled dinner.
Course Count and Bucket Lists: These recent rounds brought my total course count to 1,261 (or 22,205 golf holes). This year I have played a total of 65 different courses (of which 52 were for the first time and 13 have been courses I had played previously). Bucket list status today is as follows:
High priority to play (total of 34 excluding “double counts”):
to reclimb World/USA Top 100 EVER for another time (4)
finish Golf Digest Top 200 USA EVER (8…none of which were ever USA Top 100)
finish Golf Week Top 100 Classic and Top 100 Modern EVER (11…none of which were ever Top 100 on “Merged” list)
finish all Women’s Major and Senior Major sites EVER (7),
finish all USGA Senior Am sites EVER (3)
finish World Golf Championships sites EVER (3)
Then 20 more to finish US Junior Championships EVER
Then 67 to finish Golf Digest 1966/67 200 Toughest
Then 59 to finish USGA Women’s Am, Mid-Am, Senior Am and Girl’s Junior…to complete USGA current championships sites EVER.
TOTAL of 180 to go!!!!!...plus any new ones that crop up…finish by end 2023? Doable (but doubtful) if stay healthy!! Need that vaccine!!