Greenbrier Old White TPC Review and Appreciation
Greenbrier Old White TPC Golf Course
White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia
Teacher’s Comments: A classic. This is one of those courses you can’t so much review as simply appreciate.
Initially designed by Charles Blair MacDonald and Seth Raynor in 1914, the Old White at The Greenbrier gets its name from the Old White Hotel, which served the resort from 1858 to 1922. Raynor returned to the course in the 1920s to oversee updates. More recently, Old White was restored by architect Keith Foster following a devastating flood in June 2016.
I am not sure how much of CB MacDonald’s plan remains, but my expectations of classic design were in no way disappointed. A pleasant surprise was that many of the holes are inspired by some of the world’s most famous: There’s a Redan (North Berwick); an Alps (Prestwick), an Eden, Principal’s Nose and Valley of Sin (St. Andrews); a Biarritz (Biarritz, France), as well as others inspired by the 17th at Old Prestwick and the 11th and 17th at St. Andrews.
Old White is thus sort of a tribute course, without all the cheesiness normally associated with such layouts. It looks entirely unforced in its routing in the low areas along Howard’s Creek (the culprit in the 2016 flooding). Given that the course dates to 1914, MacDonald and Raynor would have been looking for land that suggested different types of holes, rather than bringing in earth movers to impose their vision.
What I enjoyed most about Old White was the variety of strategic options. While the pros playing in the “Military Tribute at The Greenbrier” — their PGA TOUR event — likely will power their way around the course, a bogey golfer has plenty of meaningful choices.
Many of the hole are of the “pick your poison” variety. The more difficult tee shot leaves an easier approach. The safe shot off the tee typically brings danger into play around the green.
Do you trust your driver, or your mid- and short-irons? There’s an option for you on most of the holes.
The par four, 475 yard sixth is a good example. A long shot down the right side risks bringing a fairway bunker into play, but gives a good look at the green. The left side is much safer off the tee, but brings the awful greenside bunkers on the left into play.
Another good example is the fourteenth. Taking on the bunkers on the left will offer a better shot at the smallish elevated green. Playing it safe on the right means a longer shot into the green with a less lofted club.
There are more than a few layers to Old White, and I felt fortunate to have the guidance of an expert and friendly forecaddy. I was playing alone, and so I had his full attention. He very quickly sized up my game and suggested lines for every shot. I played better than I had any right to, and really enjoyed the round.
From the tips, Old White stretches to 7, 292 and plays to a 76.0/145. The next tees up measure 6, 894 and play to 74.1/130. Old White’s middle tees are at 6, 426 and a 71.7/130. The more forward tees are at 5, 853 (74.3/130) and 5021 (64.2/113).
Conditions on the day I played were excellent, as befits an expensive course at a high end resort.
No Greenbrier Old White TPC review can finish without a mention of the fabulous resort.
The Greenbrier bills itself as “America’s Resort,” and on the basis of seniority it probably is. Visitors have “taken in the waters” since 1778 at White Sulphur Springs. The current property was established as a resort in 1858 with the construction of a large hotel, first known as “The White,” and then “The Old White.” The resort also included cottages for families, some of which survive to this day. Railroads arrived in 1869, which made it much more accessible to wealthy people trying to escape coastal heat.
The core of the iconic hotel was built by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway in 1910. The property became The Greenbrier in 1913. It is currently owned by Jim Justice, who as of this writing is Governor of West Virginia.
Sam Snead was the pro there for many years, and that’s one of the reasons I was so happy to get in a round. He one of my golfing idols. Snead presence is very prominent around the course.
The 11,000 acre resort not only has golf, but also spas, 20 restaurants, shopping, tennis, fishing, hunting, horseback riding, bowling, bicycling, carriage rides, falconry, geocaching, pools, paintball, pickleball, kayaking, paddleboarding, segways, shuffleboard, glassblowing, jewelry making and the most amazing croquet field you ever will see. There’s more, but I need to end this paragraph some time.
In short, if you can’t find a way to enjoy yourself here, you are hopeless.
There’s also the infamous “bunker,” which was supposed to house Congress in case of a nuclear attack.
The one negative for the Old White TPC — and it is a big one — is the price. For registered guests, the greens fees are $395. Non registered guests are charged $450. In addition, a forecaddie is required, adding another $80 bucks to the cost. If you can afford a vacation at The Greenbrier, I suppose that isn’t a hurdle. But this really isn’t a course that’s accessible for the average person. I was fortunate to play as a freeloading guest.
If you have the money and are serious about golf, I think the Old White at the Greenbrier should be on your bucket list. It ranks 34th on Golf Digest’s Top 100 course list. At this point, I’ve managed to play 22 of the top 100, and I can absolutely say that Old White TPC deserves its place in that pantheon.
The Greenbrier Old White TPC review was published September 11, 2019 from notes and photos on a round played August 5, 2019.
A course tour follows: