Away Game: The Greenbrier
Back To A Classic
Ginny and Ira Boskey, married for 62 years, have been making the drive between Florida and Pennsylvania since 1960. Asked about the secret to a long and successful marriage, they politely keep their answers to themselves. But when asked why they stop at The Greenbrier, Ginny, 86, doesn't hesitate: "The people. They treat us like we own the place." The Boskeys typically come to The Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., in the spring, as they make their way home after a winter down South. When they came through last year, Ira, 87, was so sick he could barely leave the room, so the couple came back in the fall, just as the leaves of the surrounding Allegheny Mountains were starting to change.
"When we pulled up," Ginny says, "Dale, who was working the front door, said, 'Welcome back, Mr. Boskey. I remember you weren't feeling well on your last visit. How's your health?' " Dale Mann, a lead doorman at The Greenbrier, has been there for 33 years, and he's one of the more than 300 employees who have been working at the resort for at least 25 years.
Mann's loyalty and attention to detail is a significant part of The Greenbrier's enduring appeal. But it wasn't long ago that the 233-year-old resort was in terrible health. Buffeted by competition, union problems and a crumbling economy, it filed for bankruptcy protection in March 2009 -- only to be rescued by coal-mining entrepreneur Jim Justice, a local billionaire with golf and The Greenbrier in his blood.
Justice, who won the West Virginia Junior Amateur twice, bought the resort (which his parents called The Emerald City) in May 2009. He immediately paid off the debt and signed a long-term labor agreement with the staff. Within 14 months he added a 103,000-square-foot casino (320 slots, 33 gaming tables) and three new restaurants, including Jerry West's steakhouse, Prime 44 West.
Perhaps Justice's most significant acquisition was a PGA Tour event that brought The Greenbrier a week of national exposure and galleries of more than 40,000 a day on the weekend.
The Greenbrier Classic was played in late July 2010 on Old White, which is my favorite of the resort's three courses. Old White was built in 1914 by C.B. Macdonald, who's considered the father of American golf architecture. Old White features 14 of Macdonald's 18 template holes, which are variations of what Macdonald considered the best holes in Europe.
I enjoyed finishing on the 162-yard 18th. A hump that runs through the middle of the green resembles an area rug that has been pushed together from the ends. While playing this hole in front of a large gallery at a Greenbrier member-guest tournament in 1995, Sam Snead, who was 83 and the pro-emeritus at the time, made the last of his 37 holes-in-one. (I hit it to 12 feet and three-putted.)
Old White is one of the few Macdonald designs open to the public. It was restored in 2006 by Lester George, and not long after Stuart Appleby won the inaugural Greenbrier Classic with a final-round 59, Justice had the course torn up again. Changes included new grass on all 18 greens and the addition of 130 yards. (The par 70 will now play close to 7,160 yards from the back tees.) Old White is scheduled to open in June before the second Greenbrier Classic, July 28-31.
The other two courses are the Greenbrier and the Meadows. The Greenbrier course was built by Seth Raynor in 1924 and was renovated by Jack Nicklaus in 1977. It was the site of the '79 Ryder Cup and the '94 Solheim Cup. Tour pro Kenny Perry played the Greenbrier last fall and liked the narrow, tree-lined test so much he thought it should have been used for The Greenbrier Classic. (PGA Tour officials initially had the same idea until they got a look at Old White.)