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Away Game: The Greenbrier

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Continued (page 2 of 2)

The third course is the Meadows, which Bob Cupp renovated in 1999. It's the quintessential resort course: ideal for higher-handicappers, shorter hitters and juniors.

There are plans to bring Nicklaus back at the end of the year to rework the Greenbrier course and have Tom Watson, the current pro-emeritus, renovate the Meadows. Watson also intends to skip this year's U.S. Senior Open to play in the Classic.

Known as the resort with natural sulphur springs and the Bunker -- a secret fallout shelter built during the Cold War era to house members of Congress in the event of a nuclear war -- The Greenbrier is showing signs of a speedy recovery.

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I played in the Tom Watson Fall Classic in 2008, a pro-am open to the public, and the resort was so empty it was eerie. CSX Corp., then the owner, wanted out. The labor unions were threatening to strike. Most of the 30 high-end shops in the Dorothy Draper-designed hotel were closed. Signs on the doors read, "Call if you need assistance."

Justice answered the call. Despite his aw-shucks delivery, the 6-foot-7 owner is a shrewd businessman who shouldn't be underestimated. In The Greenbrier's predicament, Justice saw an opportunity to buy low (he paid $20.1 million) and to bail out a community that revolves around the resort. The staff, the locals and loyal customers see Justice as a savior. As much as it seems to be a philanthropic mission, Justice has made it clear that he's in it to make a profit.

At the 2010 Fall Classic, two years after my first visit, the hotel was overbooked, there were lines in the stores and coffee shops, and the casino was at least three deep around the gaming tables.

Out from under all that debt, the resort now offers a wider range of prices. From March 15 to Nov. 30, rates start at $475 a night for the Bed & Breakfast Golf Package, which includes a cart and one round of golf a day per guest (based on double occupancy).

The Boskeys are scheduled to return this spring, but Ginny says they avoid golf: "It's hard to have fun playing when you're as bad as I am." So the Boskeys know their limitations. Could that be the key to their successful marriage?

LOCAL KNOWLEDGE
Pack a jacket -- Tom Watson filled the pro-emeritus position at The Greenbrier (formerly held by Sam Snead) in 2005. Watson has been entertaining business associates at the resort for 30 years. He appreciates The Greenbrier as one of the last pockets of formal tradition in an increasingly informal world. "Sometimes I like putting on a coat and going to dinner," he says. After 7 p.m., jackets are required for dinner at In-Fusion, the Main Dining Room and to gamble in the casino. They're suggested at Prime 44 West and The Forum.

Sparkling or sulphur? The Greenbrier wouldn't exist if it weren't for the natural sulphur water. From General Robert E. Lee to royalty, the spa treatments of The Greenbrier have attracted a worldwide clientele for more than two centuries. Its 40,000-square-foot spa features treatments such as the Golfer's Game Saver, which consists of a mineral-water bath, warm heat packs and a massage of forearms, hands, back and shoulders (50 minutes for $150).

All aboard! Delta and Continental offer daily nonstop flights to the Greenbrier Valley Airport from Atlanta, New York (JFK) and Cleveland. (GVA is 10 miles from the resort.) The Greenbrier is a 90-minute drive from Roanoke, Va., and Amtrak runs to The Greenbrier from Chicago and Washington, D.C. Resort owner Jim Justice is renovating one of the last steam locomotives in existence. In 2012, The Greenbrier Express will start making trips from Union Station in D.C. to White Sulphur Springs.

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July 28, 2014

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