Greenbrier had it all . . . except for an ace

The 18th green during the final round of the Greenbrier Classic.

Some final thoughts on the inaugural Greenbrier Classic:

The PGA Tour could use finding a few benefactors like Jim Justice. He budgeted $25 million for the tournament, or $5 million more than he paid for The Greenbrier Resort.

The “59 Watch” at the Old White Course began early Monday. Can they toughen the course next year? Justice said length will be added. One player suggested pushing tees back at Nos. 2, 4, 12, 13 and 17. If the fairways are firm, the course will play longer as players will elect to stay short of bunkers on a few holes.

It wouldn’t surprise me if in the future the tournament moves across the street to the Greenbrier Sporting Club’s Sam Snead Course, a Tom Fazio design. It also wouldn’t surprise those in the know if Justice alternates between playing the tournament at the Greenbrier and The Resort at Glade Springs in Beckley, W.Va., which Justice also owns. It has 54-holes. The Stonehaven Course, I’m told, could be set up as a tough test for the pros.

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Jim Justice attends the gala opening of The Greenbrier Casino Club on July 2.

At the best-priced concessions this side of Augusta, you could order The Greenbrier’s famous fried tomato sandwich and for dessert, peaches and cream. At 44 Steakhouse, co-owned with basketball great Jerry West, the cornbread is made from the blue-ribbon winning recipe of Justice’s wife. At Draper’s restaurant, it was tempting but I laid off ordering Crispy  Kate’s Mountain Fried Chicken with a side of butter milk waffles served with West Virginia maple syrup. Maybe next year.

The Sam Snead and Tom Watson memorabilia, and the photos hanging on the wall of golfers, presidents and celebrities in the clubhouse had pros gawking like museum-goers at The Smithsonian.

The hole-in-one promotion at the par-3 18th either was marketing genius or gimmickry. I liked it. Fans were excited. It gave everyone in the stands a rooting interest – for the player, for charity, for themselves. Had someone aced it, we’d be seeing the shot in highlight reels for years to come. In the first round, a roar of “Oooh,” interrupted my interview with Justice near the 18th green when Chris Riley’s shot rolled over the left lip for a would-be ace. Justice was truly disappointed and said, “For crying out loud, I want to hand out some money.”

When Justice was told that the highest charitable giving of any event in its first year in the history of the Tour was the Wells Fargo Championship, which gave $1.6 million, he set a goal to double it. He smiled a full smile as he said, “Done and done.” Good start, but the Greenbrier is still less than halfway to the Valero Texas Open.

Rumor had it that Justice reserved all the local hotel rooms before announcing the tournament and as a result room rates were inflated. That didn’t sit well with the caddie rank. Other than player wives (and maybe media), there is no more important group to suck up to.

Heading in, players wondered what they would do at the Greenbrier. In a word, plenty. Spa appointments were comped. (“Happy wife, happy life,” said one player.) Caddies fished for big mouth bass. Brian Gay’s wife, Kimberly, went horseback riding and bowled. Ricky Barnes worked on his backhand. John Rollins talked about going skeet shooting. There’s zip lines, an off-road course and even falconry. As Joe Ogilvie said, “I don’t even know what falconry is.” Neither do I.

Ogilvie added that his wife celebrated her father’s 70th birthday at the Greenbrier a few years ago. “It’s the one event my wife said under no circumstances, you’re not skipping,” Ogilvie said. After the way players and their families were treated, he won’t be alone.

Fans lined the fairways to watch Justice play with crowd favorite John Daly in Wednesday’s pro-am. Justice stole the spotlight, outsigning Daly more than four-to-one.

“I don’t know why you want my autograph,” Justice wondered aloud as he scribbled his name to a tournament flag.

The fan’s reply said it all: “Because you’re the man.”

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