Fabled Greenbrier, with new twists, hosts PGA Tour

Greenbrier Classic

July 29-Aug. 1

Course: The Greenbrier, Old White Course (7,041 yards, par 70), White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.

Purse: $6 million. Winner's share: $1.09 million.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – The PGA Tour is heading down a country road it hasn’t visited for many years.

According to tour records, the last time the tour visited the Mountaineer State was 1958 when Sam Snead won the Greenbrier Invitational.

Tucked in the southern corner of the state is a green valley, home to the fabled Greenbrier Resort and the site of the PGA Tour’s inaugural Greenbrier Classic this week.

THREE TO WATCH

Brendon de Jonge: The Zimbabwean is a Virginia Tech grad and should have a big crowd following. He’s also red-hot, with five top-10 finishes this season.

Jim Furyk: He already has two titles this season. He’s won twice in a year twice before, but never three times in one year. Another victory would make him a serious contender for Player of the Year.

Sponsor’s exemptions: Take your pick from the inspiring story of Erik Compton, double heart transplant recipient; Sam Saunders, grandson of Arnold Palmer; Drew Weaver, the former British Amateur champ and Virginia Tech grad; and the never-ending comeback story of John Daly.

“It’s certainly off the beaten path and we spend a lot of time on pretty paved roads,” said Stuart Appleby of Australia.

The Greenbrier has a rich history with the game. Until his death in 2002, Snead was the resort’s longtime pro emeritus, a role currently held by Tom Watson. The Greenbrier Course hosted the Ryder Cup in 1979 and Solheim Cup in 1994.

The Tour will play the tournament on the Old White Course, a 1914 C.B. MacDonald design, re-worked by Seth Raynor in the 1930s and given a facelift in 2006 by architect Lester George.

The resort’s owner, Jim Justice, has spared no expense to make the tournament a special week. He calculated he’s spent $25 million, which is more than double what is typically spent by a title sponsor. He boldly proclaimed that this is just the beginning of his effort to make the tournament a premiere stop.

“I’m not going to stop until they come to me and say, ‘This is the best event that we have on the entire PGA Tour, maybe with the exception of the majors,’” Justice said. “It would be my hope that some day we could be sitting down and talking about the possibility of attracting a major or maybe a Presidents Cup, because we’re going to make it just that good.”

Justice called the Old White a shotmaker’s course. Lack of course knowledge had players scrambling to learn the intricacies of the Biarritz-style green at the 3rd hole, where Johnson Wagner said you can park a car in the green’s vast middle level and not see it.

“Everybody is in the same boat for a week,” Brandt Snedeker said.

A wet West Virginia summer has softened Old White’s undulating greens – the course’s main defense – leading to predictions of low scoring and perhaps another 59 watch.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are some really, really low scores this week,” said Carl Pettersson, who shot a 60 last week on his way to winning the RBC Canadian Open. He predicted the winning total would be at least 20-under.

There’s also the potential for plenty of excitement at the 18th hole. Justice made sure of that. Aces will be wild, with $1 million jackpot for a player who makes a hole-in-one, and certain fans will get a piece of the action, too.

Of the $1 million, $750,000 will be donated to charity with the pro that holes the shot pocketing the rest. Fans in the stands will receive $100, with their take increasing to $500 if a second ace is made that day, and $1,000 if the stars align for a third hole-in-one.

Justice explained that fans seated in the 18th-hole grandstand will receive a card. If they leave – even to go to the bathroom – they have to relinquish their card.

“What I’m worried about is giving everybody in the stands 1,000 bucks,” Justice said. “You give everybody in the stands 1,000 bucks three times, four times, that’s $6.8 million to go in the stands. You know, you would have to have an armed guard out there.”

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