The Greenbrier's status is on the rise
Monday, August 8, 2011
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. – Gary Woodland is moving up in the world. Like many touring pros, the Kansan relocated to Orlando, Fla., after turning pro. He bought a condo just outside the gates of Lake Nona, sharing the same club as Graeme McDowell and Annika Sorenstam, but not the same address.
Woodland, thanks to the spoils of this season’s success, finally found his way inside the club’s gates, moving into Ben Curtis’ old digs the week before The Greenbrier Classic.
John Klemish, head of sales for the Greenbrier Sporting Club, was one of the first people whom Woodland met when he joined Lake Nona in 2008. “(Klemish) talked me into it a long time ago,” Woodland said about playing last year’s inaugural Greenbrier Classic. Woodland needed the start, as well, as he was trying to keep his Tour card.
Things are much different this year. An improved putting stroke and controlled course management have turned the former college basketball player into one of the Tour’s top players. Woodland didn’t need to come to the Greenbrier, where he tied for fourth. He’s in good stead in all the metrics that determine a Tour player’s success. He arrived in West Virginia in the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking, on pace for his first Tour Championship appearance and exempt through 2013 thanks to his first Tour victory.
Sure, most of the players at this year’s Greenbrier Classic were there out of necessity, trying to lock up spots in golf’s “postseason” and keep their cards. But the host resort’s reputation attracted enough marquee names, such as Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia, to show that this stop is one of the Tour’s rising stars. A classic design, brought up-to-date with a recent renovation, a new date (July 5-8, 2012) and a strong reputation will bring a better field. That’s why the event was given a good slot between the U.S. and British opens, during a prime vacation week.
“It’s a perfect match,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations.
Players enjoyed the opportunity to stay “on campus” and walk from their room to the tee. Homesickness is up there with bad backs and tendinitis as reasons for retirement, so bringing families on a working vacation was another plus. Many took advantage of the resort’s bowling alley and arcade, falconry and fly fishing. Charles Howell III played because of fond memories of visiting the resort as a child. “I remember busting my tail in the creeks, trying to walk around in those waders,” said Howell, who visited when he was 8. Then, as now, he was slender as a fly rod.
The Tour’s younger set enjoyed the casino, where jackets are required and jeans are banned after 7 p.m.
The Greenbrier, which opened in 1778, harkens back to an earlier day, and not just because of its understated green-and-white exterior. These haven’t been banner times for the game. Many longtime Tour stops have been on the threatened-species list as companies pulled back financial support. Participation at the recreational level has been waning. A refreshing enthusiasm for golf was on display at The Greenbrier, though.
“I love the community events where everyone is involved because they want to be involved,” Brad Faxon said.
The tournament brings good publicity for owner Jim Justice’s property and his state. Justice is revered for having rescued The Greenbrier out of bankruptcy in 2009. He signed autographs all week, and received a raucous roar when his opening tee shot in the pro-am found the fairway.
“They do care about me, and they know I’m passionate about them,” Justice said. “I want more than anything for our people to feel just a little bit more proud of themselves.”
He has big plans for his resort, hopeful that it can host the 2017 Presidents Cup. (The Tour declined comment.) You have to like his chances. Pazder said Justice has been a perfect partner with the Tour; his club joined the TPC network this year. Crowds for practice days were larger than some tournaments on Sundays. Volunteers welcomed guests with a smile and a greeting.
Tom Watson, the club’s pro emeritus, first saw the resort at the 1979 Ryder Cup. He left before the competition began for the birth of his daughter, Meg, but had fond memories.
“I just liked the way people treated you here,” he said.
And that’s the main reason the prognosis for this PGA Tour event is a strong one.