The Old White golf course at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs in West Virginia, US, has been renovated ahead of next week’s Greenbrier Classic.
The resort suffered extensive flood damage last summer, which caused the cancellation of the 2016 Greenbrier Classic.
In order to get ensure the course was fit to host the 2017 event, architect Keith Foster was brought in to oversee an extensive renovation and rebuild parts of the historic course.
Old White was originally designed by CB MacDonald and his associate Seth Raynor, opening in 1914.
Foster spoke to GCA about the extensive work carried out on the course ahead of the upcoming tournament.
“In November 2015, I got a call from the resort asking me to come and take a look at the course – this was pre-flood of course,” Foster said. “I was familiar with Old White having stayed at the resort before. I went up and looked at it again, had a couple of comments, and suggested they maybe try something different. The resort said they weren’t in a position to do anything at that time, but down the line they possibly could.”
Around eight months later, Foster received another call.
“I got a call from the Greenbrier saying have you heard about the flood?” he said. “I went to the resort, and it looked awful. It was depressing, I’ve never seen anything like it after the flood had hit. It was surreal.”
“We went around, looked at the golf course, and they said ‘Keith, we need some help.’ I was very busy last year, and so when they asked me to handle three course renovations I said I couldn’t, but I’ll take Old White.”
Having the course ready for the 2017 Greenbrier Classic meant that time was at a premium.
“Usually you’ll do site plans, site maps, and you create plans of action,” Foster explained. “This project, we had no time, so weren’t able to do that. As soon as I left the resort, I thought of the best contractor for the job at the time. I said let’s just work this out, I won’t draw plans but I will commit whatever time is required to do it. I’ll do it on the fly and we’ll go old school. That’s basically what we did.”
Foster met with the team at the Greenbrier on 4 July 2016, at a time when the 2016 Greenbrier Classic was scheduled to take place.
“Debris was being cleared off the course and we had around three weeks to negotiate with contractors,” said Foster. “I think we started the project on 28 July last year. As you can imagine, we had to gut the greens, redo all the bunkers, and clean the whole golf course.”
“We broke the project into three separate areas. From 28 July-15 September, we focused on the greens. We cored and rebuilt every green, lifted all the greens, tied it all together, and made it more ‘Raynor-like’.”
Though Old White was originally designed by CB MacDonald and Seth Raynor in the early 1910s, Raynor did return to make some changes shortly after its opening in 1914.
“What’s interesting about Old White is that it’s Raynor’s work back in 1916,” Foster said. “His work in the 1920s was quite good and quite elegant. But his early work, like every architect early in their career, is a little more primitive. Greenbrier Old White represents Raynor’s work early in his career. You’re not talking about the epic features Raynor put years later into every one of his courses. You’re talking about more modest Raynor features.”
“We basically got the greens to be Raynor-like across all the holes, and got that done in 6-7 weeks. From 20 September to 10 November, we redid, rebuilt, or repositioned every bunker on the golf course, so these too were Raynor and MacDonald-like. It was a pure and good process.”
Work had to shut down during the cold West Virginia winter, but recommenced at a pace in the spring.’’
“The golf course looks very good, and the contractor who did the work – McDonald & Sons – were awesome,” Foster said. “The project superintendent, Greenbrier staff and the director of operations were all great to work with.”
“In truth, there are two components that I wish we’d had more time to do,” Foster admitted. “I look at the golf course and feel its 85 per cent there. What needs to happen is work on some of the tees and the trees. I feel all the tees need to be repositioned to go back to a truer line. I believe there’s one true line of play, and anything else is off line. We did get half of the tees on line, but the other half, we just ran out of time.”
Foster is set to return to Old White later this year following the Greenbrier Classic to complete these final elements of the work.
“The plan is to come back this fall after the golf season ends,” Foster concluded. “We’ll finish up the tees and finish up the tree work, and I think it’s going to be pretty darn strong. Overall, the golf course looks really, really good. It’s pure and fresh, and the superintendent did a really good job. I’m really thankful that I’ve been part of it.”