Grandfather Golf & Country Club
Thirteenth hole, 420/405 yards; As Maples mulled over various routing options, this must have been one of the holes that he was always determined to include; the fact that a par three precedes and follows it hints as to how he used those holes as connector holes to preserve this one. There wasn’t much that needed to be done other than to create an area for the tees and clear the woods below and voila (!), a hole of majestic beauty of the sort that makes mountain golf so endearing. The exhilaration of seeing a tee ball soaring off into the distance and watching it fall forever against the pristine backdrop of trees is one with which few courses can compete.
Fourteenth hole, 160 yards; Too much of a good thing is a trap that has ensnared many a modern architect. As it became increasingly easy to move dirt and even to build streams and waterfalls, architects (and the owners whom pushed them) built more and more ‘postcard’ holes into each course. At some point, the golfer’s senses can’t absorb any more. If individual holes continually compete among themselves for attention, the golfer sadly might even become numb to the whole proceedings, which is certainly the opposite from what the architect hoped to achieve. Coming off from the course’s most spectacular hole, Maples had a choice to make at the fourteenth as to just how much to throw visually at the golfer. In a show of welcome restraint, he elected not to incorporate the stream into the hole’s aesthetics. Instead, standing on the tee, the golfer sees a fairly ordinary uphill one shotter. First impressions are wrong though as the green narrows to only nine paces wide in the rear and the sloping terrain left of the green brings the hidden creek into play. Unlike the thirteenth where all its hazards/challenges are in plain view, the golfer might not appreciate the challenges here until it’s too late.
Fifteenth hole, 390 yards; Longtime golf professional Bob Kletche considered this his favorite hole on the course. Though it is bunkerless and under 400 yards, the fifteenth offers plenty of challenge. A creek left and woods right define the tee shot but it is the domed green that most frustrates the golfer. Unlike courses built in the 1970s and 80s that employed confrontational hazards close to the green edge, Maples again displayed the good sense to focus on the variety of the challenge (i.e. a bunkerless green unique to the course that shrugs balls away on all sides) rather than repeating water as the primary hazard.
Sixteenth hole, 450/420 yards; Adding to the diversity of the course’s overall challenge are the two sloping fairways that come next, both here and the penultimate hole. In this case, the hole is a sharp dogleg right and the further to the outside of the dogleg the golfer plays, the more below his feet the ball is for his approach shot. This fade stance is especially troublesome as a lone pine thirty yards from the green on the left blocks such a shaped shot. The ideal tee ball hugs the inside of the dogleg, leaving the golfer a relatively level stance into one of the course’s most difficult greens that feeds away toward the back right.
Seventeenth hole, 585/565 yards; This hole fits the classic definition of a great par five in that each shot gets progressively more difficult. The reverse ‘S’ use of the creek is reminiscent of the sixth hole but the golfer is now given a hook stance for his second shot as the ball is likely to be above his feet. Regardless of the stance, the golfer feels compelled to advance the ball another 200 plus yards on his second shot given both the length of the hole and the shallow nature of the green. Though wide, the green at only twenty-one paces in depth is the exact opposite to the deep but narrow one at the sixth and it puts an emphasis on having but a short iron into it.
Eighteenth hole, 415/400 yards; More than one member selects this as their favorite hole on the course, which is quite a statement given the choices. Most impressively, especially considering when this course was built, this Home hole embodies the strategic design philosophy. Much of the 1960s saw penal architectural as the general rule with a course like Pine Tree demanding aerial golf to elevated greens with bunkers flush against the putting surface. Here, allowances were cleverly built into the green surrounds to allow a ball to take the left to right slope and feed down the length of the green, all without ever having to cross the natural water hazard that trails down the right of the hole. The fact that a family of four different generations of golfers can equally enjoy this closing hole highlights one of the reasons why Grandfather has remained so popular with many of the same families for its first forty years.
Grandfather demands it all from the golfer, from accurate drives to a deft touch around/on the greens. Bunkers aren’t the primary hazard with which the golfer must contend; that distinction goes to the features found in mountains such as streams and the vegetation found at this altitude. Yet, Grandfather’s challenge is still a fun one, helped enormously by its inspired mountain setting and how Maples’ routing made the most of it. Though it was built in the 1960s, the principles behind the club are timeless of enjoying the great outdoors and providing a place for families to gather.
Ellis Maples wrote a letter to the club on September 15th, 1965 that read in part,
The magnificent scenery afforded by the west slope of Grandfather Mountain as it towers above the Linville River Valley where Glen Dornie is located I feel provides a golf course setting that is unequalled in North Carolina. Tremendous trees line the fairways and the lake, streams and topography afford opportunities for a great variety of interesting golf holes.
For once, an architect didn’t embellish and even more impressive is how he delivered on the final product. When Aggie sees what Grandfather means today to so many people, she is bound to appreciate that her desires have been fully met.