The Old White, Greenbrier Resort
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, United States of America

Ninth hole, 405 yards, Punchbowl; There can be no true Punchbowl green in the mountains as there exists no landforms suitable for adequate drainage. Nonetheless, this green complex admirably creates the sensation of one thanks to the high back wall of two of the deepest greenside bunkers on the course and how the putting surface is bowled out from its surrounds.

Not one of the longest two shotters on the course, the ninth still calls for a well struck approach.

Pressed up against the base of Greenbrier Mountain, the ninth green complex is one of the most well defended on the course.

Twelfth hole, 570 yards, Long; Despite being over 2,000 feet above sea level in the mountainous state of West Virginia, The Old White is by no means hilly. Indeed, half the holes feature elevation changes of less than ten feet, which helps explain why The Old White is such a pleasant walk. The twelfth and thirteenth play along the side of a hill and Macdonald seized upon the opportunity to bench two fine green sites.

Ahead on the left, Harris and George's well placed interpretation of Hell Bunker lends the twelfth great character. Elect to carry it and the golfer has a much shorter shot into the well situated green high on a bank above a stream.

Thirteenth hole, 450 yards, Alps; Golf at this time was a fledging sport in the United States but fortunately, Macdonald did not need to dumb down his strategic design as his golf holes typically featured width and alternative routes to accommodate the less skilled player. At the thirteenth, an uphill approach is none too demanding when hole locations are left. Tuck the hole right behind the large built up mound and scoring quickly escalates. No worries though as all range of players have a way to negotiate the hole in a manner commensurate with their playing abilities.

What's not to like? The hole location seems imminently approachable.

Hold on! The proceedings just got more difficult. Unusual for an Alps hole, the large mound doesn't front the entire green. A highly desirable consequence is the range in difficulty with right hole locations making it one of the course's hardest pars.

Fourteenth hole, 400 yards, Narrows; In The Evangelist of Golf, the preeminent Macdonald historian George Bahto states that ‘arguably the most artistic arrangement of bunkering’ at NGLA occurs at the Narrows. The same applies at this namesake where the course’s longest/largest bunker at 100 yards in length is perfectly offset by a perpendicular bunker that protrudes in from the right. If the golfer carries this cross bunker, he is richly rewarded with a view down the length of the green. Conversely, as the golfer steers safely to the left off the tee, his angle of approach becomes less advantageous.

A gorgegous hole, note the oblique angle that the green is set on for approach shots from the left.

Fifteenth hole, 195 yards, Eden; Macdonald adored the Eden at St. Andrews but hated how a man could use a putter to play the hole from tee to green. Hence at both NGLA  and here, the golfer shouldn’t be surprised to find water between the tee and green.

Howard's Creek makes sure the Eden plays as Macdonald intended. Located just past the deep Strath bunker, the day's hole location is particularly tough. Hill bunker is on the left.

Sixteenth hole, 400 yards, Cape; While not a true Cape in the context that the green doesn’t extend into the same hazard that challenges from tee, this hole nonetheless features the quintessential Cape tee shot. Courtesy of work done over the 2010 winter, the lake bites into the fairway and even the longest hitters on the PGA Tour must think about their relative target line. Apart from the obvious hazard of the water, one nice defense of the hole is its flat fairway. From the tee, not much of the fairway is visible, making it hard for any player to get completely comfortable over the tee ball. An uncertain golfer is a worried golfer with doubt and confusion rarely leading to the day’s best swing. The Golden Age architects utilized design ploys that unsettle the golfer as opposed to many modern architects who elect to mollycoddle the player with perfectly framed visuals.

Seventeenth hole, 555 yards, Oaks; A stream/creek makes for a wonderful hazard and is found with much greater frequency in the mountains than on any other golf setting. Hug Howard’s Creek by driving down the the right of the fairway and the green can be reached in two. Up ahead, eight of Old White’s seventy bunkers endow golf qualities to the rest of the flat hole. A series of the distinctive Dragon Teeth dot the right of the fairway to capture any blocked or pushed approach.

Howard's Creek threatens the tee ball along the right of the seventeenth fairway.

Eighteenth hole, 160 yards, Home; This Short completes the classic collection of one shot holes defined by Macdonald and Raynor. The gamut of shotmaking demanded by this quartet is timeless. The long Biarritz perfectly offsets this Short and the Redan with its right to left requirements is well balanced with the Eden’s left to right bias. The most common misconception about the Short is that its challenge is derived from the fierce defenses that surround the green. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difficulty of the best Short holes is posed by the wild interior green contours with the two best examples still coming from Macdonald’s first two designs, namely Chicago Golf Club and NGLA. The home green on The Old White mimics those challenges with a nearly three foot tall hump occupying the middle of the green.

How refreshing to find a Home hole that potentially sends the golfer off on an exultant note. The hole location situated just before the hump is one of the friendliest on the course.

When the hole location is shifted back behind the mound, the hole becomes much more exacting.

The mound is evident in this striking view from behind the green.

The Old White was built during the Golden Age of golf course architecture and there is a joy found here that eludes most courses built after World War II. Think about how much fun it is to play the Biarritz with the hole location down in the swale or to find the hole just prior to the hump on the eighteenth; these are genuine hole in one locations that might send a lucky guest home with a big smile and a story to be oft repeated. More likely, the golfer simply enjoys the chess match with the architect as to where to best position his ball for his next shot.

Given its remote location in the Appalachian Mountains, few resort guests vacation for less than several days and one thing that they can know with certitude is that they will never tire of playing The Old White. Though the resort possesses two other fine courses, those who enjoy the strategic dilemmas as dished out by the Golden Age architects will relish several rounds on this course, such is the diversity of its shot requirements that shift on a daily basis.

In its early stages golf in this country golf was not an egalitarian affair. Where there was a polo club (e.g. Piping Rock and Saint Louis) there was a Macdonald course. MacDonald is referred to as the ‘Father of golf course architecture’ in the United States because he was the first and most successful designer to express and implement sound architectural principles. Generally his designs occupied the toniest addresses of the day and were off limits to most. The MacDonald/Raynor portfolio is relatively small and only a fraction of those that remain adequately express the original design. Macdonald might never be as loved as Donald Ross whose four hundred courses are more accessible but his best designs remain significant and vibrant and should be sought out. The Greenbrier is a rare opportunity for the public to play a Macdonald course and wise is the player who seizes it.