Sunday, September 29, 2019

My Summer in the Mountains

One of the things that I've always wanted to do in my career is to work at a seasonal facility in the mountains.  For the twenty plus years I've been a golf professional, and I've always had year round jobs so the option of working a seasonal gig never really came up.  This year, I was given the opportunity to work a season in the mountains of North Carolina and I eagerly jumped on it.  It was a fantastic summer with many great experiences on the golf course.
MY HOME COURSE
The Waterfall 15th Hole at Highlands Falls
Highlands Falls Country Club in Highlands is where I spent my wonderful summer working in the mountains.  Highlands Falls began it's life in 1963 as a nine-hole course called Sky Lake Golf Estates.  Sometime in the 1970's the name of the club was changed to Highlands Falls in honor of the most dramatic feature of the property, the 100 foot tall Highlands Falls waterfall.
The almost drive-able Par four 6th Hole
In the early 1980's Joe Lee expanded the course to eighteen holes, building most of the current back nine including the famous fifteenth hole with the Highlands Falls waterfall behind it. The club is getting ready to undertake a major renovation of the golf course with architect Bill Bergin.  The goal of the renovation is to improve drainage and make the golf course more playable.
Par three 10th Hole
One of the things I enjoyed most about working at Highlands Falls is their dedication to the members in making their experiences special every time they step on the property.  As a result the membership is by far the nicest I have ever seen.
Every year the staff paints a large American Flag on the 17th fairway to celebrate the 4th of July.  The flag takes about 4 hours to complete
As with most golf courses that undertake a major renovation, there is one hotly debated topic among the membership, and as usual it involves a tree.  What is not usual is the fact that for perhaps the first time, I am actually in favor of keeping the tree.  The tree in question is on the short par four second hole, see below.  
The Par four 2nd hole with the much discussed tree in front of the green

I am generally a proponent of all tree removal since trees are the natural enemy of growing grass.  However, in this particular case, the tree provides essential strategy to the hole.  The proposal is to replace the tree with a group of bunkers, which is a mistake because with the tree there, long hitters are tempted to get as close to the green as possible, and are appropriately punished with a bad lie or awkward angle if they don't pull it off.  With the bunkers there, nobody is going to risk it because every golfer hates hitting the 50 yard bunker shot.  It is perhaps the most terrifying shot in golf.  The presence of the tree also provides strategy in regards to the importance of position off the tee.  You must place your ball as far left in the fairway as you can to give yourself a clear shot with a good angle.  Without the tree, people will be able to hit it anywhere in the fairway with no penalty for improper placement-an essential element for a short par four.
HIGHLANDS/CASHIERS COURSES
I'm defining the Highlands/Cashiers area as the fifteen golf courses located near Highway 64 between Lake Toxaway and Highlands.  In 2019 I played nine for the first time and revisited two from previous years. I played Wade Hampton and Mountaintop before but did not play them again this summer.  The only courses I couldn't play were High Hampton(because it is currently under renovation by Tom Fazio and scheduled to re-open in 2021), and the new par three course at Old Edwards, Glen Cove(because it is scheduled to open in late October).

Burlingame Country Club is a 1985 Tom Jackson design and the site of my best round of the summer.  I shot a 66 from the 6600 yard Gold tees but left several shots on the course as I missed birdie putts from inside fifteen feet on three of the last four holes.  The pressure was definitely getting to me at that point!  It felt great to play a round where everything was working.  Even when I hit a bad drive into the trees it came back into the fairway!
Burlingame Country Club, Par four 9th Hole
Cullasaja Country Club was designed by the great Arnold Palmer and opened in 1987.  My employee housing at Highlands Falls is actually closer to Cullasaja than HF just to give you an idea of how close these courses are to each other  The house that overlooks the famous waterfall 15th Hole at Highlands Falls is actually on Cullasaja property!
Cullasaja Country Club, Par four 8th Hole
Highlands Country Club is a Donald Ross design that I was fortunate to play in 2010 but thunderstorms forced me to quit before the round ended so I was very excited to get back to experience all eighteen holes.  The course was even better than I remember it.  There is just something very special about a Ross design in the Mountains.  The greatest router of golf courses to walk the earth, with a spectacular piece of property, always leads to something extraordinary.
Highlands Country Club, Par four 5th Hole
Lake Toxaway Country Club is a course that I played on my initial trip to the mountains in 2010 that I was very excited to play again.  Kris Spence, a noted Ross Restoration expert, completely reversed the front nine at Toxaway to create a brand new nine that is one of the best in the mountains.
Lake Toxaway Country Club, Par four 4th Hole
Old Edwards Club is a 2000 Tom Jackson design formerly known as Highlands Cove.  The course is a tale of two nines.  The front nine runs up and down a ridge and the holes are fairly close together.  The back nine is on more rugged property and requires many transition holes to get from one part of the property to another.
Old Edwards Club, Par four 18th Hole
Red Bird Golf Links is an executive course that is part of the Sapphire Valley Resort area.  The course calls itself an executive course and not a par three course because there are three "par fours" of about 200 yards.  Two of them feature a very awkward ninety plus degree dogleg.  I would love it if they got rid of the awkward angles and simply made it a par three course.
Red Bird, Par three 4th Hole
Sapphire National Golf Club is a 1982 Ron Garl design that is the only publicly accessible golf course in the Cashiers area.  I am very familiar with Ron Garl designs having visited the area where he designed most of his golf courses, Lakeland, Florida many times.  This is probably one of his best designs.  It keeps your interest from one to eighteen without getting too silly.
Sapphire National Golf Club, Par three 15th Hole
A mere four miles down the road from Sapphire National, The Country Club of Sapphire Valley was designed by George Cobb in 1956 and has had recent updates by Bill Bergin.  CCSV was my favorite course in the Mountains this summer.  Besides being a very pleasant walk, pretty much unheard of in the mountains, the course features a strong set of par threes and a very enjoyable routing.
Country Club of Sapphire Valley, Par three 3rd Hole
Trillium Links just north of Cashiers is one of the newest courses in the Mountains, opening in 1998 and designed by its owner, former PGA Tour player Morris Hatalsky.  The course is on the most severe piece of property of any course in the mountains but the end result is several very interesting drop shot par threes.
Trillium Links, Par three 14th Hole
Wildcat Cliffs Country Club is another George Cobb design, this one from 1962, that was renovated by Bill Bergin in 2008.  The front nine is on relatively flat ground with the back featuring some dramatic elevation changes.
Wildcat Cliffs Country Club, Par four 18th Hole

ATLANTA
So what does Atlanta have to do with a blog post about the mountains?  Well, because I was within reasonable driving distance of Atlanta, roughly two hours to the northern suburbs, I decided to take advantage and play as many of the courses in the Atlanta area as I could while I was close by.

After many years of trying, I was finally able to play the courses at Atlanta Athletic Club.  My day began with the Highlands course that has hosted several Major Championships in the past.
Atlanta Athletic Club(Highlands), Par four 7th Hole
After a challenging round on the Highlands I was happy to have the opportunity to make a few birdies on the less challenging but still very good Riverside course at Atlanta Athletic Club.
Atlanta Athletic Club(Riverside), Par three 17th Hole
Another golf course I have been trying to play for a few years that I was delighted to finally play this summer was the Crabapple course at the Capital City Club.  Designed by Tom Fazio, Crabapple hosted a World Golf Championship event in 2003, just a year after it opened.  The course also hosted the USGA Mid-Amateur in 2017 and is a perfect tournament site because of its excellent practice facility and golf course that has plenty of width.

The North Course at Cherokee Town & Country Club was designed by Joe Lee and opened in 1956.  Tom Fazio subsequently renovated the course in 1998 and the course feels like a Fazio now.
Cherokee Town & Country Club(North), Par four 14th Hole
One of the most pleasant surprises of the summer was The Standard Club.  The course was originally designed by Arthur Hills but a renovation by Mike Riley really improved the look and feel of the course.  I was familiar with Riley from his wonderful renovation of the nearby Rivermont and was impressed with another example of his tremendous work.
The Standard Club, Par three 8th Hole

White Columns Golf Club is a mid 90's Tom Fazio course that reflects well his design philosophy in the 90's:  Playable, benign, and overall pleasant.
White Columns Golf Club, Par four 7th Hole

GEORGIA MOUNTAIN COURSES
Not too far from the mountain courses of North Carolina, Kingwood Golf Club in Clayton, Georgia is a 2000 Scott Pool & Ron Forse design.  While not very long on yardage, it is very long on fun.  The course got the most out of a very difficult site and while some elevation changes border on silly it's still very enjoyable.
Kingwood Golf Club, Par four 13th Hole
A mere twelve miles from Highlands, Sky Valley Country Club is a 1969 Bill Watts design and absolutely worth the very scenic drive from the Highlands/Cashiers area.  A rare public course in the mountains, I sent many members and guests to Sky Valley this summer.
Sky Valley Country Club, Par four 8th Hole

OTHER NC MOUNTAIN COURSES
One of the most memorable experiences I had this summer was the entrance drive at Bear Lake Reserve.  A nine hole course built by Nicklaus Design, Bear Lake has one of the most dramatic entrance drives I have ever seen.  An eight mile drive from the gate to the golf course takes about twenty minutes, and the road is so steep going up the hills that I didn't think my little stick shift Corolla was going to make it!  Originally there were grand plans for thirty-six holes of golf designed by Phil Mickelson and Rick Smith on this site but I think the decision to build a nine hole executive course was probably a good one since getting a regulation course built on this very severe sight would have been challenging.
Bear Lake Reserve, Par four 1st Hole
After a morning spent playing with the 18 Hole Ladies on Play with the Pro Day, I found myself with the afternoon free and decided to make the forty minute drive down the mountain to Franklin to play their little nine hole course.  Tipping out at 2900 yards, the course is actually lots of fun and is another course that can be easily walked.  Just be careful because the walk from the first to the second hole involves an uphill walk on a two lane round with a blind curve and nowhere to run!
Franklin Golf Course, Par four 2nd Hole
Lake Junaluska is a five thousand yard par 68 course that was originally designed by one of the greats of the Golden Age, Tom Bendelow.  The site is amazing and while the features have gone away over the years, it is still a fun round of golf.
Lake Junaluska Golf Course, Par three 9th Hole
Laurel Ridge Country Club in Waynesville is a 1985 Bob Cubb design with some very dramatic elevation changes that create some distinct holes. Very unique to the mountains.
Laurel Ridge Country Club, Par three 3rd Hole
Maggie Valley Club and Resort was built in the 1960's and is also a tale of two nines.  The front, or Valley nine, is as its name suggests, is in the Valley with the holes very close together.  The back, or Mountain nine, is also appropriately named as it is on the more undulating property.
Maggie Valley Club, Par three 12th Hole
Springdale Country Club in Canton is a very sporty design from the sixties that has a great set of greens.  The views are some of the best in the mountains.
Springdale Country Club, Par four 7th Hole
An hour North of the Highlands area in Whittier, Sequoyah National Golf Club is a 2009 Robert Trent Jones Jr design.  I will admit that I hadn't heard great things about this course, but besides the very awkward par five first hole, I found the course to be playable and fair if you have the discipline  to make sure you stay in the fairway.
Sequoyah National Golf Club, Par three 7th Hole
While in the area to play Sequoyah, I stumbled upon a course I would classify as a Hidden Gem: Smoky Mountain Country Club in Whittier.  A Thomas Walker design, Smoky has some very awkward and strange holes yet there is a ton of quirk and interesting design.
Smoky Mountain Country Club, Par three 7th Hole

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