Carl Pettersson felt as if someone had turned back the clock when he arrived at West Virginia’s historic Greenbrier resort this week.
There’s the white facade of the regal hotel, quaint cottages, horses towing carriages along tree-lined streets, and the Sam Snead’s personal playground: the 96-year-old Old White golf course.
“It feels like you’re going back to the ’50s or something when you pull in,” Pettersson said Wednesday. “The golf course is a throwback, I think. This is a hidden gem.”
Pettersson hopes to relive some of his own memories from his RBC Canadian Open win when he tees off Thursday in the Greenbrier Classic. Pettersson shot 60 in the third round at St. George’s in Toronto last week and came from six strokes down with 11 holes left for his fourth PGA Tour win.
Now comes Old White, which has six par 4s at 405 yards or less and rough that isn’t as thick as St. George’s, leading Pettersson and others to believe the winning score could reach 20 under par or better.
“The momentum is great,” Pettersson said. “But in this game, I know it can change from day to day.”
The field for the Greenbrier Classic isn’t as strong as other tournaments -- only three of the top 10 money leaders are entered -- and some golfers believe those who aren’t here were reluctant to commit to a new tournament.
That could be a bonus for Jim Furyk, who’s fifth in the FedExCup points standings and with a win could leap past Ernie Els into the top spot with four weeks remaining until the playoffs.
“To win and vault to No. 1 and basically be cemented in one of those top three spots for sure is a bonus,” said Furyk, who won earlier this year at Hilton Head and Tampa. “It’s a big head start to be seeded well. But first and foremost it would be great to have a three-win season. I’ve never done it.”
The PGA Tour returns to the Greenbrier for the first time since Snead, the resort’s professional for 29 years and its pro emeritus from 1993 until his death in 2002, won the Greenbrier Invitational in 1958.
The resort’s rich golf history dates to when President Woodrow Wilson was one of the first to play Old White when it opened in 1914.
The 1979 Ryder Cup, a Champions Tour event from 1985-87 and the 1994 women’s Solheim Cup were held on the adjacent Greenbrier Course.
The resort lost its coveted Mobil five-star rating in 2000. A year ago, West Virginia businessman Jim Justice bought it out of bankruptcy and vowed to restore its shine. Soon after, PGA Tour official Slugger White, whose friendship with Justice goes back to their boyhood summers playing golf from dawn to dusk in Beckley, called when he heard Justice bought the resort.
“It was really thought of as Emerald City to both of us,” Justice said.
Then the subject of returning professional golf came up. A few months later, the Greenbrier Classic was unveiled, replacing the Buick Open on this year’s schedule.
Justice was only getting started. He teamed up with former NBA and West Virginia University star Jerry West to open a steakhouse and earlier this month Justice debuted an $80 million underground casino on the property.
This week, besides the $6 million purse and $1.08 million share that goes to the winner, Justice is offering $1 million for any hole-in-one made on the par-3 18th hole, with $750,000 going to charity and players making the ace getting the rest. There would be a maximum of three payouts per round.
In addition, fans carrying hole-in-one tickets on No. 18 will receive $100 for the first ace, $500 for a second one on the same day and $1,000 for a third.
Whether that happens remains to be seen. The 18th green includes a large ridge in the middle that Stuart Appleby compared to a giant boomerang. It’s one of many undulating putting surfaces that figure to take some golfers on wild rides. The par-3 third green practically disappears from view from the tees.
“No. 3, you could park your car in it and not even see it,” Johnson Wagner said.
Cross bunkers in the fairways also could get in the way of scoring.
Most of the field hadn’t seen the 7,031-yard, par-70 Old White before arriving this week.
“Whoever plays the best is still going to win,” Pettersson said. “I don’t know if it levels the playing field or not. It probably rewards a more aggressive player.”