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Golf legends break ground on course to honor their legacy

By Cam Huffman
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WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, West Va. -- Forty major championships. One-hundred eighty-eight PGA Tour victories. Eight PGA Player of the Year Awards. Four shovels.

Four of golf's greatest legends -- Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and Lee Trevino -- officially broke ground Friday on their first collaboration in golf design, a new mountain course that will be a part of The Greenbrier Sporting Club and overlook Oakhurst Links, the first organized golf course in America, built in 1884.

The new 8,042-yard, 18-hole course, which Greenbrier owner Jim Justice hopes will one day host the U.S. Open, will open in the fall of 2016, and the neighborhood will include a private ski facility, a clubhouse, dining facilities, a pro shop, an outdoor pool and fishing, hiking and biking areas.

"As soon as I saw it, I said, 'I know what I'm going to do,'" said Justice of the property he purchased last fall. "I knew it right then. I knew I was going to twist their arm, break their leg or sit on them, but some way I was going to have (Nicklaus, Palmer, Player and Trevino) here. I knew right then this was our ticket to make the Sporting Club the greatest Sporting Club on the whole planet.

"You've got the four greatest golfers, legends, humans that participated throughout all of my lifetime," Justice continued. "Right down at the bottom of the hill is where it all started. I am immensely proud of West Virginia, and I want goodness for West Virginia. Some day, this is where the U.S. Open needs to be."

Justice said it took a little "arm twisting" to get the four legends, who were very competitive with each other on the course, to "play in the sandbox together," but the chance to leave a legacy eventually drew them together.

 

 

"We are truly creating history," said Justice. "We're doing it, and they're not doing it for the greatest financial gains in the world. I'm surely not. We're doing it for the game."

A connection to The Greenbrier also helped.

Nicklaus helped redesign The Greenbrier Course in 1977 in prepartion for the 1979 Ryder Cup and has had a relationship with the resort since.

"I've been in here a little bit the last few years because Jim's been talking about wanting to modernize The Greenbrier a little bit and do some work on the other golf courses," he said. "I had fiddled around with that, but then he came up with this one. It's nice to be back here. I've spent a lot of time at The Greenbrier."

Player said he first came to The Greenbrier 58 years ago with his family, and he said he has wonderful memories of that trip, including playing with golf legend Sam Snead, the former Greenbrier pro emeritus, whom he called "the greatest athlete to ever play golf."

"I have great memories of this place many, many years ago," he said. "It's the best resort in the world."

Palmer's first win as a PGA professional came in a pro-am tournament at The Greenbrier in 1954. He and an amateur named Spencer Olin won $750 in prize money, as a $10,000 bet Olin had made on his own team. The next year, Palmer won the Canadian Open for his first of 62 PGA Tour victories.

"Arnold's still got the (money)," joked Player. "He has deep pockets and short arms."

Trevino's involvement was basically a given, since he was hired as the resort's third golf pro emeritus this past summer.

"It is the best decision that I have ever made in my life," said Trevino of following Tom Watson into the new position. "I've never had a better summer. I won the British Open, the U.S. Open and the Canadian Open in the run of four weeks in 1971. The best summer was still the last summer that I spent here.

"I had never visited this part of the country. I'm the type of person that goes to a golf tournament and sees the hotel, the airport, the golf course and I leave. But I fell in love with this state and the people in this state -- how hard they work and how nice they are. People always make jokes about people from West Virginia, and I tell them, 'You don't understand. These people are the nicest people I have ever been around.' And it's beautiful."

Aside from their accomplishments on the course, Nicklaus, Palmer and Player are also well noted for course design.

Palmer and his design partner, Ed Seay, have designed more than 300 courses around the world, while Nicklaus owns and operates one of the largest design firms in the world. Gary Player Design has been involved with more than 300 projects in 35 countries.

Trevino's history with golf course design isn't quite as involved, but he said he's enjoyed learning from his peers during the course of this project.

"It looked like a ridge to me," said Trevino of the property. "I couldn't visualize and see this golf course. But I learned so much (Thursday), just driving around with these three great golfers and architects, about how they could see where the holes were going to go."

All agree the new course, which drew The Golf Channel and ESPN to Greenbrier County Friday, is going to be unique.

"This is the most unusual site I've been asked to help design a golf course on," said Palmer. "To say that it will be unusual is an understatement. You will see a golf course that will be amazing. We're going to work to make this one of the most beautiful sites in the world."

"We're not forgetting that the most important people in golf are the members and not the professionals," said Player, who publicly criticized the Chambers Bay course, the site of this year's U.S. Open, for being too difficult for the average golfer. "We're going to try to have a golf course for all seasons that will suit the best player in the world but at the same time that anybody can enjoy it and if they play bad they still say, 'I want to come back tomorrow.'"

Although built on a mountain, with a beautiful view of the valley below, the course, which will average 2,500 feet of elevation, won't include as many elevation changes as might be expected.

"Anytime you're trying to build a property like this, you have to figure out how you can do as much of what I call 'pleasant golf,'" said Nicklaus. "I think we only have about five shots in our current design that are back uphill. That's great for this hilly property. I don't like uphill shots, and not many golfers do. Golf's just a more pleasant game played downhill.

"Until we got onto it, I thought this was going to be a pretty tough job. I don't think it's going to be too bad now. I think it's an opportunity to set up a pretty darn nice golf course with some fantastic scenery."

And most importantly, it will create a legacy for four of the best the game has ever seen.

"Our games lasted a period of 20 years, or whatever it was, but this golf course is going to leave a legacy for not only our lifetime but many people's lifetimes," said Nicklaus. "We're all too old to argue with each other. We're at the point in our lives that it's much more fun to do things together and come up with a product that we can all be proud of."

This article was written by Cam Huffman from The Register-Herald, Beckley, W.Va. and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.