Greenbrier buys historic Oakhurst Links, will keep it intact

Oakhurst Links
Many players don period clothing to tackle the old-time challenge at Oakhurst Links.

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Friday, October 12, 2012 | 5:57 p.m.

In what seems like the best possible result to what had become a painful situation to anyone interested in the preservation of golf history, the Greenbrier Resort is buying Oakhurst Links. Greenbrier owner Jim Justice confirmed the deal on Friday, saying the price was less than $1 million but more than the throwback layout was set to sell for at auction over the summer.

Oakhurst Links was built in 1884 just a few miles north of the Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. The 30-acre course, museum and clubhouse are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and are filled with photos of visits from golfers such as Sam Snead, Lee Trevino and Tom Watson.

The facility has been owned for decades by Lewis Keller, who is now 89 and has been struggling to find a buyer in recent years. A Richmond, Va.-based group had planned to take over the course last year, but couldn't raise the $2.5 million to close the deal. Then in July, Keller hoped to auction the course off, but financing for the $410,000 winning bid fell through and he feared a Virginia bank would foreclose on the property.

At the nine-hole Oakhurst Links, which was built in 1884, players rent hickory-shafted clubs and hit gutta-percha balls off tees fashioned from sand and water the way it was done more than 130 years ago. The National Hickory Championship has been played there since since 1998.

Justice said he plans to keep the course intact and even make some improvements if needed.

''To be perfectly honest, I don't know that it's going to be a great thing for the Greenbrier,'' said Justice, who also bought the Greenbrier out of bankruptcy in 2009. ''But I know it's a great thing to do.''

He’s right and he’s wrong, in my view. The Greenbrier’s purchase is absolutely a great thing to do, both for Keller and for golf historians everywhere.

But I also believe that this could also be a great deal for the Greenbrier, which is already one of America’s great golf destinations and the home of the PGA Tour’s popular Greenbrier Classic. With a little creative marketing, I bet the Greenbrier can integrate Oakhurst Links into its recreational offerings and generate enough publicity – and income – to make this transaction a win-win.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.