Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The union between The Greenbrier, the premier establishment retreat, and Sam Snead, the supreme backwoods hustler, seemed like golf's equivalent of Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett--a very odd match, albeit one that lasted more than 65 years until Snead's death in 2002. When you visit this resort in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, the marriage makes sense.

Combining a welcoming hominess with a classy veneer, the stately getaway opened in 1778 and has hosted presidents, kings and Andy Bean. The golf spans the centuries, too--from hickory shafts to the Ryder Cup. Be sure to raise a glass to Sam as you make your own history.

The Golf

Greenbrier Course
6,675 yards, par 72; non-hotel guests: $350; guests: $185.

Jack Nicklaus redesigned this 1922 Seth Raynor layout prior to the 1979 Ryder Cup. At just 6,675 yards from the tips, length isn't the issue here. The keys are finding the fairways--which is no easy task on this tight, tree-lined design--and, more importantly, the proper side of the fairways, since sand and water keep a close watch over the greens. You can only attack the pins here from green-light angles. Three putts will be all-too-common if you don't find the right level on the multitiered greens. Slammin' Sam owns the course record: a tournament 59 in 1959.

Old White
6,683 yards, par 70; non-hotel guests: $350; guests: $185

The Greenbrier's first course, a 1915 Charles Blair Macdonald design with Seth Raynor updates, is the subject of an ongoing restoration set to conclude this winter (the course is open through mid-October) with the goal of bringing back some of the audacious bunkering and green complexes that have eroded over time. Now, as then, the fast, sloping greens and 12 varied par 4's on this track are the hallmarks. Unlike the Greenbrier course, death here comes not with a bang but by a thousand nicks and cuts.

Meadows
6,776 yards, par 71; non-hotel guests: $350; guests: $185

A diverse resort layout, thanks in part to its complex parentage, which contains elements of Raynor, Dick Wilson and, more recently, Bob Cupp (Tom Fazio also made uncredited tweaks to two holes). The one constant has been the panoramic views of the Allegheny Mountains, making this a favorite for golf-is-a-walk-in-the-park types. Though it sports a few forced water carries, including the 188-yard island-green second hole, the design features plenty of width off the tee and enough open greens to make it playable for golfers across the talent spectrum. That's for the best, since frustrated golfers wouldn't know which architect to blame.

For tee times at The Greenbrier's courses call 800-453-4858 or visit greenbrier.com.

Oakhurst Links
2,235 yards, par 35; $95

Located three miles from The Greenbrier, this is the first golf club established in the U.S.--formed in 1884--and a must-see for history buffs and masochists alike. Visitors must navigate the layout using borrowed hickory-shafted clubs and gutta-percha balls (specially made in the U.K.), and without those modern wooden tees (the staff teaches you to make 'em from sand and water). The greatest hazard is the sheep that tend the course. It all sounds quaint--until you make a 13 on a 322-yard par 5. You may well leave thinking Old Tom Morris was the greatest golfer ever. oakhurst1884.com, 304-536-1884

Local Knowledge

Learn how to use an SUV the way it was meant to be--not cruising to the mall and soccer practice but rather over the river and through the woods--at the Greenbrier Off-Road Driving School. Lessons from one to four hours start at $185.

Golfers don't need selling on the allure of having a bird at one's beck and call. There are no eagles at the Falconry Academy, but you will find trained falcons and hawks. $85.

Once part of the C&O railway, the 76-mile Greenbrier River Trail satisfies all active-lifestyle needs. Free Spirit Adventures cares for hikers and bikers (304-536-0333; freespiritadventures.com). Kayakers can call the Greenbrier River Company (800-775-2203; greenbrierriver.com). Canoodlers, you're on your own. $30 per person.

Lewisburg is a quaint Southern town of art galleries and antique shops. It's also a National Register Historic District because a Civil War battle was fought in its city center.

The bones of the prehistoric three-toed sloth that Thomas Jefferson presented to Philadelphia's Philosophical Society were found at Organ Cave; daily guided tours showcase the scientific and historical importance of the cave. $12.50 plus tax. 304-645-7600, organcave.com.

Getting There

Fly into Greenbrier Valley Airport on U.S. Airways from Charlotte, Washington Dulles and Pittsburgh; Delta flies here from Atlanta. Another option is Roanoke Regional Airport in Roanoke, Virginia, an hour and a half drive from the resort.

\nWhere to Eat

The Tavern Room The Greenbrier's most intimate dining option, with piano music and a wine list to cheer Greg Norman.

Sam Snead's
Be amuse bouched to death as the resort staff offer you samples of just about everything on the menu.Food & Friends Recently featured on the Food Network's "The Best of..." series and rightly revered for its sizzling steaks. Located in Lewisburg. foodandfriends.com; 304-645-4548.

General Lewis Inn
Another Lewisburg staple best known for its rainbow trout, sauteed, broiled or blackened. generallewisinn.com, 304-645-2600.

Where to Stay

How good is the Greenbrier's service? Both sides occupied the original hotel during the Civil War. Accommodations are on a Modified American Plan that includes breakfast and dinner.

The Deluxe Golf Package runs through October and includes unlimited play as well as breakfast and dinner. Costs range from $430 to $494 per day, per person, double occupancy. greenbrier.com, 800-453-4858.

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