WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. (AP) – A short ride to Sam Snead's playground is what Tiger Woods considers a good way to get ready for the British Open.
Woods traveled 250 miles for his debut in The Greenbrier Classic on Thursday, a week after his two-shot win at the AT&T National he hosts in Bethesda, Md.
The quick trip to the Old White TPC Course, along with memories of the late Snead's stories about his 47-year association with the historic Greenbrier resort, helped make Woods' decision to compete in the 3-year-old tournament an easy one.
“This tournament since its inception has been absolutely incredible,'' Woods said. “I knew about the history of (the resort) from Sam and how much he loved coming here and loved being here.''
The place might grow on Woods, too, if he can get his fourth victory this season and move within seven of Snead's record 82 PGA Tour wins.
Despite their age difference, Woods and Snead struck up a friendship, which was born at a golf outing near Los Angeles when Woods was 5. Snead played with a new group every two holes and Woods happened to be in the final one, making a pair of bogeys to Snead's two pars.
“I still have the card at home,'' Woods said.
Throughout the years, Woods and Snead had “countless dinners and conversations, and he was always so funny to be around and the stories he would tell and the needling – the needling was nonstop,'' Woods said. “That was one of the neat things about Sam.''
It was at The Greenbrier where Snead got his first professional job in the mid-1930s. He was the resort's golf pro until 1974 and returned as pro emeritus in 1993. Five years later he realized a lifelong dream of establishing a golf academy.
Snead died in 2002, leaving behind a clubhouse filled with his trophies, photos and other treasures.
Like Snead, Tom Watson has a long-lasting relationship with The Greenbrier. Watson's began at the 1979 Ryder Cup, but his stay was shortened by the birth of his first child. He liked the place so much that the next year, he started bringing sponsors and business associates to the resort.
Watson was named pro emeritus in 2005. He'll be playing in his second PGA event of the year, the other being the Masters.
The 1994 Solheim Cup was the last major event held at the resort until Jim Justice bought it out of bankruptcy in 2009 and started the Greenbrier Classic the following year.
Once a gathering place for royalty and presidents, the resort is advertised to players as a family friendly atmosphere with everything they'd need on site – a 721-room hotel, a spa, restaurants and dozens of other amenities from bowling to falconry.
“I think what sold it to me was watching it on TV and then seeing how much the players really enjoyed it,'' Woods said. “I wanted to play in it last year because it fit in my schedule, but I was hurt. That was disappointing, but this year again it worked out perfectly.
“It's close to D.C. A lot of guys are driving here from D.C. On top of that, you get a week off after this to get ready for the British. Some guys may go over there to play the week before the British. At least we have that option. I think that's one reason why the field is so strong here.''
The British Open will be played in two weeks at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
Six golfers ranked in the top 20 in the world are at The Greenbrier, compared to two last year.
Woods will play alongside U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson and Steve Stricker in the first two rounds. Simpson led last year's Greenbrier Classic with nine holes left before fading to a tie for ninth.
Stricker's wife, Nicki, will carry his bag just as she did early in his career before having children. His regular caddie was given the week off because Stricker was a late addition to the Greenbrier field. Stricker is 14th in Ryder Cup points and hopes to make the U.S. team that will compete against Europe on Sept. 28-30 at Medinah. Stricker will go after his fourth straight John Deere Classic title next week in Silvis, Ill.
Phil Mickelson, who called conditions on Old White “brutally difficult'' last year and missed the cut, will play Thursday and Friday alongside 2011 winner Scott Stallings and 2010 champion Stuart Appleby, who shot 59 in the final round to beat Jeff Overton by a stroke.
Last week's powerful wind storm damaged as many as 80 trees on Old White. One of them fell onto the back edge of the 16th green and knocked down a set of bleachers.
Volunteers and resort staff helped clear debris over the weekend.
“Just the amount of time and manpower it took to clean it up was amazing, absolutely amazing,'' Watson said. “Sunday, it looked like it always has looked.''
The Greenbrier is known for its once-secret underground bunker built for Congress in case of nuclear attack during the Cold War. Justice said the bunker's vast emergency power system came in handy after the storm.
More than 680,000 customers in West Virginia lost power. Those outages were cut in half by midweek and Justice applauded utility company efforts to restore service to businesses catering to golf fans this week.
“You could have had an incredible disaster,'' Justice said. “If you had had 300,000 people here and they couldn't get gas and they couldn't move and everything, and 100 degrees outside, you would have had a super disaster.
“So in a lot of ways, we have been very blessed.''