Coach Dean Smith may have cemented the notion that college hoops is king when it comes to sports in North Carolina. NASCAR likely runs a close second, certainly in the days when Rockingham’s oval was rocking. Nonetheless, in terms of rich sporting history in the Tar Heel State, neither basketball nor auto racing can begin to touch golf. Important, national-level golf events in North Carolina date to 1901, when the first North and South Amateur took place in Pinehurst. Since then, every great name in golf, from Harry Vardon to Bobby Jones, from Ben Hogan to Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson to Tiger Woods has teed it up with serious intent among the Carolina pines.
The tradition continues this week with the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro. One of the oldest events on the PGA Tour, Greensboro has played host to the pros since 1938, when Sam Snead [right on the cover of the Dec. 5, 1960, issue of Sports Illustrated] won the inaugural. Snead went on to win seven more times, including in 1965, at the age of 52. Not only was it the final victory of his stellar career (it gave him 82 wins, a PGA Tour record that still stands, though Tiger will likely catch and pass him by next year), but in doing so, it made him the oldest winner of a PGA Tour event — another record that remains in place.
You want more history? Byron Nelson hoisted the Greensboro trophy in 1941 and again in 1945 when the title became win number 3 in his surely-never-to-be-broken win streak of 11 straight tournaments. Ben Hogan won here in 1940. Gary Player triumphed in 1970. Seve Ballesteros was crowned champion in 1978. Recent “notables” who have conquered Greensboro include Brandt Snedeker in 2007, Webb Simpson in 2011 and Sergio Garcia in 2012.
The Donald Ross-designed Sedgefield Country Club is host again this year and while the speedy new Bermuda greens made low scoring more of a challenge in 2012, hey, it is mid-August in the South, so they’ve got to throw enough water on the fairways and greens to keep them alive in the heat, so look for relatively soft conditions and low scores again.
Favorites? Snedeker’s had a great year, as has Zach Johnson and Simpson is fresh off a brilliant 64 at Oak Hill that let him briefly tie the course record. Still, my pick is Bill Haas, who’s been rock-steady all year and who’s coming in at sixth place in the Fed Ex standings.
Unfortunately for you traveling golfers, you’ll have a hard time accessing any of the three courses used for the Greensboro Tour stop since the beginning. Sedgefield Country Club, Starmount Forest Country Club and Forest Oaks Country Club are all private. If you yearn to play Sedgefield, however, there’s a small, yet legitimate opportunity. Sign up with the McConnell Golf Trail.
The McConnell Golf Trail (919-354-3500, website) encompasses seven private clubs that are managed by McConnell Golf and limited outside play is permitted by purchasing a seven- or five-day package that includes golf, lodging, most meals and some travel expenses. You must book a foursome to play, and stay in the designated hotels. Sedgefield is part of both packages, as are other terrific private clubs in the McConnell stable, such as Old North State Club and Treyburn, a pair of Tom Fazio designs and Raleigh Country Club, another Donald Ross treat. Shoulder season rates start at $1,374 per player.
On second thought, maybe I’ll pick Lucas Glover to win the Wyndham. He’s a McConnell Golf member.