On a sunny summer’s day, when the temperature is 15-18 degrees cooler than it is 125 miles to the east, it’s easy to get lost in the incomparable beauty of your surroundings and forget to tend to your golf.
And then you realize that no matter your score, playing Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville, N.C., is more about drinking in the vistas, some of which can be described as no less than breathtaking. Pars and birdies seem incidental and maybe even downright inconsequential.
Fighting the distractions will be foremost on the minds of the competitors who play in the Carolinas Senior Amateur, which will be hosted by Grandfather from Sept. 19-21. The player who can balance good golf and equally rewarding sightseeing will hoist the trophy at the end of the event.
What the players will find, especially those who are fortunate enough to have played Grandfather before, are some consequential tweaks. For one, the driving range has been expanded by moving the tees back and making the tees slightly more elevated. Also reconfigured was the large putting green that for years had a stream running through it.
And the first hole has been changed. A big tree on the right side of the fairway has been removed and replaced by a long fairway bunker. And what used to be a pond guarding the front and right of the par-5 green has been removed and grassed in. The changes, overseen by architect Bobby Weed, make the hole much more playable for the members – and takes away the bottleneck that would occur at the beginning of the round.
Other than some work to the 16th hole in 2014-15, the course is virtually as it was when Ellis Maples designed it for the opening in 1968. Grandfather, which sits in the Linville River valley in the shadow of its namesake mountain, was the pet project of Agnes Morton Cocke Woodruff.
Known as “Aggie,” she and her brother, Hugh Morton, each inherited 2,000 acres from their grandfather. Hugh used his land to start the Grandfather Mountain attraction and Aggie used hers to build a golf course. She tapped Maples, who designed the Country Club of North Carolina near Pinehurst a few years earlier, because Maples studied his craft under the great Donald Ross.
Aggie wanted a course that you couldn’t see any other hole than the one you were playing. Maples granted her wish. What’s more, you can count the houses you see from the golf course on one hand. It’s the singular beauty of the golf and the majesty of the mountain that golfers of all stripes experience every time they play Grandfather.
As a result, Grandfather has long been recognized by the “best of” lists of all the golf publications as being among the two or three best courses in North Carolina. Those who have been fortunate enough to play Grandfather never turn down an invitation or an opportunity.
And you can bet the qualifying sites for the Carolinas Senior Amateur will be full due to Grandfather being the tournament host. Those who qualify will have to deal with well-configured greens, which will have a bit of contour and speed in them.
Whoever wins will have an accomplishment of which he can be proud. But it will hard to be upset, no matter what you shoot.