There are more famous neighborhoods in American golf -- the sweet spots surrounding Shinnecock Hills on Long Island come to mind, as do the classics in and around 17-Mile Drive at Pebble Beach -- but there aren't many better than the collection of golf clubs in and around Linville.
With the exception of the forever charming Linville Golf Club which allows some public play through the adjacent and equally charming Eseeola Lodge, they're all private clubs, which means most of us only hear about them. But if you've ever had the good fortune to play Grandfather Golf and Country Club (in photo above), Linville, the Elk River Club, Linville Ridge or Diamond Creek, you know you've had a good day regardless of how many golf balls you may have lost among the rhododendrum.
There's an old-world mystique to the North Carolina mountains around Linville. They've been rounded by time and when the clouds cling to them on gray days, it's like pieces of the sky are dragging on the hills.
The essence of golf isn't so much the shots you hit but the experience you have and at Grandfather or Linville or Elk River, it's a good walk that even a couple of double bogeys can't spoil. They're the kind of places where you find yourself looking up at the mountains around you, suddenly staring at a hawk gliding in the distance. It's where you stop the cart and before you hit a shot, you hear a brook gurling down the slope beside you. Glance over and you might see trout in the stream.
Standing on the eighth tee at Grandfather, you may not want to leave. It's among the prettiest par-4s in golf, playing up the hill with the top of the famous mountain rising in the distance is as dramatic as the 18th tee at Pebble Beach, maybe moreso on a perfect October afternoon.
At Linville Ridge, you can play along the mountaintop and look across at Grandfather, a view that never gets old. Just a few miles apart, Linville was designed by Donald Ross and Elk River was crafted by Jack Nicklaus, both giants of the game. Ross may have spent only a day or two walking the property at Linville but he designed a work of art that has aged beautifully. Nicklaus spent plenty of time at Elk River creating his own bit of art.
At the clubs around Linville, golf is a six-month sport. The game is just coming out of a long winter thaw and it will go back into hibernation by Thanksgiving. For this part of the year, though, it's golf in full bloom. It looks different and feels different.
The fairways are soft, surrendering divots the size of footprints, and the greens are subtly sloped and dangerous. Tee shots hang in the air, framed against a mountainside, and thunder rumbles over a hill many afternoons. There's a richness to golf around Linville, both in the literal and the physical sense.
In a quiet corner of the world, just two hours from Charlotte, the game has reemerged from another winter, as beautiful as ever.
Monday, May 17, 2010
Posted by Observer Sports at 8:21 PM