Monday, July 02, 2012

Linville: Playing mountain music

   There is an everlasting charm to Linville.
   If you've been there, whether to take the edge off the summer heat, spend a night at the Eseeola Lodge or just driving through to look at the October leaves, you probably know what I'm talking about. It's just a small mountain town at the foot of Grandfather Mountain, the kind of place you could drive through without noticing but if you've been there, chances are you brought a piece of it home with you.
   Linville was missing its traditional summer softness this past weekend, the thermometer nudging 90. A Charlotte resident, who's had a summer home in Linville for 25 years, said Thursday was the first time he'd turned the air-conditioner on in the evening in all those years.
   Still, there was a freshness in the unseasonably warm mountain air. The flowers, whether in a professionally landscaped garden or growing wild on a hillside, were spectacular. If I were a gardener -- I have the withered skeletons of potted plants to prove I'm not -- I could list the various types of flowers that were in bloom. Instead, think of the best colors in Crayola's 64-crayon box and most of them were on display either in window boxes, little gardens or just off the side of the road.
   The wedding party ducking into the Eseeola Lodge Saturday afternoon couldn't have found a Hollywood set better as a backdrop for their big occasion. The little stream out front. The mountains on both sides. The scent of summer in the air.
    When people ask me my favorite golf courses in North Carolina, I always include Linville Golf Club. I've been fortunate enough to play there a handful of times and spent Saturday afternoon there with Appalachian State football coach Jerry Moore, Harris Prevost and my dad. It's the kind of course you'd like to play every day and those are more rare than you might imagine.
   Moore is one of the region's great natural resources and he fits the North Carolina mountains like a good sweater. Prevost is the Tiger Woods of finding golf balls. He once found 100 on the 11th hole at Grandfather Golf and Country Club, a testament to high handicappers, his tenacity and his refusal to ever pay for a Titleist. He was one shy of a finding a dozen Saturday -- and that doesn't count the two times he fished my Titleist 1 out of two different creeks.
   My dad still tells the story of playing at Linville decades ago and seeing two guys in his group hit it inside five feet on the first hole. Beat that, one said to him. So he did. He holed his second shot for an eagle.
   Late Saturday afternoon, we drove through Banner Elk, climbed a curvy road up the hill at the Elk River Club and found ourselves looking across the mountains from the deck of Max Muhleman's house. Muhleman is the man who convinced George Shinn and David Stern that NBA basketball could work in Charlotte and then did the same with Jerry Richardson and Paul Tagliabue bringing the NFL to Charlotte.
   Besides earning Muhleman the everlasting appreciation of Charlotte sport fans, it earned him a commanding view across the golf course below and the mountainside in the distance. He deserves a statue outside one of our arenas but the view from his deck will do.
   That evening, a big moon hung over Grandfather Mountain in the distance, its light a summer night's blanket.
   On Sunday morning, the skirl of bagpipes could be heard coming from a church.
   Another day, another chorus of mountain music.