Bryan Park offers 36 of the finest greens in Greensboro, N.C.

By Joel Zuckerman, Contributor

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- He was born in Ohio, raised in Massachusetts and made his first fortune as a cotton broker in New York. But North Carolinians should always be grateful that Joseph Bryan fell in love with a Greensboro gal, and eventually her hometown, moving south in the 1930s.

He furthered his fortunes in the insurance, radio and television industries. He spent decades acquiring his money, and then started giving it away with the same fervor. One of his many philanthropic efforts was a gorgeous land parcel near Greensboro's Lake Townsend that came to be known as Bryan Park.

The 36 holes that exist there today are a permanent testament to his desire to bring a top-notch, public-access golf facility to his fellow citizens.

Bryan's vision was first realized in 1974, when the original George Cobb-designed Players Course opened. Sixteen years later, Rees Jones delivered the Champions Course. Besides the golf courses there are practice facilities, soccer fields and picnic areas found on the 1,550-acre parcel.

Champions is a true championship track and at 7,150 from the tips and 6,650 from the middle markers, there is plenty of perimeter mounding to help propel would-be errant tee shots back into play. Bunkers are many and massive, but this parkland beauty really scores points because of its proximity to Lake Townsend.

Seven holes border the water, including the all-world 13th, a par-4 dogleg stretching 435 yards from the penultimate markers, where the lake comes into play on both drive and approach.

"When I was brought on to do the Champions course, it was designed to have the capability of hosting a significant championship like the Greater Greensboro Classic," said Rees Jones.

The PGA Tour never moved to the newer facility, and has remained at Forest Oaks, which will host the event for the 19th consecutive year later this month. But there's no doubt the touring pros would enjoy the serenity and challenge of this lakeside gem.

The Greensboro location is ironic, because Champions at Bryan Park brings to mind a Jack Nicklaus course with a significantly higher 'Q' rating, also located in Greensboro, albeit in the tiny burgh of Greensboro, Ga.. Great Waters is the pinnacle of golf at ritzy Reynolds Plantation, in middle Georgia, some 90 minutes east of Atlanta , and offers some of the same up-close lake views seen at this well run, finely conditioned public facility. The major difference? Champions tops out at about $50 per round, and can often be accessed for less. The same amount of money on a per-hole basis at Reynolds won't even get you halfway through the front nine.

The architect agrees that there are similarities in the waterfront holes at Bryan Park and the ones at Reynolds Plantation's Great Waters, though his contribution to the Reynolds landscape is called the Lake Oconee Course. But he draws another interesting analogy.

"The two courses at Bryan Park are like Bethpage Black and Bethpage Red," said Jones, who renovated the former for the 2002 U.S. Open. "One is the ultimate in challenge, the truest test of the game. The other is an excellent course also, but not quite as long, and potentially not as difficult."

Jones and company worked on the renovation of the existing George Cobb routing while the new course was being constructed. Keith Evans is a senior design associate at Rees Jones Inc., and served as lead field architect during the Bryan Park project.

"We had to make some adjustments in the holes that were already there, and do some re-sequencing so the nines would conclude near the clubhouse," said Evans, who's been with Jones for more than 25 years.

"In my opinion, Champions is more challenging, primarily because of the water features as the inward nine commences. The Players Course doesn't have the same lakefront proximity as the Champions Course, and while Cobb's original bunkering is almost uniformly shallow, the Jones original has bunkers of varying depths," Evans said.

Evans has nothing but praise for the facility overall.

"It's a first-class operation, particularly for a city-owned property. As far as municipal projects go, it's one of the best we've been associated with."

Kyle Kolls is the general manager and director of golf at Bryan Park. He's only been on duty in Greensboro since the spring, but has spent over 20 years in the business, working at private clubs and high-end resorts in South Florida, Oklahoma, Louisiana and his native Texas.

"The consistent quality of this facility is the equal of anywhere else I've worked," said Kolls. "It's the maintenance, the course conditions, the overall experience we provide for our visitors."

Kolls admitted that Champions gets a bit more attention, and might have the edge in aesthetics due to the proximity of the lake. But he's quick to point out that the Players Course doesn't play second fiddle in the least.

"We're about to close the Players Course to redo our bunkering and greens," said Kolls. "It's our goal to keep this facility state of the art, and this renovation shows our commitment. When we reopen in several months then our two courses will be even closer in stature than they were previously."

Joseph Bryan was fond of saying, "When it comes to giving, man must tip his hat to nature. She gives joy, beauty, and hope -- and excludes no one."

It takes a giver to know one. The golf-loving citizenry of Greensboro and beyond can thank Mr. Bryan for this great gift.

The verdict

Both courses are wonderful, but the additional water features on the Champions Course give it the slight edge in both aesthetics and challenge. The greens fees are an excellent bargain. Champions maxes out at $52 on weekend mornings, and is some $10 cheaper during weekday afternoons, all cart fees included.

The Players primetime rate tops out at $44 on weekend mornings, and is $5 or almost $10 less on weekdays. The Players is accessible for far less if one is willing to forgo a golf cart and walk the grounds, as the greens fees never rise above $30. Walking isn't an option on the Champions Course, carts are a requirement. Needless to say, nobody's trudging to the parking lot post-round feeling like they were ripped off.

Stay and play

Greensboro offers a wide array of lodging options, from the large (Grandover Resort, with 247 rooms and 36 holes of golf) to the tiny. (Double Oaks B&B, with three guest rooms.) Other options worth exploring are the Greensboro Marriott Downtown and the O. Henry Hotel.

Dining out

Lucky 32 and the Village Tavern are two of the city's more popular eateries. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse and the Gate City Chophouse are well known for steaks and seafood. Divalletta Restaurant at the Grandover Resort is one of the most elegant restaurants in town, as is Bistro Sofia, offering a range of cuisine from France to the Pacific Rim.

Fast Fact:

The Players Course has been ranked among the nation's Top-100 courses for women. The Champions Course has been rated No. 12 on a Golf Digest list of the best affordable golf courses nationwide.

Joel ZuckermanJoel Zuckerman, Contributor

Joel Zuckerman is based in Savannah, Georgia and Park City, Utah. He is the author of five books, and his golf and travel stories have appeared in more than 100 publications around the world, including Sports Illustrated, Golfweek, Travel+Leisure Golf, Continental and Golf International.

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