Senior Tour Hits the Tar Heel State, and There are Plenty of Places to Play
GREENSBORO, N.C. -- You wonâ€™t get to see Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, but at least you will be able to see. The Senior Tour has never completely recovered its popularity from the salad days of Lee Trevino, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. These days, television ratings are down, the star power has been sucked out of the tour, and the layouts have been softened up like goose down pillows.
Translation: there are plenty of good seats available at most events. But if youâ€™ve ever attended a Senior Tour event, you know that despite the bad rap, the quality of golf is pretty darn good.
In September, the senior circuit makes its North Carolina swing, beginning with the RJR Championship (formerly know as the Vantage) held September 9-15 at Tanglewood Park outside Winston Salem. The following week, the boys shuffle over to Caryâ€™s Prestonwood Country Club for the SAS Championship and a little taste of the stateâ€™s vaunted â€śTriangleâ€ť region. Side note: the Vantage/RJR Championship was cancelled last season due to 9-11, and the tournament will be discontinued after this year due to a lack of sponsorship.
So, if you have some vacation days to kill before the leaves turn, and youâ€™d like to catch Jim Thorpe, Allen Doyle, and Larry Nelson in action, nowâ€™s the time to embark on a nice little golf road trip along Tobacco Road. Golf destinations Greensboro, Winston Salem, and Raleigh are not. But therein lies the attraction. Open tee boxes, four-hour rounds, plush bentgrass greens, and green fees under $50 are the norm around the central Piedmont.
Where to Play
Tanglewood Park is there for the taking if you arrive before the pros do. The venerable facility is home to two teeth-gritting Robert Trent Jones courses: the Championship and the Reynolds. Both courses were built pre-1965, but both underwent major remodel jobs in the 1970â€™s. Both courses have at one time or the other appeared in Golf Digestâ€™s Top 100 Public Courses list, and the Championship Course actually hosted a PGA Championship in 1974. The Championship Course is also the layout of choice for the Senior Tour, and is slightly more wide open than its sibling. The Reynolds Course is a little tighter off the tee, but a little easier overall. Together, the courses sport over 120 bunkers and have even brought low-handicappers to their knees. Year after year, Tanglewood Park is one of the most popular daily fee golf venues in the Carolinas. The quality and challenge of the product offered has a lot to do with that, but so does the price: $48 on weekends for the Championship Course and $30 everyday for the Reynolds Course.
The Grandover Resort Rub your eyes a couple of times if you need to, but the Grandover Resort isnâ€™t a mirage. There it sits on the north side of Interstate 85 on 1400 acres of land replete with an opulent resort hotel, two 18-hole courses ranked in the stateâ€™s Top 100, and brand-spanking-new day spa. The East and West courses at Grandover are hands-down two of the best-conditioned tracks in the Triad (Winston Salem, High Point, Greensboro area), and the design credits for both go to Roger Panks and David Graham. The East Course was the first to appear on the Triad radar screen, and its severely undulating nature and length (7,100 yards) have earned it the reputation as the more bullheaded of the two layouts. The West Course is a bit newer, a bit shorter (6,800 yards), but no slacker in the quality department. Green fees, including cart, are $50 on the weekdays and $60 on the weekends.
Tot Hill Farm in Asheboro is a bit off the main road but worth the deviation. Controversial (but heralded) architect Mike Strantz designed the course, which meanders through the ancient Uwharrie Mountains the same way Paul Bunyan and his ox Babe must have â€śmeanderedâ€ť through the forests of Minnesota. Tot Hill Farm, with its massive rock formations and severely contouring fairways, is easily one of the most visually stunning courses in the state. Proponents of minimalist course design will undoubtedly cry foul, but Tot Hill Farm is worth the infraction.
The Preserve at Jordan Lake Golf Club is yet another winner from PGA Tour player Davis Love IIIâ€™s design group. The Sea Island, GA based firm reeled off a big hit in 2001 with the opening of Anderson Creek outside of Fayetteville, and Jordan Lake may even one-up it. The course is a collaboration of Davis, his brother Mark Love and Bob Spence, and is part of Bluegreen Golf's 516-home planned development rapidly rising on the western shores of Jordan Lake. The layout plays to a parbuster rating of 75.1 with a slope of 145 from the back tees (dubbed the Love tees). Its built-in difficulty from the tips will allow the course to accommodate professional events, but recreational golfers are the facilityâ€™s target audience.
Where to Stay
The Grandover Resortâ€™s hotel will place you firmly in the lap of luxury. All guest rooms have a marble entry foyer, marble bathroom, custom tapestry designed exclusively for the hotel. Each room has its own area rug inset in the carpeting to make guests feel at home (we should all have homes like this). A spa, whirlpool, racquetball, indoor-outdoor pool, and fitness facility also grace the property.
If you're looking for something more traditional, you can't go wrong with The Carolina Inn, a 184-room facility located in the heart of the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill. Originally built in 1924, The Carolina Inn is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Owned by the university and managed by Doubletree Hotels, the Inn underwent a $16.5 million renovation in 1996. You can make reservations by calling 800-962-8519.
If you have the time â€¦
Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill sport world class golf courses, the former courtesy of Robert Trent Jones and the latter having underwent a major renovation by Tom Fazio â€¦ For a couple of affordable, well-conditioned golf courses in the Triad, check out Greensboro National and Stoney Creek.
August 15, 2002