By Cam Huffman
WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS —
As Greenbrier owner Jim Justice proudly stood behind the podium on the first tee box addressing a crowd at the 100th anniversary of the historic Old White TPC Course, a surprise guest emerged from the bushes by the tennis center.
Hearing a disturbance, Justice looked to his left and saw a bushy-haired man in a plaid shirt and gray pants holding a vintage golf club, complete with a pink shaft. It didn’t take long for Justice, and the fans in attendance, to realize that the visitor was Bubba Watson, less than a week removed from winning his second Masters.
“You’re 100 years old, and you look so good,” Watson joked with Justice. “I didn’t want to miss your birthday.”
Watson had been at The Greenbrier since Tuesday, taking a look at the new home he’s building on the property and vacationing with his wife, Angie. But after a bowling match featuring Justice and Angie teamed against Bubba and Cathy Justice Friday night, Justice thought his famous friend had left to return home to Florida. His jaw dropped open when he saw Watson standing on the tee.
“When we left last night, we hugged them and said, ‘We love you,’” said Justice. “And look what the cat drug in.”
Watson and Justice then teed it up for a ceremonial tee shot, using vintage clubs and balls from the time frame of the course’s opening in 1914. It was a fitting tribute for The Old White, which has hosted so many celebrities in its first century.
The golfers who have played The Old White, Greenbrier historian Dr. Robert Conte told the assembled guests, include Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Arnold Palmer, Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino and in more recent years — with the addition of The Greenbrier Classic, a PGA Tour event played on the course since 2010 — Jim Furyk, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson.
Amateur golfers with familiar names have also walked the lush fairways of the Charles Blair Macdonald course over the years, including Bobby Jones, Dwight Eisenhower, Bill Campbell, Bob Hope, Lou Gehrig, Billy Graham, Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, Jerry West, Condoleezza Rice and Bing Crosby.
“Just think of what’s gone on and the hallowed ground that this is,” said Justice beaming with pride for the course he helped return to glory. “This is really history, and we want it to continue on. I don’t want it to change.”
“It’s pretty neat, 100 years of a golf course at a place like The Greenbrier,” added Watson, perhaps a fitting representative of the next generation to enjoy The Old White, which underwent a major redesign at the start of the century and then was lengthened in recent years to fit the games of the PGA Tour’s big hitters. “It’s an honor and a privilege to be here. It was a pretty big deal, and I knew (Justice) was excited about it, so we decided to show up for him.”
While its past — serving as a playground for presidents and dignitaries, helping soldiers recover during World War II, when The Greenbrier became Ashford General Hospital, and serving as the home of golfing legend Sam Snead, whose son, Jack, was on hand for Saturday’s ceremonies — will always be preserved, Justice said he’s excited about the future, including The Greenbrier Classsic, which has quickly become one of the most popular events on the PGA Tour.
“It was tough,” said Justice of getting the event, which many considered impossible, off on the right foot. “It was an uphill battle. (PGA officials) were concerned with who was going to come to the event. But we did it. The people came.
“It was almost like build the field and they will come. The attendance here is unbelievable compared to a lot of the other venues. So we’re making it work. These are the things West Virginia needs to be doing.”
“The concerts, all the fans that come out and support it and getting the big names like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, obviously there’s a passion,” added Watson, who played in the event for the first time last year. “This golf course has been here for 100 years, and it’s stood the test of time. For this golf course to not be changed too much over the years shows how great this course really is. West Virginia gets behind (the tournament) and really pushes it, and that’s pretty cool to see.”
This year’s Greenbrier Classic will be held on The Old White TPC July 3-6. Maroon 5 will perform as part of the concert series on July 4, with Jimmy Buffett scheduled for July 5.
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