WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- As the Greenbrier Classic begins this week, one Richmond, Va., man will be looking on like a proud father as the PGA tour unfolds on the resort's Old White course.
"It's like, I guess, akin to one of your children being named Miss America. Everyone's going to be looking at her for a week and everybody's going to get to know her," said golf course architect Lester George, standing last Friday near the first hole where it all begins.
For George and his Richmond-based firm, George Golf Design Inc., it all began when his firm was called on a decade ago to do an Old White makeover. It was no small task.
The Old White was originally designed by Charles B. MacDonald, who built the first 18-hole golf course in the United States and is considered the father of American golf architecture.
"It was built in 1914 and, when we came here, we were asked what we would do to the golf course to get it up to modern standards," recalled George. His firm thought it would instead be a wonderful opportunity to take the course back to what it was like from 1914 to 1929.
"We looked at a lot of aerial photographs, we looked at a lot of ground shots. We went to the owners at the time and said we think you ought to go and do a restoration, not a new course," said George. "They embraced the plan. And here we are eight years later and we get to shine a spotlight on some golden age architecture."
His company began the restoration in 2002, working mostly in wintertime, and opened the restored Old White in 2006. What changed? A lot.
"All of the greens had been lost to time -- the original Macdonald features like the Biarritz green, the 3rd hole, with the big dip in it. The 18th green here with the horseshoe contour -- that was original and had been lost. A lot of the strategy was gone. The golf course had just been diluted down to a basically an 80-year-old golf course without the original design intent or character."
Is the restored Old White a tougher course?
"Well, actually it's a wider golf course than it was when I first got here because of the removal of trees and the reinstatement of some of the strategies and widths of fairways," George said.
"The green complexes are a little bit more interesting now and have some contours in them that make it a little bit more challenging to hit the right spot in the green. Of course, the bunkers are deeper and steeper than they were when I got here, but not what they were in the '20s.
"Probably, all in all, I think it went up in difficulty a little bit. But it's probably gone up in fun factor, too."