WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W.Va. -- With so much golf on the green this weekend, it might seem surprising that golf courses make up only about 500 of The Greenbrier resort's nearly 7,000 acres.
"The shocking thing is that there was a resort here for 100 years without golf," said Robert Conte, historian for The Greenbrier. "That's a startling idea to people. One of the amazing things about this property is just how long it's been here, and how long it's survived through so many eras of American history."
Thursday marked the beginning of The Greenbrier Classic, and thousands of spectators gathered to watch more than 150 golfers play the Old White course, the fourth straight year the resort has hosted the PGA Tour.
Conte, like many of the Greenbrier's nearly 1,800 seasonal and year-round employees, is granted access to play on the resort's three public courses. For him, though, the draw of The Greenbrier lies in its ability to provide a vast array of services to its visitors while maintaining its air of seclusion.
The oldest portion of The Greenbrier hotel will celebrate its centennial in October. But people have been traveling to the area for much longer -- since at least 1778 -- to bathe in the restorative waters of the white sulphur springs. Water from the springs is still used in The Greenbrier Spa, the only mineral spa in the world awarded a five-star rating from Forbes travel Guide.
"The quintessential Greenbrier experience is going to the spa," Conte said.
"That's what this place has been all about."
Conte said that while other golf tournaments have taken place at The Greenbrier, including the 1979 Ryder Cup and the 1994 Solheim Cup, the size and exposure of The Greenbrier Classic is unprecedented for the resort. Like other PGA Tour events, The Classic draws professional golfers, but Conte said that a large number of golfers' families join them at The Greenbrier, somewhat unusual for a Tour event, because of the resort's reputation as a vacation destination.
"Part of the secret to why this tournament is so popular is because it's an all-inclusive resort," he said. "One of the ways you get a good field -- you get the top players to come here -- is through word of mouth. The players talk to each other. The fact is, for many of these tournaments, they're playing at a country club and they're staying at a Marriott. There's nothing glamorous about it; it's a grind. But here, on a Fourth of July weekend, you're in this world. I always call The Greenbrier a parallel universe. There are more children at this tournament than at any other."