Greenbrier's long and windless road
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- LET'S SEE ... Greenbrier owner Jim Justice has brought in some of the world's best golfers, even Tiger Woods for a truncated week.
His efforts have brought 40,000-plus fans to The Greenbrier resort's Old White TPC course for some rounds, and up to 60,000 for the Greenbrier Classic Concert Series.
The state of West Virginia, in all its summer splendor, has been displayed to golf fans across the nation - a nice demographic for drawing visitors and their spare cash.
But there is one item nobody can bring to the course: wind. I mean, Justice blows a little hot air here and there, but even he can't steer a gap-wedge approach off line.
A sustained wind can, and I witnessed as much four weeks ago at the Memorial Tournament. In the third round, a swirling wind gusted to 35 mph at times, leaving the PGA Tour's best players dazed and confused. Only six of 73 broke 70.
I mean, when the wind blows in your face one way, the treetops another and the flagstick a third direction - how do you handle that?
"It's a lot different," said Ted Potter Jr., the 2012 Greenbrier champ who missed the cut in Ohio. "You've got to really figure out the forecast for the day, and figure out where the wind's coming from. It swirls out there a lot when it gets up to 10, 15 mph. Basically, you're looking at the compass drawn on your yardage book, looking where [the wind] is at and trying to play for it.
"As long as you don't catch a swirl, you can hit a good shot, but sometimes it starts swirling and it's tough to guess right."
In all likelihood, we won't see such difficulty. It's the first week in July, when wind almost doesn't exist in this part of the world. (Let's forget the 2012 super-derecho here. Please.)
James Clark of the National Weather Service in Blacksburg, Va., confirms as much. July is the second-calmest month, only trailing the dog days of August.
Poring over records from the Lewisburg airport, he found sustained winds of greater than 12 mph just 2.3 percent of the time - mostly in or near thunderstorms. Winds ranged from 5 to 13 mph about 50 percent of the time, and were calm 32 percent.
In January, winds are higher, with 15-20 mph readings observed about 6.5 percent of the time and calm winds much more uncommon. Of course, you're not playing golf in the snow-covered Greenbrier Valley.
At the Classic, those with morning tee times must capitalize and usually do. In the first two rounds, averages go about a stroke lower in the morning wave, as players enjoy still air and dew-moistened greens.
I do recall one day of a sudden dust-up, the third round of the 2011 Classic. Saturday is usually the easiest day, and the first 43 golfers that round scored a combined 53 under par. But a stiff, persistent breeze brewed under suddenly cloudy skies, and the final 32 golfers went 2 over.
But wind isn't a big factor in this tournament, generally.
An eyebrow-raising revelation from a few pros: This tournament is played at elevation, and it makes a difference.
That seemed to come out a little more last year, as Tiger Woods described his adjustment (or lack of) to the Old White TPC. That sent the media, particularly those whose mission is to merely to chase Tiger, scurrying to figure out just how high the course is above sea level.
A trip to Google Earth tells the story: The high Alleghenies immediately surrounding the Greenbrier property top out at 2,500-3,000 feet, and they seem to be higher. They tower over the course to provide scenery you won't find at the Tour's other Eastern stops.
Down on the course, the elevation ranges from 1,800 feet at the creek near the 15th tee to 1,900 feet on the No. 6 tee, at the course's northeast corner. That's high enough to ensure the Greenbrier Valley has legitimate winters, and usually allows for cooler summer weather than we have in Charleston.
But what is the practical effect for the Tour pros? The plus side is easy: Those sluggers can spank the ball off the tee even farther.
Still, they aren't used to it. With only three Tour venues at higher elevation - Reno, Las Vegas and the mountains near Tucson - most competitors haven't played at any elevation since at least February.
Club selection becomes difficult, as mental distance charts must change. I have heard a lot of golfers remark about many approaches being "between clubs," not easy to judge.
And then there is putting, believe it or not. Woods brought up the additional challenge of "putting into the mountain" as a variable.
To which I thought, "Which mountain?"
Finally, the weather will be more seasonable this week. Greenbrier County is generally 5-10 degrees cooler than Charleston, and that will be the case. You won't sweat out the 97 degrees of last year's final round.
Not even close. We're looking at highs in the upper 70s, maybe 80, but with a price: a 40-to-50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms each day.
After last year, I'll take that. And an umbrella.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.