Restoration of The Greenbrier’s Old White Course

The Greenbrier’s historic Old White Course reopened on May 12 after a four-year restoration. The project, under the direction of architect Lester George of George Golf Design, has returned the course to its original style, while taking into consideration current golf strategies and equipment.

Using aerial photographs from the 1930s and historical accounts from retired Greenbrier professionals and greenskeepers, George has recreated the resort’s first championship course. His goal was to reflect its original 1914 design by Charles Blair Macdonald, which was modified by Macdonald’s associate, Seth Raynor in the early 1920s.

The C&O Railway hired Macdonald soon after the company purchased the property in 1910. Among the immediate improvements the railroad made were the construction of the central portion of today’s main building and the Old White Course, named for the first hotel on the property.

The restoration project began in the fall of 2002. After the course closed for the season, work began on holes 9 (Punchbowl), 15 (Eden) and 16 (Cape), three classic Macdonald holes. Over the subsequent three winters, additional holes were done, with the fourth phase completing the final eight holes. In addition to the design restoration, the project also improved drainage issues and accounted for modern golf equipment, such as the flight distance of golf balls.

“Lester was the perfect choice for this restoration project. He truly appreciates and understands not only the history of the game, but also the passion of today’s golfer who enjoys the dare of a highly rated and challenging course, especially one with a traditional Scottish design,” said Robert Harris, The Greenbrier’s director of sports and recreation.

“The Old White Course was built before golf was popular, and the game was played primarily along the ground, and affording players many different routes into each green,” said George. “Macdonald used the geography here to create an interesting course and I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to work with The Greenbrier to restore it. My goal was to preserve the Old White’s personality and history while at the same time, improve its overall playability and condition.

“One of Macdonald’s trademarks was his use of famous European holes and the Old White Course was no exception; No. 3 is modeled after the Willie Dunn hole in Biarritz, France, No. 8 the Redan at North Berwick, Scotland, No. 13 for the Alps at Old Prestwick, Scotland, and No. 15, the Eden from the Old Course at St. Andrews, “ explained George. “The Old White features 14 of these Macdonald classics and I was thrilled to return them to their original design.”

“Macdonald was also known for his use of geometric patterns on the greens, many with 90-degree angles. However, with the advent of triplex mowing in the 1960s, the Old White Course’s greens lost this signature feature. It is my hope that Lester’s work will give people a new appreciation for early golf course design and its place in golf history. The renovated Old White will challenge players of all levels with strategic decisions, and the risk/reward of perfect golf shot execution,” said Harris.