For over a century the mountains of North Carolina have served as a summertime oasis for those who wish to enjoy the cool temperatures found here during the peak of summertime and the beautiful changing of the seasons in the fall. Ever since George Vanderbilt constructed his world famous Biltmore Estate in 1895 the mountainous areas of North Carolina have been synonymous with leisure activities.
A number of decades after Mr. Vanderbilt began entertaining guests in Asheville and several hours away in the Sandhills region of North Carolina a young man by the name of Ellis Maples was quickly developing a reputation for himself in the golf community. Maples’ father Frank served side by side with Donald Ross for a great many years. Ellis learned the game of golf and agronomy from watching Ross and his father tend to the golf courses in the Pinehurst area. After the passing of Ross in 1948 Ellis Maples inherited his reputation as go to guy in North Carolina for golf course design. When the owner of the land that was to become Grandfather Golf & Country Club needed to hire a course designer there was no need to look any further than Ellis Maples. While much of his work is located in the central part of the state the crowing achievement of the Ellis Maples legacy ended up being in the mountains of North Carolina.
I was planning a trip to Tennessee for a weekend at Douglas Lake so I thought I would check the map to see if there were any Top 100 courses nearby. When I did I found that Grandfather Golf and Country Club was a relatively short drive away. I remembered from a conversation with one of the pros at my club that he had a friend on the professional staff there who may be able to arrange a game for me. I provided the dates I would be in the area to my pro and he called his friend who was able to line up a tee time for me on a Sunday afternoon in early October. Perfect.
It was about a two and a half hour drive from where I was staying in Tennessee to get to Linville, NC where Grandfather Golf & Country Club is located. It was easy to find and when I drove up to the gate the guard gave me directions to get to the pro shop. The club and the community around it sit down in a valley amongst the mountains and had the feel of a charming but elegant summer resort. There were fantastic mountain hideaway homes and a good sized lake with a nice sandy beach area in addition to tennis courts and swimming pools. It looked like a spectacular place to spend a summer.
I was set to play by myself at 1:30 and I got there around 1 o’clock. I have played numerous Top 100 courses by myself with a caddie, but this was to be my first Top 100 experience playing solo and carrying my own bag. Once I checked in at the pro shop, changed my shoes and made my way over to the starter it was about 1:15 or so. The starter said if I was ready I could go off immediately and get in front of the group going off at 1:20. I whacked about 5 warm up balls and hit the first tee.
The first hole pictured below is a shortish par 5 that played 510 yards from the blue tees (6,685 yards). Though it plays 510 yards the hole doglegs right and by hitting a drive down the right side of the fairway some distance can be cut off. After my drive down the right I was left with just a bit more than 220 yards into the green.
The risky part of hitting a drive down the right side of the fairway is that in order to reach the green you have to flirt with the small pond shown in the photo below.
The picture below was taken from the green and looks back over the hole. You get a little better idea of how the pond can come into play from this perspective.
The second hole is a par 4 that I played from 372 yards. The tee box is elevated but the fairway still plays mostly uphill. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
As you were able to see in the previous photo there is a creek that crosses this hole. Below is a photo of the creek and the moss covered bridge over it. This was just the first of a number of spots throughout the course where hazards like this will come into to play.
The photo below is of the approach to the 2nd green.
The par 4 3rd hole I played from 376 yards and is a dogleg left with a significantly uphill approach shot. The drive is best played up the left side because as you can see in the photo below the fairway slants to the right. Too far right and the approach shot is considerably more difficult if not requiring a layup shot.
At the 4th hole things flattened out a bit which is good because it is a par 4 that plays fairly long at 428 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
While the approach shot played relatively flat it is necessary to make sure to have enough club to reach the green. As seen in the photo below there is a dip just prior to the green that will stop short sided shots rather than allowing them to bounce up onto the putting surface.
The 5th hole is a very good looking par 3 that I played from 198 yards. It’s a bit of a visually intimidating shot because of its length and the ravine that runs across the middle of the hole. While it shouldn’t come into play its pretty hard not to think about it when your standing on the tee contemplating a 200 yard tee shot.
The 6th hole is a 537 yard par 5 that has a dogleg left in it. A draw off the tee that bends around the corner certainly yields a better opportunity to get home in two than playing it straight out. The bunker at the end of the fairway is definitely in play and it doesn’t take too much length to knock it into the woods if you hit a dead straight shot.
Below is a photo of about where a second shot would be played from. Note that there is a creek running along the right side of the fairway. It really shouldn’t come into play, but as we all know shouldn’t and doesn’t are two completely different things.
The photo below is the approach shot which is pretty straight forward. No uphill to calculate and just some bunkers to negotiate.
The 7th hole is another flat par 4 that I played from 385 yards. It is a fairly straight forward hole as well. Note Dunvagan Peak looming in the distance below.
The photo below is of the approach shot. The flag location on this day requires a shot that carries the bunkers. If the flag is on the left side of the green shots that are too far left will be rejected into the rough and require a tricky pitch back to the green.
The 8th hole pictured below is a 354 yard par 4 that plays uphill on the approach shot. The bunkers on the right are definitely in play off the tee. It was on this hole that I finally realized that my +10 yard club selections were just not enough to get my ball to the green on the uphill approach shots and that I needed to be a little more thoughtful going forward.
The 9th hole is another pretty par 3 that is the exact same distance as the previous par 3, 198 yards. As shown in the photo below, tee shots to the left can find serious trouble.
Here is a bit of a closer shot of the green. It is two tiered and this flag location is in the front on the lower tier. The greens here were very fast and being on the correct tier was of crucial importance to making a good first putt.
After the 9th hole I made a short walk over to the other side of the property and to the 10th tee. This hole is a 380 yard par 4 that plays considerably uphill. I had learned my lesson by this point and used enough club on my approach shot to stuff it close for what turned out to be the only birdie of the day. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
The 11th hole is a short par 5 that I played from 491 yards. Again the creek crosses the fairway and can cause problems if a layup shot is not calculated properly. The photo below is where an approach shot could be made from.
The 13th hole is a par 4 playing 405 yards from the blue tees and a fun drive. As shown in the photo below the tee box is elevated and a good drive here will feel like it flies for miles. The bunker is in play if you hit a big drive. I suspect that a really big hitter could maybe reach the creek as well. Note in the photo below that the leaves are just barely beginning to change. I had hoped that my visit would coincide with peak leaf season but apparently I was about 10 days to early. Bummer.
The photo below is of the approach shot on 13.
Below is a photo taken walking to the 13th green and yet another bridge put in place to traverse a creek crossing the fairway.
The 15th hole is a 360 yard par 4 that has the unique characteristic of not having any bunkers on it. I wasn’t sure if the creek was reachable from the tee with my driver so I used a 3 wood and safely had a reasonable approach shot to the green.
Though not visible in the photo below this green is almost crowned in the Donald Ross style and happily rejects approach shots not hit onto the putting surface.
The 16th hole is a fun dogleg right that plays 418 yards from the blue tees. A little cut shot is perfect here. If you are going to hit a slice you’ll want to aim left because there is plenty of trouble on the far right side of the hole.
After hitting my drive and walking to it on the 16th hole I saw, for the first time since I left the starter, another group on the course. When I got to my ball there was a foursome on the green. The photo below is of the shot into the green.
The 17th hole is a great par 5 that I played from 564 yards . . . LONG. It doglegs left and has a creek that runs across the hole in two places. I wish I would have known this because I hit a perfect draw around the bend only to find that my ball rolled right into the part of the creek I couldn’t see from the tee.
The 18th hole is straight forward 400 yard par 4. All you have to do here is drive it down the middle.
The approach shot will likely be a slice inducing lie with the ball below your feet. With the water off to the right of the green its important to calculate that lie into your alignment. The clubhouse is a fantastic backdrop to this hole.
One thing I should note is that the day before this I played at another local club and was paired up with two gentlemen who were members at Grandfather. They both gave me some tips about playing the course and warned me of the rhododendrons. The course is literally lined with these plants and if your ball gets off track and into the shrubs, there is no getting it back. The photo below was taken on a cart path lined with the plant but the scene on many of the fairways was exactly the same.
After a dismal time on the first nine holes I finally got my groove on the second nine holes and figured out the elevation calculations a bit more. The greens were playing really fast but they couldn’t have been truer. I was amazed at the number of long putts that I was able to roll in on these greens. Playing solo probably added a few strokes to my score that a caddie or member could have helped me avoid, but all things considered, spending a beautiful fall afternoon on a spectacular golf course like this one and essentially having it all to yourself is a pretty great way to pass the time.