North Carolina’s tourism slogan for many years was “Variety Vacationland.” The state boasts a great coastal region, a rolling hills piedmont and the majestic mountains. You could be at the beach in the morning, play nine holes in the Piedmont and ski that night in the High Country.
“Variety” is the perfect description of the 315 holes (on 17 courses) awaiting High Country golfers in Ashe, Watauga and Avery counties.
The slopes, creeks, forests and scenery in our area make ideal sites for interesting golf courses. Even better, that variety exists within each course. Each one has unique, memorable and fun holes to play.
We’ll take a fun trip around the High Country and find out where some of these great holes are. We have lots of categories to make our choices — long holes, short holes, drivable par 4s, intimidating holes, uphill and downhill holes and, of course, scenic holes.
There are many ways to categorize the holes, so, because of space limitation, we will limit those categories in order to spend more time talking about the special holes on each course.
I have played all the courses, so I’ll pass on my thoughts about interesting holes on each. For reference purposes, my handicap is five, and my drives are medium length.
Of course, your favorite downhill par three or most intimidating tee shot might not be the same as mine, but the idea is to get a conversation started among your friends.
More importantly, I hope the conversation gets you to play the memorable and exciting holes awaiting you in your own backyard this season.
Courses will first be divided into the courses open to the public and then a few of the nine private clubs.
Courses THAT are open
to the public
Jefferson Landing is a semi-private club located in the pastoral rolling hills of Ashe County, bordering cow pastures, Christmas tree farms and tributaries to the New River. The course was routed by noted Banner Elk architect and land planner, Dennis Lehmann, and designed by PGA Hall of Famer Larry Nelson.
At 7,110 yards, it is the longest course in the High Country, exceeding Grandfather Golf & Country Club by nine yards. From the regular tees, it plays 6,450 yards. Very little land was moved to build the course, which opened in 1990.
Originally, the first hole was a long par four from an elevated tee, and the 10th was a dogleg left par five, also from an elevated tee. Now, the sides are switched, with the par five being the opening hole.
The most intimidating tee shot for me is on the 376-yard second hole. A river crosses the fairway at a sharp angle from right to left, with the right much farther away. I have to decide whether to gamble and carry the creek on the left side into a narrow landing area with a driver, or lay up in the narrow right corner of the fairway.
A 230-yard drive down the left side gives me a short iron in. A hooked drive or pushed drive leaves me in the river. This a classic risk/reward tee shot. The risk could be a probable triple bogey, the reward an easy par or birdie. The hole is 450 yards from the tips and 376 from the regular tees. There is a reason this is the two-handicap hole.
The 227-yard (181 from regular tees) 17th is a beautiful hole from an elevated tee. The view ahead at the clubhouse and up at Mt. Jefferson is spectacular. A creek running in front of the green adds to the beauty … and the challenge. Pray for a par here. This is Jefferson Landing’s signature hole in my book.
To experience hitting a very challenging tee shot to the 17th hole, one of the state’s finest par threes, call Jefferson Landing’s pro shop at (336) 982-7767 to set up your tee times.
￼ Mountain Aire Golf Club
There is a Mountain Air in Burnsville, but our Mountain Aire is in Ashe County. It is the third oldest course in the High Country behind only Linville and Blowing Rock.
The course began as West Jefferson Golf Club in 1949, thanks to the effort of a local farmer who wanted a golf course for the community. It was a true “cow pasture golf course,” with greens being small circles of grass mowed a little lower than the fairways. The Adams brothers — Austin, Sam and Tom — learned to play golf here. Austin became a great amateur player, Sam a PGA Tour winner and Tom head pro at Hound Ears and now Boone Golf Club. I wish I had learned to play at Mountain Aire.
When the farmer died, Carl Hagel, a casual golfer who built wooden frames for windows, purchased it in 1971, and it has been in the family since then. In 1985, Carl’s son, Mark, expanded the course to 18 holes, using Dennis Lehmann as his designer. In 1998, some holes were replaced, and the course has improved each year. It is now under the supervision of Mark’s son-in-law, Philip Shepherd.
At that time, the first hole was a par 3, and the third hole returned to the clubhouse. Now, the previous fourth hole was changed to be No. 1 with old ninth becoming No. 6. Holes 1, 2 and 3 are now 7, 8 and 9.
One of the new holes, No. 6 (now No. 3), is Mountain Aire’s signature hole. It is the most dramatic hole in the High Country, if not Eastern America. The tee shot on the 468-yard par 4 drops 150 feet in elevation, and, if you hit it a little left, 200 feet.
The landing area is very narrow. If the wind is blowing, this is the most intimidating tee shot in the area. It is also one of the most beautiful. You feel like you are on top of the world looking out at surrounding mountain ranges. Shepherd says the hole is “either your favorite or least favorite.”
For the longer hitters, Mountain Aire has two drivable par fours. The ninth is 305 yards long from the very elevated regular tees. A great drive will be a birdie, one a little right or short is in a pond, and a little left in the driving range. The 13th is a 275-yard par 4 with a creek 15 yards in front of the green. To experience driving off the third tee and watching your ball stay in the air forever, call Mountain Aire’s pro shop at (336) 877-4716 to set up your tee times.
Boone Golf Club
The dream for a golf course in Boone began with one of Boone’s greatest citizens, Wade Brown, in 1940. After several false starts, which turned out to be blessings in disguise, Brown’s dream was realized in the summer of 1959.
Brown’s quest to provide a golf course for Boone was inspired by the success of the Blowing Rock Country Club and the Linville Golf Club. Potential “false start” locations for the course included Tater Hill, land from Rivers Street up to the former Broyhill Inn & Conference Center (derailed by World War II), the Councill property behind the Lutheran church and Earth Fare (property would have been leased) and the Bolick property on U.S. 421 South where the landfill is.
One property always in the back of Brown’s mind was the Neal Blair farm. Despite being told the property was not for sale, Brown persisted, and, five years later, he got the Blair farm and the surrounding property he needed. Next, was the critical factor of financing the purchase of the property and building the course, and Brown’s close friend, banker Alfred Adams, also one of Boone’s greatest citizens, made it happen.
Ellis Maples, who learned his trade from Donald Ross beginning when he was 14 and ending when he completed Ross’s final course, was chosen to design the course. Boone’s greens show a strong resemblance to Ross’s famed Pinehurst #2.
Boone is 6,686 yards from the tips and 6,018 from the regular tees, and it plays to a par 71. It’s not a long course, but its greens defend the course well from low scores. Boone’s collection of par threes — they average 199 yards — are as strong as any in the High Country. Its par 5s aren’t too shabby, either. They average 556 yards.
Drivable risk/reward par 4s are a delight to galleries watching PGA Tour events and are fun to play for the rest of us. Boone has three. It’s uphill ninth is reachable for the big boys. It is 333 yards from the back and 299 from the regular tee. The risk is a creek fronting most of the green, deep to the left and out-of-bounds to the right.
The 12th is a downhill dogleg left that is reachable with a high tee shot over some white pines. Not high enough or long enough and you may be playing for a bogey. The 15th is a 300-yard carry from both tees. Either carry the wide creek in front of the green, or hit one just short and bounce over (if the ground is hard).
My most intimidating shots are not with a driver, but with irons. The tee shot on the 192-yard 16th must be right or you could be in your pocket. Actually, you won’t be in your pocket; your ball will be history. A marsh is in front of the green and deep, really deep rough and briers are immediately to the right. The swamp is also to the left.
My other intimidating shot is the second to the 18th green. It usually is hit from a downhill, sidehill (sloping away from you) lie to an elevated, narrow green with a pond on the left catching balls that are the slightest bit offline. This is one of the great finishing holes in the High Country.
To experience one of the finest sets of par three holes in North Carolina, call the pro shop at (828) 264-8760. Make tee time in advance, because this is the most popular course in the High Country.
Dr. Jim Lyons, a Miami surgeon who lived in Blowing Rock in the summers, wanted to build a development in the area and include a golf course. He purchased the Willow Valley property off N.C. 105, and it had room for a nine-hole par three course.
By coincidence, Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame architect Tom Jackson was doing some renovation work at nearby Hound Ears. Lyons told Jackson he wanted holes that vary in length, that have water features come into play, some bunkers and a hole or two over 200 yards. Jackson delivered.
In 1973, Willow Creek opened for play, and it has turned out to be an undiscovered gem. The course is very challenging. Three holes are more than 200 yards, and taken as a whole, they average 182 yards from the tips. Five have water hazards.
Willow Creek is well designed with imaginative, scenic holes and it is well maintained. Simply put, it is a good, fun course to play. And, it is convenient; no tee times, just show up and play. Carts are available, but the course is not hard to walk. If you want to play 18 holes, just use a different set of tees second time around to add variety.
Its greens are relatively small, so accuracy is the key to a good round. Since 75 percent of the shots in a round of golf are from 160 yards in, there is a lot of golf to be played at Willow Creek. There is also a lot to learn as you develop and refine a winning short game.
Willow Creek’s 218-yard 18th hole will hold its own on any course in America, and it gets my vote for both most intimidating tee shot and signature hole. The green is guarded with a small pound in its front left that winds around to the left side. A shot that lands six yards left of the green ends up in the pond, and out-of-bounds is 15 yards from the green to the right. The green is only 31 feet wide. A par on this hole will make your day.
If time is a factor in whether you play, or if price is a factor, and if long, hard holes beat you up, you can enjoy a relaxing round at Willow Creek. Just show up, or call ahead to the pro shop at (828) 963-6865 and get ready to have a great day.
Sugar Mountain Golf Club
The Sugar Mountain course is a municipal course, owned by the village of Sugar Mountain. How it came to be is a story involving several twists and turns.
The land was originally part of the 16,000 acres sold to Hugh MacRae that included Linville Resorts and Grandfather Mountain. In 1952, MacRae died and left the Sugar Mountain/Flat Top Mountain property to his grandson, George MacRae. In 1969, George and his wife, Chessie, began developing Sugar as a four-seasons destination with ski slopes, tennis and golf. They included three partners in their group.
They only had 60 acres at the base of Sugar for a golf course, so it had to be an executive course, but they wanted to also have a championship course. They selected Francis Duane to be their architect. Duane was senior project manager for Robert Trent Jones Sr., and later a partner in course design with Arnold Palmer.
The MacRaes promised Duane that if he designed the executive course, he could design their championship course, which was to be called Grouse Moor and located on top of Flat Top Mountain.
A perfect storm of bad luck hit the MacRaes in 1974, the year their executive course opened: bad economy, high inflation and interest rates, gas rationing, warm winter and little skiing, and no one buying real estate. As a result, the MacRaes had to declare bankruptcy, and the bank foreclosed. One of the MacRaes’ partners leased the course until he died.
The village of Sugar Mountain wanted to buy it, but it was too young a town to take on debt, so the Sugar Mountain Ski Resort purchased it until the town could buy it back. Today, the course is well run, in great condition and very popular.
Sugar, like Willow Creek, is a perfect niche golf course for the player who doesn’t have time for a five-hour round or doesn’t enjoy playing 500-yard par 4s. While Willow Creek is a par three course, Sugar is an executive course with nine par 3s, eight par 4s and one par 5. It measures 4,443 yards from the tips and 4,071 from the regular tees, and is par 64.
Surprisingly, despite Sugar’s short yardage, it has only one drivable par 4, its ninth hole. The hole is slightly uphill and is 259 yards from the back tee, 239 from the regular tee. There is no trouble on the hole, so it is no risk/all reward. Fire away.
There is one hole, though, that is worth a shot just for fun. The sharply downhill 321-yard (back), 288-yard (regular) tee shot on the fifth hole has to be perfect. There is water in front and dense woods bordering both sides of a fairly narrow fairway. There are risk/reward shots, and then there are risk/reward shots, if you go for the green on no. 5. But, hey, if you are having a fun round with your buddies, hit your score ball and drop another and have at it just for fun.
Sugar holds the distinction of probably having the shortest par five around, only 394 yards. Don’t let the hole fool you: It is an uphill dogleg right that plays much longer than its yardage. The second shot is a bear with a narrow opening to the green and creeks left and right.
Head professional Tom McAuliffe, who is also one of North Carolina’s top golf writers, says the 212-yard 13th hole has the course’s most intimidating tee shot and also ranks as its signature hole.
“There is no margin for error, left or right,” McAuliffe said. “There are bunkers front and left, and anything right ends up in the ‘Valley of Death,’ where there is no escape. The green has a lot of movement and is not easy to putt. It’s the toughest birdie on the course. I’ll take a par every time and not look back.”
The culture at Sugar is one of a “down-home feeling.” Guests are treated like old friends and are in for treat once they tee off the first hole. The greens are as good as any in the High Country, and that’s saying a lot. To set up an enjoyable day of golf with friends, call McAuliffe at (828) 898-6464.
Mountain Glen Golf Club
The idea to build Mountain Glen arose from a devastating fire in January 1961 that destroyed one-third of the town of Newland. Local leaders felt something needed to be done to spur economic growth in Avery County.
They knew large manufacturing was not an option because of Avery’s rough winters and isolated location. They looked four miles down the road at Linville and saw their answer: Build a golf course and develop the property around it for second homeowners. They formed the Avery Development Corporation and sold shares of stock to raise money for the project.
Thanks to great leadership and a generous landowner, Todd Lecka, Mountain Glen would become a reality. George Cobb, who first designed Quail Hollow in Charlotte, the Augusta National Par Three Course and, locally, Hound Ears, was the architect. Cobb later designed Linville Ridge. The back nine was built first, and it opened in July 1964. The front nine opened a year later.
Mountain Glen has been one of the most popular courses in the area. It plays 6,523 yards from the back tees and 5,968 yards from the regular tees. The signature hole is the beautiful, downhill, 186-yard 12th hole. The view from the tee shows Hump Mountain in the background.
Mountain Glen’s hardest hole is the 411-yard dogleg left 11th hole. The hole isn’t particularly long, except that from 200 yards in, it is steeply uphill. Also, the tee shot must be very accurate. A little left and you are blocked by trees; a little right and you are in the trees. It is not a good idea to be above the pin on its sloped green. Mountain Glen’s greens get really fast later in the summer. I rate no. 11 as one of the Top 5 hardest holes in the High Country.
Now to drivable par 4s: We need to divide this into two categories.
First, the mortals have two opportunities. The 291-yard sixth (265 yards from the regular tees) is a tempting drive. Fade your drive and you are in a pond. Hook it and you might have a shot, you might be blocked by a pine tree or you might be out-of-bounds. Going for it is worth the gamble, though.
The 16th is slightly downhill and 313 yards from the regular tees and 339 from the back. Aim right and hit a draw on the downside of a hill, and you’ll be sitting pretty. Get double-crossed and hit a fade, and you’ll be in your pocket. Out-of-bounds is right off the fairway.
And then there’s David Forbes. Forbes takes it back as far as John Daly and is twice as strong. Forbes has driven every par four at Mountain Glen except the 11th. On the “short” par 4s such as the 339 yard 16th, he drives it with a 3 iron. Forbes is more than a long hitter. He holds the amateur course record with a 63 from the tips.
My most intimidating tee shot? It’s a tossup between the 11th and the 17th. No. 17 is a dogleg right with two huge oak trees down the right side of the fairway and a row of white pines bordering the left side. The fairway slopes left into the pines. The best shot is a high fade over the first oak or a low fade under its branches. A tee shot left of the first oak has to be perfect or you are in the pines where the sun never shines.
Call Mountain Glen at (828) 733-5804 to set up a tee time and to appreciate what it took for David Forbes to drive all but one of their 10 par 4s. If Sam Foster answers the phone, you are talking to someone special. He has been head pro for 42 years and holds the course record with a 62. Before coming to Mountain Glen, Foster was assistant pro at Grandfather Golf & Country Club in season and an assistant at Augusta National in the offseason.
Linville Land Harbor
Linville Land Harbor is a 48-year-old, 1,000-acre residential resort that is, by far, the largest in Avery County with 1,400 homes. It is designed around a 48-acre lake visible from U.S. 221 three miles south of Linville.
Land Harbor was created by the Robbins brothers — Grover, Harry and Spencer — who also brought to the High Country Tweetsie Railroad, Hound Ears, Beech Mountain, Land of Oz and the Elk River Club. The original idea was to build a recreation resort for short-term or extended-stay vacationers who used their campers or RVs to live in. Back in the 1960s and early ‘70s, campers were the rage.
The RV lots made up 1,510 of the 1,933 lots, with homesites making up most of the rest. Later on, people wanted to spend more time at Land Harbor, so many of the RV lots were combined to provide an additional 500 building lots.
The Land Harbor property belonged to a lumber company in the early 1900s. In 1923, 5,000 acres of that property was purchased by Howard Marmon, an engineering genius whose parents took him to the Eseeola Lodge when he was a boy. Apparently, Marmon had health problems when he was young, and being in the mountains healed him. He came back to build a second home.
In 1909, Marmon built the car that won the first Indianapolis 500. The following year, 61 of the nation’s official speed records were owned by Marmon cars. Amelia Earhart rode in a Marmon in her New York City ticker-tape parade, and supposedly, Bonnie and Clyde used the speedy car to outrun the police after their bank robberies. Marmon was good friends with Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford and Thomas Edison. They came for visits and fished in the lake Marmon built, which is now the Land Harbor lake.
Mr. and Mrs. Marmon left their estate to their nephew, and when he died, he put it in a trust to benefit the hospital, library and airfield in Avery County. Warren Buffett now owns the Marmon Company. Part of the Marmon property was developed into a nursery, and that is the property that is Land Harbor.
Land Harbor was a subsidiary of Carolina Caribbean, developer of Beech Mountain and owned for the most part by the Robbins brothers. Carolina Caribbean, like Sugar Mountain, was a victim of the turbulent ‘70s and had to declare bankruptcy in 1975. A bank took over the property and decided it was in the best interest of the resort’s property owners to sell them the property.
The first nine holes of the Land Harbor Golf Club was designed by architect Tom Jackson in collaboration with local golf hero Ernie Hayes. It measures 2,950 yards and plays to a par 36. It is a delightful nine with smallish greens and well-placed hazards. The course is in excellent shape.
The 463-yard first hole is a great start. It is downhill with a sharp dogleg left and creek running down the left side of the fairway. The creek crosses the fairway at a sharp angle about 120 yards out and forms a pond to the front left of the green. The small, undulating green has a very narrow opening with trouble all around the green. If you go for the green in two, you best have your “A” game right out of the chute.
The 273-yard par 4 sixth is drivable, but dangerous. The fairway narrows considerably the closer you get to the green. Houses and out-of-bounds are on the right, and left is not a nice place to be. Go for it for fun, lay up for score.
The 141-yard slightly downhill seventh is one of the prettiest on the course. It has a beautiful view of Grandfather Mountain in the background.
Land Harbor was originally going to be an 18-hole golf course, but some of the best property for the second nine was sold to try to avoid bankruptcy. All that was left was 23 acres of rugged, unusable property. The Land Harbor POA didn’t think it was possible to design nine holes on the property, but asked Ernie Hayes if he could give it a try. After numerous failed attempts, he came up with a routing. It is different than any nine holes I have ever seen.
The back nine is 1,927 yards long and is a par 33. The longest par 4 is 335 yards and the shortest 196 yards. The course plays up hills and down into valleys and around the mountainsides.
Most par 4s are doglegs. Several are drivable, but Land Harbor rules forbid going for the green because of safety concerns.
The 196-yard par four 18th can be two wedges, but you need to respect this hole. A tee shot a little right will be off the world. I double bogeyed the hole. If you think outside the box, forget the standard driver-of-the-tee par 4s and understand the limitations of a 23-acre nine-hole layout, the back nine actually is a lot of fun. Its holes are like no other.
The signature hole on the back nine has to be no. 17. It is a 112-yard par three that is straight up — like, 45 feet straight up. You can’t see the pin. If you are short, back down it comes. If you are a little right, off the world it goes. A par is a nice score. A plaque on the tee names the hole “Ernie’s Revenge” in appreciation for his creating nine holes that no one thought could be built.
Land Harbor has been private until recently, but now it is open to the public. My advice: Play the course. The front side is pretty neat, but the back side is simply something you have to experience for two reasons — because you’ll never see holes like this anywhere else, and secondly, to appreciate the genius of Ernie Hayes. Call the pro shop at (828) 733-8325.
Typically, private clubs are for members and their guests. The High Country has an incredible collection of private clubs, the envy of the rest of the state. Guess what? You can play most of them. The private clubs are very community-oriented, and most make their courses available to various charities for fundraising golf tournaments. Play in one of those tournaments, and you will be helping a worthy cause and, at the same time, enjoy an experience you will fondly remember for a long time. That’s called a win-win.
￼ Hound Ears Club
The Robbins brothers — Grover, Harry and Spencer — have had an incredibly positive impact on the High Country. In addition to Tweetsie Railroad, Ski Beech and the Land of Oz, they have given us one-fourth of all the golf courses in the High Country: Linville Land Harbor, Beech Mountain, Elk River Club and Hound Ears.
Hound Ears was their first. In the early 1960s, they saw the popularity of the new Boone course and the Blowing Rock Country Club, and they felt the area could use a new course. They chose a site in Shulls Mill, south of Boone along N.C. 105. In the early 1900s, Shulls Mill was one of the county’s primary commercial centers. Its sawmill and lumberyard, along with a Tweetsie Railroad junction, employed enough people to support a hotel, small hospital, stores and a movie theater. By the time Hound Ears was built, only remnants of the community remained.
Spencer Robbins was working at Pine Needles golf resort in Southern Pines, one of the top golfing destinations in the country, and Grover and Harry were frequent visitors. They liked Pine Needles and decided to follow their example in their golf course. They did Pine Needles one better by adding one of the South’s first ski slopes.
They decided to have a Bavarian theme to their clubhouse and lodge to complement the ski slope. Their golf course was designed by George Cobb, then known for his redesign work at Augusta National. Both the ski slope and golf course opened in 1964. They chose the name Hound Ears because the rocks on top of the ridge behind the course stood up like dog ears. Hounds Ear or Hound Ears? Spencer Robbins answers the question by saying, “One dog, two ears.”
Hall of Fame golf instructor Bob Toski, still going strong at about 90 years old, was the club’s first professional. After Toski resigned to be the Johnny Miller of NBC’s golf telecasts, the club hired Ohio State University golf coach Bob Kepler, who worked with Jack Nicklaus, Tom Weiskopf and Ed Sneed. Following Kepler was Tom Adams, now at Boone, and then Adams’s assistant, Peter Rucker, who started out at Hound Ears as a cart boy in 1981.
Most of the golf course is located in the flat bottom land of Shulls Mill. The Robbins brothers also acquired some rugged mountain land with the property purchase, but they saw no use for it. The course became so popular that people who played it wanted to have a home there. Thus, the mountain land became homesites. “We didn’t have a plan for a development,” Spencer Robbins said. “It just happened.”
The first six years, the third, eighth and 18th holes doubled as an airport runway for the resort. The hanger that housed the planes still exists behind the third green. In 1974, Hound Ears redesigned several backside holes on adjacent property it purchased. Tom Jackson designed the 12th and 14th holes. The 15th is Hound Ears’ signature hole, and it is one of the great par 3s in the state. Only 110 yards, the tee is perched on a mountain ridge, and the green lies 70 feet below. In front of the green is a creek and bunker. The green has a nice back to front slope, so golfers hitting their tee shots over the green face a very challenging chip shot. Despite its lack of length, par is a good score on this hole.
The 18th hole is a great finishing hole. It is a last-minute dogleg right, 414-yard hole with a creek down the right side until it crosses the fairway near the front of the green. Because the dogleg is so close to the green, tee shots need to land on the left side of the fairway. A large tree at the beginning of the dogleg protects the green from players whose drives are from the center to the right side of the fairway. The hole plays longer than its yardage. The neat thing about no. 18 is its tee box. It is perched on top of a large boulder.
Hound Ears’ most scenic shot is teeing off the par five sixth hole. It is a highly elevated tee with an incredible view of Grandfather Mountain. Peter Rucker’s favorite hole is the uphill 490-yard par five fourth (also No. 1 handicap hole.). Rucker said, “The fairway narrows significantly beginning 100 yards before the green. It is bordered by woods on the right and woods and a creek on the left.” Rucker’s favorite hole should be the 491-yard par 5 12th. He has double-eagled it twice.
There really aren’t drivable par 4s at Hound Ears, even though the course is 6,307 yards from the tips/6,145 from regular tees. I was playing with the golf pro son of famed teaching pro Jack Lumpkin, and he drove the 360-yard 10th. Then on the 491-yard 12th, which winds around a lake, he drove across the lake and landed in the bunker in front of the green. I saw them both, but I don’t believe what I saw, so those shots don’t count.
Beech Mountain Club
Beech Mountain’s golf course is another of the Robbins brothers’ contributions to the High Country, but in this case, oldest brother Grover was the visionary and primary contributor to its creation. Grover envisioned the Hound Ears concept (resort, golf, skiing, property and airport) being taken to a much higher level at Beech Mountain. He even used the Bavarian architectural theme that he used at Hound Ears.
Grover quietly purchased 10,000 acres, 7,300 acres on Beech Mountain and 2,700 acres in the valley where the Elk River Club now stands. His slogan was “9,000 families on 10,000 acres.” Grover built the ski slope and airport in 1967. The airport now is a part of the Elk River Club, which the Robbins brothers also developed.
A development of this magnitude required more investment capital, so Grover set up the Appalachian Development Corp. that attracted 40 initial investors. Later, when he added a development in the Virgin Islands, he changed the name of the company to Carolina Caribbean.
Robbins chose Atlanta architect Willard Byrd to design two golf courses at Beech Mountain, one for recreational play and one for championship play. Byrd had designed a number of great courses in the Piedmont part of North Carolina and in the Myrtle Beach area, but Beech Mountain would be his first mountain course. Willard’s land planner, Dennis Lehmann, helped plan the resort, as well as all of Linville Land Harbor, also a Robbins brothers development. Lehmann would end up playing a major role in the design of several High Country courses.
Byrd’s recreational course would be built first. The front nine opened in 1969 and the back nine two years later. Tragedy struck Beech Mountain about this time. Grover Robbins died of cancer in 1970. Without his vision and leadership, Carolina Caribbean began to unravel. The organization began taking on more projects than it could handle. At their peak, they had 11 planes they used to fly in prospective property buyers. They had to sell a lot of property to keep all their projects going. Unfortunately, the economy tanked, inflation was rampant, interest rates were 18 percent, there was gas rationing and several of their property owners in the Virgin Islands were robbed and killed while playing golf. The bank foreclosed in early 1975.
All the company’s properties were sold to pay off its debts. The second course, which was under construction, was never completed. It was included in the property purchased by the Eagles Nest development. Tweetsie Railroad bought the Elk River Club property, including the airport. The Land of Oz and ski slopes were sold to a mortgage company, and Land Harbor was sold to its POA.
The Beech Mountain golf course and a 13-acre recreation park were purchased by its POA, but not without some trying times. First, they had to convince the bankruptcy trustee they were the best option as owners. Then, they had to finance its purchase and operation. They had to get the North Carolina General Assembly to make Beech Mountain a town, so it could legally enforce the payment of property taxes and utilities. Today, the Beech Mountain Club has close to 1,300 members and is a healthy operation.
The golf course is on the backside of Beech Mountain, around 4,500 feet in elevation, and its panoramic views stretch into Tennessee and Virginia. The course plays to 6,225 yards from the back tees and 5,743 from the regular tees. Because of the up-and-down terrain, it plays longer than its yardage. Needless to say, there are a number of spectacular holes on the course.
Two in particular are the 394-yard eighth hole with beautiful views of mountain ridges located in three states. The 10th tee is located to the right of the clubhouse, which is perched on a ridge, and that means the tee shot has a dramatic drop in elevation. The tee shot is exciting, to say the least.
Beech Mountain is a private club open to its members, and their guests, and those staying in lodging on the mountain that offers golf privileges for its guests.
The prized scenic view in the High Country is looking at Grandfather Mountain. Its ruggedness and abrupt rise in elevation makes for a spectacular site. Several area courses have views of Grandfather, but none are eyeball-to-eyeball like Linville Ridge. Its par 5 13th, at 4,984 feet, is the highest elevation hole in Eastern America. The course has an elevation change from its lowest point to its highest of 760 feet. At this elevation, because of the thinner air, your shots go further than off the mountain.
Linville Ridge sits atop Flat Top Mountain, which is part of the original 16,000-acre land purchase by Hugh MacRae in 1885 that included Grandfather Mountain, Sugar Mountain, Grandmother Mountain and Linville. The property was owned by MacRae’s grandson, George MacRae, who also inherited Sugar Mountain. He lost the property to bankruptcy when the economy failed. Raymond Lutgert from Naples, Fla., purchased 1,800 acres on Flat Top in the early 1980s.
Lutgert brought in an engineering firm to help him decide where to locate his golf course — on top of the mountain or at its base? They said a course was buildable at either location, so Lutgert chose the top because of its views. The engineering firm also recommended that George Cobb design the course because of his familiarity with the area. Cobb designed Hound Ears and Mountain Glen, as well as a half-dozen other mountain courses. He also was the original designer of Quail Hollow in Charlotte. Linville Ridge would be Cobb’s last course.
In 2007, Scott Lutgert, Ray’s son, who is now president of the company, commissioned Bobby Weed, a disciple of Pete Dye, to renovate the course to make it more challenging for low handicap players and easier and more fun for those with higher handicaps. Weed designed the highly acclaimed Old Farm course in Southwest Virginia and had done major work at Grandfather Golf & Country Club and Linville. His renovations have been enthusiastically received. Part of the makeover was to flip the nines, so the former ninth hole is now No. 18.
Half the course is on the relatively level summit of Flat Top Mountain. The remaining holes drop down from the summit and work their way back up. There are numerous views from the course of Grandfather Mountain, but the following will be etched in your mind forever: from the second green, the ninth fairway, the 12th green, along the 15th fairway to the green and approaching the 18th green.
Every hole at Linville Ridge is interesting and memorable, but these are a cut above.
The course’s signature hole is the 225-yard (183 yards from regular tees) 16th hole. The elevation drop is so dramatic that you can hit the same iron to the green that Bubba Watson hits to 225 yards with no elevation change. Tell that to your buddies.
Linville Ridge probably has the neatest drivable par four in the High Country. The seventh is a 252-yard drive from the regular tee. The shot is uphill and a creek runs in front of the green, but even I can drive it. My most intimidating tee shot is the par three 16th, but my most intimidating drive is the 12th hole. It measures 405 yards, but the elevation gain adds 50 yards to the hole. The pressure is on you to hit a really good drive in order to get home. If you don’t, your third shot is from a steep uphill lie. Miss your drive to the right, and you are off the world.
Linville Ridge plays to 6,813 yards from the back tees and 6,210 from the regular tees.