Greenbrier Classic players get first look at ‘new’ Old White

The tee box on the first hole on the Old White TPC Course at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, is shown Monday, June 5, 2017. Nearly a year since flooding from torrential rains killed 23 people statewide and left the course damaged and covered in silt, the course’s reconstruction is almost done. The PGA Tour’s Greenbrier Classic starts on July 6. (AP Photo/John Raby)

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — As golfers began to filter onto The Greenbrier resort, they heard all about the flood that ruined the Old White TPC course, yet they couldn’t really envision it.

Those who played the track Monday still can’t envision it.

Ask C.T. Pan, who might have been the first person to play the course since June 23, 2016.

“It looks amazing. The conditions, it’s 10 of 10,” said Pan, a 25-year-old from Taiwan.

Being a PGA Tour rookie, Pan doesn’t have a point of reference from playing the pre-flood Old White, but he does play other courses — he is entering his 25th tournament this week. So in some ways, he’s comparing the track to Pebble Beach, Bay Hill, Colonial, Muirfield Village, etc.

Pan’s caddie, on the other hand, saw what Old White looked like from 2010-15. Ron Levin believes he has been here every year, looping for players such as J.B. Holmes.

“It pretty incredible, a testament to the crew to restore it,” Levin said. “It’s actually kind of better — the bunkers have been moved to better spots, more relevant spots, and the greens look great.”

Players received their first opportunity to play the rebuilt course, which was closed to everyone (unless the governor sneaked in a round) until Monday. Practice rounds continue Tuesday, with the celebrity pro-am Wednesday and competition beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday.

The greens appear to be bouncier, making it difficult for approach shots to hold. That’s not surprising if you remember 2011, when all 18 greens were redone and the new grass surface hadn’t fully matured.

But now, the greens and everything else are brand new.

“The turf’s great, the fairways are smooth, they’re pure as can be,” said Alan Cooke, who is exempt as the 2016 West Virginia Amateur champion. “The greens are fast. It’s everything you want.

“They’re not exceptionally fast, but they’ll be faster as the week goes on.”

The par-3 18th green had players’ full attention, as they took time to chip and putt from many different angles. In a throwback to the Seth Raynor/C.B. Macdonald design of 1914, the exaggerated hump on that green was replaced with a “thumbprint” — a gentle but maybe more interesting indentation.

“It’s not as severe as it used to be,” Pan said, citing his caddie’s intel. “But it’s a good green. You can put a lot of good pins [location] out there and create some drama.”

The rough seems cushier, too. When the course was redone, that gave the grounds crew a chance to choose the surfaces and keep it uniform without other grasses creeping in over time.

Don’t expect a U.S. Open-type rough, but it should be trickier than before.

“The rough is thick and the ball sits down and in,” Cooke said. “It’s wispy, catches your club. You can advance it; it’s not going to penalize you, really, but it’s going to be harder to get close to the hole.”

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Cooke pointed out the fourth and 17th green as the ones most radically changed. In both instances, “collection areas” were replaced by bunkers and the green’s contours were changed.

The hundreds of fans who liked camping out behind the 17th will notice the change, as well as a change in the grandstands. The grandstand that sat behind the 17th green is gone, replaced by a video board and a grandstand pointing toward the 18th green.

The VIP grandstand at the 18th remains, though it doesn’t cross Howard’s Creek as before. The general-public grandstand is gone, though, so all seating there is hillside.

Another deletion of note: Pub 1829, which seemed to be a popular place to watch action from behind the 12th green, is no longer there.

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