Mitch Vingle: Greenbrier bright spots overshadow disappointments

F. BRIAN FERGUSON | Gazette-Mail
Bubba Watson lines up a putt on No. 12 during Thursday’s first round of the Greenbrier Classic in White Sulphur Springs.

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Charleston resident and PGA rules official Ken Tackett sat in a golf cart between The Old White TPC course holes No. 2 and 11 Thursday morning.

With a smile.

Yes, there was light rain. Yes, there was the light crowd for the morning start of The Greenbrier Classic.

But hey, there WAS a Classic going on. A year after the devastating 2016 flood that wiped out the event, professional golfers were circling the course.

“The golf course is fantastic,” Tackett said. “It’s something just short of a miracle that it’s back in the conditions we all expect at The Greenbrier — if not better, quite frankly.”

Many echoed Tackett’s assessment of The Old White.

“The course looks amazing,” said Ben Martin, who was 6 under par after the first round. “They’ve done a great job. I saw a few pictures after the devastation. I guess we were the first to really get out on the course. There were no divots. It was green. The greens were good; the fairways were good.”

And what say you Patrick Reed, who, at No. 21, is the highest world-ranked player in the field?

“I think the golf course is awesome,” Reed answered. “It doesn’t even look like anything happened, which is amazing. It’s in perfect shape. Before the heavy rains of the past couple days, the course was really firm, really fast. The rains softened it up a little bit, but it drains so well.”

There were a few disappointments. First, other than Greenbrier residents Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson, the field lacked “name” players. One would have thought PGA players would have rallied after last year’s flood. (Ollie Schniederjans?)

But then there was Reed, who shot minus-4 Thursday. Just his love and appreciation of the tournament made up for many of the absences.

“This means a lot,” Reed said. “My wife and I really, really enjoy this place. We love not just the golf course, but the people. There’s the hotel. Everything around. It’s so accommodating. It’s such a breath of fresh air. You kind of just get away. And after what happened last year, there was no way we weren’t going to come back. We had to come back just to show our support for an event we love so much.”

Reed, understand, is just 26 years old. Yet he gets it.

“You have to come back,” he said. “You have to come back to give support not just to the tournament, but to the people of the area. What happened last year was devastating. And to rebound as well as they have is amazing.”

Again, there were a few disappointments. There are no concerts this season. Some folks used to be drawn in because of them and then take in some golf. There was no grandstand — or hole-in-one giveaway — on No. 18.

Yet Tackett gets it, too. He put all that into perspective.

“This year, with the recovery effort, the focus had to be on the meat and potatoes of the golf course,” he said. “The focus was to get that right. Then I’d imagine the other things will come back.

“No. 18 already has a natural amphitheater. It already has wonderful seating — unless it rains. But those things are secondary. The important aspects of the reconstruction — the infrastructure — were all done right. The commitment from Gov. [Jim] Justice to do it right was great. Everything with the golf course — what matters to the competition — was ready.

“It was a one-year thing. Timing. There’s just a lot to it. The golf course has to be done before you can move to the peripheral stuff.”

And the golf course has been “done” very well.

“Kind of the subtleties they made — especially to the greens, not having so many severe slopes — are good, even though I did like the severe slopes,” Reed said. “I understand why they did it. It gave them more pin locations, which is nice. If you see the same pin locations year after year, it gets monotonic. It’s shaped out really nicely.”

“The green complexes are an improvement for a lot of reasons,” Tackett said. “The golf course has always been charming with a lot of character. But the little nuances were improved upon. Hat’s off to [Greenbrier director of golf maintenance] Kelly Shumate and [Old White superintendent] Josh Pope.”

Hats off to all involved. Sure, yeah, there are a few disappointments.

But the big picture on a cloudy day was overwhelmingly sunny.

Contact Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827 or mitchvingle@wvgazettemail.com. Follow him on Twitter @MitchVingle.

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