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North Carolina is a fabulous state. The east has hundreds of miles of beaches and hundreds of golf courses. The rolling hills of the midlands boasts horse farms, thriving cities, university complexes and more golf courses.
The far western part of the state is mountainous. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, and has more golf courses.
It is blessedly cool in those mountains, as I discovered this past weekend when I attended the annual meeting and golf championship for the Carolina Golf Reporters Association at the Waynesville Inn Golf Resort in Waynesville. Daytime temperatures were in the low 70’s. Evening temperatures were in the low 50’s. I wore a jacket and long pants when I went out to dinner. It was heaven.
The Waynesville Inn has a long history of providing pleasurable golf to locals and vacationers. In 1926, the first nine of this fabulous Donald Ross design opened to rave reviews.
Since then, through several changes of ownership and numerous additions and renovations, the Waynesville Inn continues to garner rave reviews and happy visitors. The golf course is ranked 4 Stars by Golf Digest.
There are now 27 holes at the complex, 18 of them are original Donald Ross holes carved through a mountain valley. There is also a convention center, outdoor pavilion, swimming pool, gourmet restaurant and sports bar. A spa is planned for 2010.
The flavor at the Waynesville Inn is warm mellow history, not glitz. Through many renovations, the owners have kept the granite face of the clubhouse, the art-déco style lodges, the balconies and balustrades and the timbered ceilings of a bygone age.
The golf course is a gem, immaculately maintained with all the subtleties of Donald Ross greens, and many changes in elevation. None of the three nines (Carolina, Dogwood and Blue Ridge) are long. Carolina measures 2,958 from the tips and 2,383 from the forward tees. Dogwood is 2,688 and 1,912. Blue Ridge is 2,913 and 2,150. Each combination of courses falls short of 6,000 yards, so even the average hitter has a chance to score well. There are only a few dogleg holes; most fairways are straight from tee to green. There are no tricked-up holes that require layup shots.
But lest the golfer get over-confident with the short yardages, the fairways are narrow with mature, overhanging trees. The rough is deep and lush and sometimes requires a wedge just to get the ball back into play.
Then add to that mixture, the subtle, hard-to-read, tiny Donald Ross greens. I learned golf balls run away from the nearest mountain; often my ball seemed to turn upgrade on the putting surface. Some greens slope from front to back and that backdrop may be a sheer drop down a long hill.
I spoke with Travis Smith, director of golf at the Waynesville Inn, about the course.
“Our prime season runs from April to October, but we’re open year round,” he said. “We get a lot of visitors in the fall when the trees are turning. Each September we host the Western Carolina Women’s Golf Tournament, where 20 university and college women’s golf teams compete. We’ve had it here for 11 years now.”
Asked about the toughest holes on the course, Travis mentioned the par-3 fourth hole on the Carolina Nine. This is the longest par-3 hole at the complex, measuring 198 from the back tees and 131 from the forward tees. There’s a lake with a gushing fountain between the tee and the green. Trees and an out-of-bounds define the left side. The hole is slightly downhill, but the since the green is raised, that adds yardage to the tee shot. It’s hard to figure which club to select for the tee shot.
Another difficult hole is the first hole on the Blue Ridge Nine. A moderately long par-5, 480 yards from the back and 431 from the front, the hole runs slightly uphill all the way, adding extra distance to every shot.
The third hole of the Dogwood Nine is a very long par-5 that has a subtle turn toward the end. Mountains loom in the background, trees and sharp declines define the edges of the fairway, so every shot must be carefully conceived and executed.
I found the most difficult thing about the course was keeping my head down with all that beautiful scenery around me. Each hole has a view of the surrounding mountains. Several holes run along rushing streams that add their music to the senses. The air was cool and clean and crisp.
The Waynesville Inn has many kinds of accommodations, everything from a penthouse in the granite main lodge to comfortable modest rooms with balconies overlooking the golf course. Each building has kept its own distinct flavor, so this is not a cookie-cutter resort but rather a stroll backward in time through several types of architecture.
A gourmet restaurant called the Cork and Cleaver was recently added to the more casual Tap Room and Sports Bar. A huge buffet breakfast (with custom-made omelets) is included with golf packages. This is served in the Tap Room.
Adding to the charm of this resort are the surrounding attractions. White-water rafting, fly-fishing and hiking trails are nearby. Harrah’s Casino at the Cherokee Indian Reservation and the Biltmore House and Winery is a short drive away. Visitors can go to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park or Ghost Town in the Sky, a Western-themed attraction with staged gunfights, live music, shows and crafts.
The old town of Waynesville itself is a great strolling-around place with many charming shops featuring local crafts and artists and excellent restaurants.
So take a trip to the mountains of our great state and enjoy cool mountain air and Donald Ross golf at the Waynesville Inn.
GOLF GAB GROANER
Jack and Joey were golf buddies with low handicaps. One Sunday afternoon, they were flying around the course in record time, carding pars and birdies as they went.
Suddenly they came up behind a slow twosome of women.
“I’ll walk up through those trees and ask if they’ll let us play through,” said Jack.
He walked about 60 yards forward, peeked around a tree, then hurried back to his friend.
“What’s wrong?” asked Joey. “I thought you were going to ask if we could play through.”
“I was, but when I got close, I realized that my wife is playing golf with my girlfriend,” said John.
“Are you sure? Let me go take a look,” said Joey and started forward. He walked up to the tree, peeked around it, the came back quickly.
“What a coincidence,” he said.
Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at email@example.com.