Greenbrier Classic brings golf to West Virginia
Major domo Jim Justice has a yearly hope. The owner/proprietor of the castle-like Greenbrier Hotel and Resort always provides the professional golfers and the galleries that follow their every move on the Old White Course with the best of nightly entertainment shows.
Now in its fifth year after replacing the Buick Open on the PGA tour, the Greenbrier Classic has two nights of musical concerts scheduled with Adam Levine’s Maroon Five and Jimmy Buffett giving the guests world-class choices.
In the previous four years of hosting some of the elite golfers of the world, Justice has always had the creme de la creme of singing entertainers.
But there was a reason the Buick Open fell by the financial wayside.
It was held near the 4th of July weekend. And it was held very close to the dates of the all-everything British Open.
Many players skipped it to be with their families for the mid-summer holiday and then skip on across the “big pond” to joust with the elements on some historic course in Scotland, England or Ireland in one of the four “majors” staged every year.
Justice showed enough of his wealth to lure to White Sulphur Springs the likes of Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and other easily recognized names. But none of the bold face names have won the Greenbrier Classic and Mickelson and Woods even missed the cut when they were in the extreme lap of luxury provided by the immense personality of the 6-foot-8, 450-pound Justice.
The four champions have been Stuart Appleby, Scott Stallings, Ted Potter, Jr., and in 2013 it was Jonas Blixt. In the first Greenbrier Classic, Appleby scorched the Old White course with a closing-round score of 59.
The PGA told Justice to toughen the course a bit. The proprietor narrowed the fairways, moved some of the tee boxes, added over 500 yards in length and put in additional traps and bunkers. Nobody has come back with another 59, but the scores in the low 60’s have persisted.
And many of the world’s Top 25 players have stayed away from what those who do play call “the most attention and amenities we get at any tour stop.”
But it’s still the 4th of July, and the British Open still casts its long shadow over the event.
Justice does get Tom Watson, the current pro emeritus at the Greenbrier. He just added Bubba Watson to his list of Greenbrier professionals and this week Bubba will be the biggest name in the 156-player field.
All four of the former winners are in the field. The 2014 points leader in the FedEx Cup standings, Jimmy Walker, is entered. Coming in after Top 10 finishes in the just-completed National at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland will be Brendon Todd, Brendon de Jonge and Marc Leishman.
Mickelson and Woods are not in White Sulphur Springs. One of Justice’s personal favorites, the quixotic John Daly, is entered again.
The purse is a considerable $6.5 million and the winner’s share is $1,170,000 plus 500 FedEx Cup points.
Some of the logical favorites are Keegan Bradley, K.J. Choi, Kevin Na, Jason Day, Bill Haas, Angel Cabrera, Ben Curtis, Webb Simpson, Steve Stricker and Patrick Reed.
The top 70 and ties make cut after the first two rounds. Mickelson and Woods found their weekends in West Virginia were free of obligation because they missed the cuts.
Justice gives the pro golfers and their families the white glove treatment. It’s West Virginia’s only real brush with golf’s elite players.
But there were reasons why the long life of the Buick Open came to a close. And those reasons have been transferred to Justice, the Greenbrier and winnowed tournament field of golfers he entices to his lap of luxury.