WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. — When Greenbrier owner — and current West Virginia gubernatorial frontrunner — Jim Justice announced late last year that he had hired Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player and resort pro emeritus Lee Trevino to collaborate on a golf course, Justice had ambitious plans for a 2017 opening.
However, the reality of building a course on a 2,900-foot mountain has set in, and a real timetable for a full opening has emerged.
Trevino said Monday at The Greenbrier that the course, dubbed Oakhurst, would likely open in spring 2018.
The six-time major winner said he performed a site visit with Nicklaus and members of his design company’s staff — who have really taken the lead on the project — last week. Palmer was unable to attend, and Trevino said he wasn’t expected given “he’s not doing well.” Player didn’t attend as, Trevino jested, “he was in the Himalayas somewhere.”
At this point, the fairways have been shaped, and the team is making decisions around specific course features. The Greenbrier will soon start taking bids on performing the work of building the course out. However, with the course situated on a mountain overlooking the resort, Oakhurst will face a limited growing season for its bentgrass greens and fairways. It will get more snow in the winter and get cooler sooner in the fall. That, Trevino said, will push the opening out into 2018.
Some holes may well open as a course preview ahead of the unveil of the full 18, which is expected to play to 8,042 yards from the tips. Trevino assuaged some concerns about the eye-popping length, giving the example of a planned 700-yard par 5. The design team has the hole playing down the prevailing wind, and the altitude knocks off some yardage. He said the hole will play more like 580 yards — challenging, yes, but not absurd. Trevino made the comparison to Castle Pines, another Nicklaus design that hosted the PGA Tour’s International at altitude in Colorado.
Justice has said that he hopes this course can someday host major championships, like a U.S. Open or a PGA Championship. However, for that to happen, the USGA and the PGA of America need to see the course under tournament conditions. Greenbrier Director of Golf Burt Baine said that showcase could come in the out years of the resort’s contract with the PGA Tour to host The Greenbrier Classic, with Justice potentially pushing the tournament to Oakhurst for a year or two. The resort’s current contract, extended in 2012, expires in 2021.