TRAVEL: Golfer's Paradise in the Mountains
by Terry Moore
One of the gurus of North Carolinian travel, Bill Hensley, once called western North Carolina "a golfer's paradise." Hearing this, I initially thought Bill was just taking his public relations job a bit too seriously. But after spending six delightful days there last summer, I now think Bill was understating his case. Yes, western N.C is a golfer's and a traveler's paradise. Let me share the highlights of our golf itinerary:
Day One: One of the pluses traveling to Asheville is its convenience and non-hassle air connections to and from Michigan. With Cincinnati's new small jet hub, getting to Asheville was a breeze.
For accommodations, we selected the Holiday Inn Sunspree, only two miles from downtown Asheville. Besides being a full service, conference-equipped resort, the Sunspree has a sporty little par 70 golf course that's an ideal warm-up for rounds later in the trip. For families, the Sunspree has all the amenities and distractions necessary to keep the young ones temporarily happy_swimming pools, tennis courts, children's activities. For business travelers, there's an excellent spa and exercise room. Best of all, the service was very good, especially those great guys who watched our clubs and travel bags all weekend. (Call 704-274-6333.) And
Asheville is a charming city with a rich heritage and varied interests. It's a near perfect epicenter for a golf vacation.
Day Two: One of the little joys of a golf trip is being first off in the morning at a fine golf course. That was our lucky fate as we were eager "dew sweepers" at the elegant Grove Park Inn Resort GC in Asheville. There's a wonderful charm about the Grove Park Inn GC. Nestled just below the majestic Inn itself and set amid a cozy, leafy neighborhood, the course is not too long or too difficult. Even off the back tees, it's only 6520
yards at a par 71. The front nine has three par threes all of which my playing partner birdied. (And the guy is a 15 handicapper?) And with the exception of the roughed-up and tiny par three 15th hole, there's not a bad hole on the course. Designed originally by Willie Park Jr. and later re-worked by Donald Ross, Grove Park deserves consideration for any golf itinerary in Asheville. (800-438-0050.)
Is it possible that a tour of a private residence can upstage even as nice as golf course as Grove Park Inn? Yes, especially when the home is the magnificent Biltmore Estate. The Biltmore, one of North Carolina's true tourist jewels, is America's largest private home. Its sheer size is breathtaking as the estate is situated on 8,000 acres. When you're on the grounds, you're virtually in another province. Expertly managed with a Disney-like attention to detail, the Biltmore will energize the most jaded and bored traveler. Built in 1893 by George Vanderbilt, the Estate's centerpiece is the 250-room mansion chateau which has been painstakingly preserved. In addition, there's a beautiful 75 acre garden, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, that's worthy of a few hours of time in itself. All in all, the Biltmore Estate is a must stop when you visit Asheville. (800-543- 2961)
Day Three: One of the highlights of this trip was to come across a well-preserved and refined Donald Ross course, the Biltmore Forest CC in Asheville. This was the only true private course during our stay, so please excuse me a few comments if you're unable to find a way onto this exceptional course. Founded in 1922, the Biltmore Forest is a challenging par 70 at 6567 yards. It has many authentic Ross touches: greens that are sculpted with flair yet are natural; stout par-fours, and strategic bunkering. A scorecard oddity at Biltmore Forest is the inclusion of only one par five but three par threes. In fact, the back nine has eight par fours and a single par three. Set within tranquil, woodsy surroundings, the superbly conditioned Biltmore Forest is a golfer's golf course. Fittingly, it will host the U.S. Amateur in 1999.
After a scenic drive up into the Blue Ridge Mountains, we arrived at Linville and the Eseeloa Lodge. Any traveler is in for a superlative treat by staying at the Eseeloa Lodge. It's a rustic and elegantly understated Lodge with four-star service and dining. Even though quiet and casual in ambiance,
the Eseeloa also exudes class and charm. For example, in the evening guests are required to dress more formally with jacket and ties for gentlemen and dresses for ladies. The wait staff are well-trained and affable college students, one of whom was a student at Grand Rapids Calvin College. All the rooms have a homespun touch in decorations and warmth yet boast all the modern conveniences. Simply put, the Eseeloa Lodge is a wonderful place to stay. I learned later that the Eseeloa Lodge was a frequent vacation and R & R spot for one of my literary heroes, the late novelist Walker Percy, who also enjoyed playing Linville GC. In my book, this is as solid as the recommendation "Lincoln slept here." ( 704-733-4311)
Day Four: Play a round at Linville Golf Club. Although private, Linville permits guests of the Eseeloa Lodge to have access, still another reason to stay there. Designed by...who else?...Donald Ross in 1924, Linville is annually ranked as one of the state's top ten courses. Again, this is a classic Ross design with a completely natural look and feel. The old Master let the terrain dictate his design and not the other way around. Trouble for the wayward lurks all around here with tree-lined fairways and a pesky burn that winds its way across numerous fairways. The picture/scorecard hole is the par five fourth, a straightway but tight hole that narrows as one nears the green which is nestled next to the Lake Kawana. Linville is pure mountain stream of golf pleasure. After an uplifting round at Linville, it's only apt to stay the course and head for higher ground. And you can't get much higher than famed Grandfather Mountain. At 5,964 feet, Grandfather is the highest peak in the Blue Ridge range and takes up 4,000 acres, most of which is protected by the Nature Conservancy. Whether your interest is hiking, birdwatching or a simply a picnic, this Mountain affords hours of enjoyment. The late Charles Kuralt, of CBS Sunday Morning, called Grandfather Mountain his favorite haunt of all his many travels. (800-468-7325)
Day Five: Besides Linville, there are several superb courses in the area, many of which are private. But over in nearby Blowing Rock is Hound Ears Club which lives up to its billing as a "superlative small resort." This four-star Mobil resort sports an excellent golf course designed in 1963 by George Cobb. A friendly, picturesque layout and well-maintained conditions make for a rewarding round at Hound Ears. (704-963-5831)
Our final course on the trip was Blue Ridge CC in Linville Falls, one of the newest courses in the region. Opened in 1995, Blue Ridge is a beautiful layout set down in the valley with gorgeous views of the mountains. One of the advantages being at only 1800 feet (as opposed to Linville's 4000) is more agreeable weather. Believe or don't, but the folks at Blue Ridge market "ski and tee" packages because its guests can indeed do both due to its less lofty locale. The golf course is a delight with gentle terrain, subtle bunkering and inviting green sites. Several fairways could use some width but generally speaking this is a nicely-designed and maintained golf course. Due to the mountain views and the meandering Catawba River, Blue Ridge CC provided a perfect ending to a memorable golf vacation to western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains. (704-756-7001)
Day Six: Write thank you to Bill Hensley. You're right, Bill, it's a golfer's paradise.
(For more information, call the numbers listed in the story or call the Asheville CVB at 800-257-1300.)
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