Reaching White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., from GCI’s Northeast Ohio headquarters requires a scenic and soothing 360-mile drive through river and mining towns. It can be a bit treacherous at night and distraction-filled during the day. Ever hike the New River Gorge, run the Greenbrier River Trail or play one of West Virginia’s 87 public golf courses?
For the most part, I avoided the delightful distractions while visiting The Greenbrier three times in a 10-week stretch for our three-part series: “When the creek rises.” Driving more than 2,100 roundtrip miles and 33 hours for the same reason never felt like work, thanks the generosity of the people willing to share their incredible stories.
On the final return trip for the series, which started on the evening of Sunday, July 9 and stretched into the early hours of Monday, July 10, I muted the radio and pondered a question: How did The Greenbrier team turn a giant search-and-rescue site into gleaming golf courses in less than a year?
The exhilaration of working on a PGA Tour turf crew for the first time muddled my initial thoughts. But a few answers have emerged since returning to Northeast Ohio.
People come first. The Greenbrier’s people are the biggest reason why we devoted 33 pages and 11,000 print words to the story. Nobody I interviewed for the series considered leaving his job or the area following the flood. Multiple employees told me they have never looked for work elsewhere. Shop coordinator Curtis Persinger, profiled on page 14, surrendered a thriving personal business to continue working at The Greenbrier. The longevity and loyalty produced inordinate amounts of determination.Strong ownership. Before he became West Virginia’s governor, billionaire Jim Justice was the face of The Greenbrier. He’s an avid golfer who cares deeply about the state’s well-being and reputation. Personal contacts helped Justice lure the PGA Tour to The Greenbrier in 2010. The tournament gives West Virginia an annual appearance on the worldwide stage. Missing two straight opportunities to showcase his state because of the 2016 flood wasn’t an option. Justice and The Greenbrier’s managers immediately decided to rebuild The Old White TPC and Meadows courses instead of limiting repairs to sections destroyed by the flood. The Justice family then provided the necessary resources to expedite the rebuild.
experience matters in tough spots. Neither the jarring scope of work nor the tight deadlines flustered the architect and builder selected for The Old White TPC rebuild. Keith Foster has restored some of the country’s best classic courses; McDonald Golf has cleaned up messes and returned luster to numerous golf gems. Certain projects are suitable for a rising architect or builder, but The Greenbrier needed proven people on site. Foster and McDonald Golf, fortunately, are based in neighboring states.
Don’t forget about industry partners. Personal and professional relationships with key partners such as Revels Turf & Tractor and Smith Turf & Irrigation helped The Greenbrier obtain equipment and irrigation guidance throughout the rebuild. Director of golf maintenance Kelly Shumate, The Old White TPC superintendent Josh Pope and members of crew kept communication lines open with partners, fostering trust and friendships benefitting all parties. Shunning quality partners today can put a course in a tricky spot tomorrow. The Greenbrier team knew it could rely on its partners because of relationships cultivated long before the flood.