The Grove Park Inn is a historic site in Asheville, North Carolina. The distinctive looking building sits in the north part of the city, overlooking downtown and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains beyond. Everyone from Henry Ford and F. Scott Fitzgerald to President Obama and James Taylor have stayed at the Grove Park Inn. The picture below is taken from the famous Sunset Terrace, which is a great spot for a post-round lunch or drink. Glimpses of the Donald Ross designed golf course can be seen through the trees.
There is a real sense of occasion arriving at the Grove Park. The building is massive, and the architecture harkens back to a different era. The building has walls that are over 5 feet thick, comprised of massive granite boulders. With some of the boulders weighing over 10,000 lbs, it is amazing that 400 men completed the whole building in just 362 days using ropes, pulleys, mules, and wagons. Two new modern wings have been added either side of the original hotel. The subterranean spa sitting below the hotel was ranked 13th in the World. I have never been to the spa, but I’m sure it would be a relaxing post-round venue!
Omni Hotels recently acquired the Grove Park Inn, and a number of changes have taken place. Ironically, the golf course has taken on a less “resorty” feel. Golf carts that once had GPS screens reading out yardages and displaying hints on how to play the holes have been replaced with standard golf carts. Lower rates to play the course have taken effect, with a very reasonable “twilight” rate setting in after 3PM. I played my most recent round on the course during this twilight period on a beautiful Autumn afternoon.
The history of the golf course at the Grove Park Inn is very interesting. In 1926, Donald Ross completely redesigned the golf course, which belonged at that time to the Country Club of Asheville (1894). Guests at the Grove Park Inn were welcome to play the course. This eventually led to an event in 1976 known as “The Big Swap”, when the Grove Park Inn acquired the golf course, and the Country Club of Asheville moved to its current course, which was previously Beaver Lake Golf Club. The course at the Grove Park Inn underwent a restoration in 2002, bringing the design closer to its original Ross layout. One can understand how confusion would arise looking at the lineage of the course.
The golf course is not particularly long, and too much length off a number of tees can get you in trouble. The first hole is a great example. The fairway drastically narrows in the landing area for longer hitters. A creek runs down the left rough and trees block out sliced tee balls. Don’t get greedy on this tee and leave yourself 150 yards in from the widest part of the fairway.
Hole #2 – 191 yards
Terraced tee boxes on the par 3 second hole provide the first views of the hotel from the course. The large undulating putting surface slopes from back to front, and can make for very tough putts when the greens are running fast.
Hole #4 – 402 yards
The fourth hole is deservingly the number 1 handicap hole on the course. The tee box sits at an odd angle to the fairway, creating a very difficult dogleg left tee shot. A long approach is then left into the deceptively deep green.
Hole #5 – 429 yards
Strength of mind is important on the 5th hole, where the low hum of traffic is a constant reminder of the road and OB running down the right side of the hole. The result is many pulled tee shots, which end up in the hidden bunkers in the left rough. The large green has two plateaus with a valley running left to right across the middle of the green.
Hole #6 – 331 yards
“Deceptively simple” describes a number of holes on the course, and the sixth is one such example. A hidden lake is short of the fairway, requiring 185 yards to carry the water. OB is tight on the right and trees are tight on the left. A solid long iron or wood leaves a drastically uphill approach. The hole initially seems simple until you look back down the hill and wonder how you managed to bogey it!
Hole #7 – 212 yards
The seventh green is very large, and a wet low area creates a tricky hazard to the right of the green. The hazard is difficult to see from the tee and snatches up any errant tee shots leaking right.
Hole #8 – 483 yards
The par 5 eighth requires a long cut tee shot to have a go at this green in two. The rolling fairway reminds me of this photo from Durban Country Club in South Africa. Bunkers guard the right edge of the green and a slope with thick penal grass is on the left side.
Hole #9 – 208 yards
Bobby Jones’ last round at the Grove Park finished on this hole. It is said he hit a long iron within 10 feet of the hole before hitting a second ball to within 5 feet with a wood to impress the small gallery that had gathered. The green is deceptively large and slopes from back to front. A creek runs along the left side of the hole and alongside the green.
Hole #10 – 380 yards
This sharply uphill tenth hole is framed by new high end apartments recently built on Sunrise Mountain. Positioning is important in this fairway as trees guard the entrance to the green.
Hole #15 – 332 yards
The beautiful North Carolina mountains are on show yet again at the fifteenth. The hole is reachable from the elevated tee, but it takes a very accurate tee shot. Low handicap players trying to reach the green will try to err in the left greenside traps.
Hole #17 – 179 yards
The seventeenth green sits at the base of one of the newer wings on the hotel. The green is guarded by bunkers, slopes, and trees. Accuracy and distance control are crucial on the hole, as I found during my last round when my approach one-hopped off the back of the green into an impossible position.
Hole #18 – 393 yards
The correct way to play the eighteenth hole eluded me during my first rounds at Grove Park. The fairway is very narrow, with the landing area being at the lowest point elevation-wise. The approach is straight back uphill to a large green. Laying back to the widest part of the fairway before taking an extra club into the green got me my par this latest round.
If you are ever in Asheville, North Carolina and are looking for a very fun round at a public course, don’t hesitate to play Grove Park. The course is typically in excellent condition with its bent grass fairways and greens. While you are there, do not forget to visit the Sunset Terrace and have a cold drink reminiscing on the round while soaking up the view.