Playing Golf In The Piedmont
Join the PGA Champions Tour for a Day
Okay, so you’d like to test your skills against the best players on the PGA Champions Tour, regardless of whether you’re north or south of age 50. But chances are slim to none you’d ever survive a qualifying round, because although those guys may be graying, they’re still really, really good. And the unfortunate truth is that most of the tournaments are played on exclusive courses inaccessible to the average golfer.
Take heart, however, because there is a place in North Carolina’s scenic western foothills where you can challenge the same holes that annually confront a stellar Champions Tour field. Rock Barn Golf & Spa, a semi-private club and resort, hosts the Greater Hickory Classic on one of its two highly regarded courses, this one styled by the internationally respected Robert Trent Jones, Jr. The graceful design takes full advantage of the rolling terrain with elevation changes, towering trees and abundant water providing plenty of suspense. The game’s finest over-50 players have responded admirably over the years with outstanding play and to-the-wire finishes. Mark Wiebe, for example, held off James Mason to win in a prolonged sudden death finish in 2011, while Gary Hallberg carded an amazing final round 61 in 2010 to top Fred Couples and Bernhard Langer by a single stroke. Other past winners include such notables as Jay Haas, Andy Bean and Craig Stadler.
Which means you can tee it up at Rock Barn and discover just how tough it is to shoot par or break 90, much less put up a 61 to win a tournament. Regardless, the course ranks as a favorite of the competitors on the Champions Tour and receives high marks from everyone else who ventures out on it. The North Carolina Golf Panel, for example, ranks the Jones course 18th on its annual Top 100 list of the state’s best and 6th among mountain links. Not to mention that Rock Barn’s other course is a tidy Tom Jackson creation that also guarantees a great time.
But golf isn’t the only reason to journey to Rock Barn. An elegant and expansive spa offers everything from a rock-faced therapeutic waterfall to a bracing cold water pool, promising to leave you “feeling suspended somewhere between heaven and earth,” which doesn’t sound like a bad place to be. And you might need a good massage and soak if you decide to feed your inner cowboy with a gallop on one of the horses at the equestrian center. You could also lounge by the pool after a rousing game of tennis, followed by a cocktail and meal in the gracious clubhouse.
If you need an excuse to visit, Rock Barn also hosts corporate meetings and off-site seminars. After which, of course, some wind-down time will be required on the course, in the spa, or both.
by Gary Carter
added: December 9, 2011
updated: December 12, 2011