Golf With Altitude
New Course Design Takes Lake Toxaway Higher
The original Lake Toxaway resort near Brevard once dubbed itself as “America’s Switzerland” – at least according to a yellowing, framed postcard on the porch of the property’s award-winning Greystone Inn. There are no Matterhorn-like peaks at the 4,700-foot altitude, but the area is, after all, mountainous, scenic and temperately cool. America’s elite with recognizable surnames such as Ford, Edison, Rockefeller and Firestone frequented this seasonal getaway in their times.
The surface of 640-acre Lake Toxaway, the property’s centerpiece and the largest private lake in North Carolina, barely ripples as refreshing breezes moderate a climate that tops out in the middle 70s in the heat of summer. It is no surprise that this destination has long enticed travelers from metropolitan areas such as Charlotte and Atlanta, not to mention vacationers from around the country.
With all of its built-in advantages, the modern-day Lake Toxaway Country Club, revitalized by Reg Heinitsh Sr. in the 1960s, had a glaring weakness in its portfolio of amenities. Its golf layout was classified, in coded golf parlance, as a “charming mountain course,” according to David Dew, president of the Lake Toxaway executive team. That language, Dew knew, in golf circles is akin to calling it a dated, hardly playable goat track.
Things have changed – dramatically. North Carolina-based architect Kris Spence, recently responsible for restoring Donald Ross’s original design at The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, was retained as the visionary and driver behind a $9 million course overhaul at Lake Toxaway Country Club. The new course debuted in August 2008.
“We had a very unique situation here already,” says Lake Toxaway owner Reg Heinitsh Jr., referring to the property’s numerous appeals. “Now the golf course is going to be on the same plateau as the real estate, lake and inn. We are taking something lofty in value and enhancing it.”
Architect Spence says he knew he had his “hands full” the first time that he toured the existing course. “You literally had to walk sideways down the golf course. It was a very narrow, cramped golf course.”
Spence walked the property a few times and knew the course did not fit the property as it should. “Things seemed a little backward in places,” he says. He chose to reverse the playing direction on seven of the nine holes on the back side, as well as on the first and ninth holes on the opening nine.
His goal was to make the course more playable and to fit the existing topography.“I wanted it to be a very comfortable golf course,” says Spence. “The golfers are coming here to enjoy the temperatures and the relaxation and the tranquility of this area. I didn’t want to build a golf course that is overbearing to those players. I wanted a golf course that was comfortable off the tee.
“My mindset on the design of this golf course is a little along the line of Augusta (National) and (architect) Alister MacKenzie’s work there,” adds Spence. “He really wanted you to play a wide variety of shots off the tee and have some room. The real game starts from there into the green and onto the greens. That’s what we have accomplished here.”
The par-71, 6,418-yard course flows through a rolling valley on the front nine. The closing nine holes offer more changes in altitude, including a dramatic tee shot on No. 18, a 520-yard par-5 hole that descends back to the clubhouse.
Spence worked with the mental weight of knowing that Tom Fazio, one of golf’s most established and respected golf architects, is a homeowner on Lake Toxaway. Fazio was not involved in the course overhaul, but did contribute his expertise to the community with the Tom Fazio Golf Learning Center. Its 60 acres feature extensive practice facilities and state-of-the-art learning technologies.
“What Kris (Spence) has done on this piece of property is nothing short of amazing,” says Director of Golf Lou Biago, who should know. In more than 25 years at Lake Toxaway Country Club, Biago has experienced the before and after. “We have always had this beautiful setting, but the course never took advantage of the scenery Mother Nature provided. It does now.”
By Patrick Jones
By Patrick Jones
added: December 19, 2008
updated: January 5, 2010