Blog 174 - Guest Blogger James Hawley; Buddies Trip to Virginia and West Virginia

James, Tim, Brad, Jeff on the 1st tee at the Greenbrier.
By James Hawley
Aw, the annual buddies trip. You know how it starts; months of trash-talking via email, anticipation of kicking everyone’s butt, packing for days prior to launch and then, then it comes to fruition! Our annual trip has been following the same recipe for years and years, but in different locations. We tell the same stories and laugh until someone gets really pissed off (and then we laugh harder); and everyone takes a turn as the brunt of the jokes. We have nicknames for each other – some cruel, but all accurate.
We have whittled ourselves down to a - for lack of a better term – ‘manageable’ foursome. One guy can’t put down his blackberry for two seconds, one guy has to ‘primp’ before we head out to dinner, one guy never ever has any cash (ever), and one guy says every year “this is my last trip” but keeps coming back (ok, that would be me).
The 2011 edition of The Dumbert Cup was contested in the mountains of Virginia & West Virginia at Primland, Homestead, and The Greenbrier. Let’s just say that this was not a cheap trip - $700 per day when you add it all up. It was planes (Seattle to Detroit to Roanoke), trains (at the airports), and automobiles (our minivan with a locker-room-aroma drove for hundreds of miles). The courses were in spectacular shape. The only disappointment was the steady rain at Primland, but the course took it extremely well and we all agreed a return trip was in order.
My buddies always ask me my opinion on the courses we are playing, as if I were rating them for Golf Digest or something (alright, so I was actually rating them). I try not to tell those clowns, er… my buddies, too much while they are looking for their errant drives. Their less-than-stellar play helps me keep my ratings a secret. Ultimately, I judge a course on if I could happily play it on a daily basis – let’s just say that I could play Old White at The Greenbrier every day and never get bored.  If you go, make sure you try to get Colby Taylor as your forecaddie (the best forecaddie I have ever had).  Also, J.C. Snead may ask to play through on the 4th hole, so be prepared (he still has a silky swing).
The people in this part of the country are friendly, but they definitely fit a stereotype. Being from L.A., I had a hard time understanding some of the words they used – luckily one of our guys is from Texas and could translate for us, even though they were speaking different dialects. For instance, our forecaddie at The Homestead was like a character out of a movie – a cross between Carl Spackler, an umpa-lumpa, and Father Time. He told us (by translation thru Jeff) that he canned opossum and made his own moonshine.  He claimed it takes seven opossums to equal one Mason jar of meat.  When asked where he got the, er, game, he said from all over - traps, hunting, and even road kill! Not one of us tried the mystery meat, but we may, or may not, have tried the moonshine.
After golf there is plenty to do at these resorts. Primland has that exclusive small club feel: small clubhouse, cabins for guests, great menu and superb bar. The Greenbrier is The Greenbrier, and Jim Justice has brought this venerable resort back to the pinnacle, and it does indeed deserve to be called ‘America’s Resort’. Don’t miss Friday and Saturday nights in the new casino (for Greenbrier Resort guests only), where everyone is treated like a member of The Rat Pack.
Being on our buddies trip is like living in a dream for five days a year. We go to places we wouldn’t normally go; we spend money like it’s going out of style; we eat in the best restaurants; we act like movie star high rollers; and we never let each other get out of line. The only thing we could never be mistaken for is great golfers. Even those of us that can play are usually too hung-over to do any good. Aw, the annual buddies trip. You know how it ends…we start the planning for next year.

Q&A with James
How many buddy trips have you participated in?
This was our 13th edition.  We really started on our top 100 'quest' when Bandon Dunes opened in 1999.

Which ranking do you use for your top 100?
We use the Golf Magazine 2002 “Top 100 You Can Play”.

How many of them have you played?
We've played 59 from that list, including #1 Pebble Beach and #100 Blue Heron Pines (NJ).

Do you wait until the buddy trips to play these courses?
I actually started playing courses worthy of Top 100 status back in junior golf and college. I grew up playing Riviera, Los Angeles Country Club, Pebble, PGA West, etc.  Now I base my personal list on the biennial Golf Digest Top 100 in America which includes private and public courses.

So how many have you done from that list?
I've played 43 off the 2011 Golf Digest list – still waiting on my Pine Valley & Augusta National invitations!

What's the best course you've played?
Well, the highest-ranked course I've ever played is Cypress Point which has been ranked #1 in America at various times over the years, along with Augusta and Pine Valley. My favorite course on our most recent trip was Tobacco Road in North Carolina, and the best course I think we've ever played is Sand Hills in Nebraska.

James, who lives in Bellingham, has been a member of Golf Digest’s Course Ranking Panel for three years.  Follow him on Twitter here -

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