Golf Course Profiles

Cleghorn celebrates its 50th anniversary

Cleghorn Golf and Sports Club is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The course designed by legendary architect George Cobb, near Rutherfordton, NC , combines scenic beauty with some historical features that affords golfers an opportunity to play mountain style golf close to the Upstate.

The George Cobb designed course brings mountain golf close to the Upstate

by Jed Blackwell, Associate Editor/Publisher, The Golf Club

Tucked away off a side road in Rutherford County, a gem of a golf course is preparing to celebrate a half-century in business.

Cleghorn Golf and Sports Club at Tryon Resort, formerly Cleghorn Plantation, opened its doors in 1972. Since then, the course has served as a tough test as well as one of the most scenic courses in the area.

Fifty years in business is an accomplishment in any arena, and the golf business is no exception.

“It is a big deal,” General Manager and Director of Golf Dave Long said. “Like any golf course, we’ve had ups and downs and somersaults and backflips. We’ve been through a bunch of owners over the years, but that’s pretty much the golf industry in a nutshell,” he said.

Cleghorn has held on because, number one, it’s a George Cobb design. We all know how much weight that carries, especially with him doing Quail Hollow and designing the Augusta Par 3 course.

Number two, the layout is spectacular. Throughout all the owners over the years, this place has been in various condition, but the layout is what brings people here.

The George Cobb designed course has withstood the test of time as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Tom Jackson was Cobb’s design associate who later designed The Cliffs at Glassy.

Tom Jackson supervised the construction and shaping of the course as Cobb’s design associate, helping with the final look of the project.

“I walked the land and you could see how the course would just flow,” said Jackson. “There were a few areas where we didn’t have to do much to create some really outstanding golf holes,” he recalled.

Jackson, who designed The Cliffs at Glassy among his many projects, played the course a few years ago and was impressed with how the design has matured over the last half century.

“I think when you consider the time (50 years ago) and the budget, the course turned out very well. I noticed there were a few changes to a couple of holes, but they were done well and added to the course,” he said.

Jackson believed that the course and the surrounding area would lend itself to being a golf destination rather than just a very good golf course.

“The type of golf course and the setting should have made it a destination golf course, a place to get away. I think the distance from populations kept that from happening, but that has changed now with the growth in the area,” said Jackson.

Greenville golf course architect John LaFoy also worked for Cobb and has had a hand in restoring some of the Cobb Design character at Cleghorn that time had eroded.

While Cleghorn is a short drive from the Upstate the Cobb design allows golfers to feel they are many more miles away in the North Carolina mountains.

“It does have all the feel and look of a mountain golf course,” LaFoy said. “The elevation is only around 1,000 feet, but Mr. Cobb created a lot of outstanding golf holes that play like a course in the mountains,” he said.

LaFoy has been working with Cleghorn to develop a master plan for the course that will keep the Cobb influence

“I’ve done some work on a green and made some other suggestions. There are some elements that can be modernized without losing the Cobb influence,” he said.

Long said he’s often asked about the course’s signature hole. His answer is simple. There isn’t one. Instead, any of several holes could serve as the course’s calling card.

That’s in line with Cleghorn’s demanding nature.

“I think what’s unique is that it truly forces you to use every club in your bag,” Long said.

Cleghorn Golf and Sports Club near Rutherfordton celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Elevation changes and mountain views are featured on almost every hole at Cleghorn.

“If you’re a tour player, that doesn’t happen. We’ve had Scott McCarron out here, and he said it literally forces you to use every club. At his level, it’s usually driver-wedge, driver-wedge, driver-wedge. Here we’ve got the long par-3s, the short par-4s, long par-5s. It literally has something for everybody, especially from the scenic end of things. Someone could come out and just ride along with a golfer and have a spectacular day just because of the beauty,” he said.

The beauty on the scorecard, for Long, is that Cleghorn truly offers a challenge for all players.

“I call this a player’s golf course,” he said. “Out of our membership, we have almost 25 percent who are single-digit handicappers. That tells you that they’re serious, and they’re good players. This is a difficult golf course, and that’s the beauty and the curse of it. But it’s not unfair. It’s a tough, fair test,” said the club’s PGA Professional.

That reputation is backed up by both players and tournament organizers who host events at Cleghorn. Maggie Watts, CGA Director of Women’s Golf, gives the course a rave review.

“Cleghorn Golf & Sports Club hosted the 23rd Carolinas Senior Women’s Amateur Championship and I can’t say enough good things about the uniqueness and condition of the golf course,” she said. “The course has a fun, challenging layout but is still accessible to golfers of all skill levels. In a year where golf courses were getting more play than ever before, Cleghorn was in pristine condition, tee to green. Dave Long is one of the most accommodating General Managers I have ever worked with. He and his staff are top-notch and we are excited to bring more CGA events to Cleghorn in the future.”

Jayne Pardus won the Carolinas Senior Women’s Amateur at Cleghorn last October. Pardus went on to be honored as the CGA Senior Women’s Player of the Year. (CGA Photo)

Long attributes great reviews like Watt’s to two factors: Superintendent Dan Fradley, and the course’s staff and their commitment to customer service.

“We are literally in the best shape we’ve ever been since 1972 when we opened,” Long said. “That’s not my observation, that’s coming from members who have been here. The accolades come for Dan keeping the golf course in immaculate shape with little to work with. That’s what makes a really good superintendent. To have an immaculate course with a limited budget is a tough task, but he pulls it off really well,” he added

The staff, and the level of service, is something Long is hesitant to take credit for, but something that gives him immense pride.

“I’m a humble guy, and I don’t like for us to give ourselves accolades,” he said. “But the customer service and the family atmosphere we provide is something that people love. The golf course gets them here. and the service keeps them here.”

A lot of what’s “keeping them there” goes back to Cleghorn’s outstanding layout. For example, given his choice of any shot on the course, Long can’t make just one decision.

He wants a combination instead.

Grave markers and an old grist mill add to the unique views golfers collect as they play Cleghorn.

“I think it’s got to be a combination,” he said. “One is probably the most difficult shot on the golf course, but if you can pull it off, it’s amazing. The tee shot on No. 7, depending on the tees you play, is between 140 (yards) and 210. But you have to fly it the whole way. You can’t run it, you’ve got to land it on the green. Not only do you have to land it, you have to hold the green. It’s one of those holes that if somebody told you before you hit your tee shot you could have a par and go to the next hole, you’d take it a hundred percent of the time.”

“Another one is your third shot on 18. There are a lot of tournaments that have been won and lost on No. 18. Your third shot is a layup shot, and if you don’t hit it far enough through the layup area you’ve got a downhill shot to an uphill green with a 4-iron in your hand, which is probably THE most impossible shot. If you can pull that third shot off on 18, that will keep you coming back. But there are so many out there, and that’s what makes it so great.”

Long said the course’s reputation is built on word of mouth and exceptional experiences for those who come to play.

“Cleghorn, with its long history, you can go up and down the East coast, and if a guy is a traveled golfer and you say the name Cleghorn, he’ll know exactly what you’re talking about,” Long said. “The golf course has kind of carved out its own recognition. In the golf industry, if you’re not a top-tier, 5-star place, the marketing is tough. Really, your biggest marketer is the guy who leaves and who has played and experienced the food and the level of service, and he goes and tells his buddies, and then they come and leave and tell their buddies, that’s where the recognition comes from. There’s nothing like experiencing it.”

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