For more than a quarter-center since its opening in 1987,
Wade Hampton Golf Club has been recognized by major golf publications as one of
the premier courses in the country, and the Tom Fazio design in tiny Cashiers,
N.C., draws consistent raves from visiting golfers.
“We had a couple of guys in recently who were playing
top-100 golf courses,” said Fazio. “They were sitting on the porch having a
drink after their round and told me, ‘This is as good as any place we’ve been
in the world.’”
Now the country’s best seniors (55 years and older) are
about to experience the delights of Wade Hampton first-hand. Because of its
remote location in the mountains of western North Carolina – an hour from
Asheville, N.C., three hours from Atlanta and nearly six hours from Raleigh,
N.C. – the club has been under the radar for most competitive golfers. But when
the members invited the USGA to conduct the 2013 Senior Amateur Championship,
they invited wide scrutiny of their golf course.
Sitting at more than 3,600 feet above sea level, the course
offers a mountain setting with 12 holes featuring elevated teeing grounds.
“The number-one factor it has is a setting that is so
dramatic,” said Fazio, whose designs have hosted six of the last 11 Senior
Amateurs. “The feeling is so good.
“For the people who have never been there before, they will
say, I get it now. I get why it’s ranked so high. It is that spectacular.”
At 6,842 yards (par 72), Wade Hampton will be the longest
venue in Senior Amateur history, surpassing last year’s site, Mountain Ridge
Country Club in West Caldwell, N.J., by 4 yards. But Fazio said because of the
altitude, the course won’t play to the yardage. In fact, depending on the
setup, Fazio believes it could yield low scores during stroke-play qualifying.
“It’s going to play a half-club to a full club shorter for
yardage compared to what people are used to,” said Fazio. “It’s a mountain
course that is not hilly. There are only two spots where there’s an elevation
change in terms of walking.
“I really believe the players will like the variety of
holes. There are very few perpendicular hazards. [And] they are not severe
greens, other than the 10th green. I say it’s a soft challenge, not a hard
challenge. I see some very good scores.”
Then again, the Senior Amateur is a national championship
and those words carry with them a certain amount of pressure.
“Anytime you have a scorecard and a pencil, the golf course
is always harder than when you play [for fun],” said Fazio.”
From a player’s perspective, defending champion Paul Simson,
of Raleigh, has a chance to pull off a rare feat. Last year, he won the title
in his native state – he grew up in Chatham, N.J. – and in 2013, he could win
in his adopted state. With a victory, Simson would also join Lewis Oehmig as
the only players to have won the Senior Amateur three times.
“I’m very hopeful,” said Simson, who lost in the
quarterfinals to Philip Pleat in his first title defense, in 2011 at Kinloch
Golf Club in Manakin-Sabot, Va.
The 62-year-old will arrive in solid form. He has already claimed
four senior titles in 2013: the Coleman Senior in April at Seminole Golf Club
in Florida; the Lupton Cup at The Honors Course outside of Chattanooga, Tenn.,
in May; the National Senior Hall of Fame Championship in June at Willow Creek
in High Point, N.C.; and the North Carolina Senior Four-Ball (with Don
Detweiler) in August. His other title this summer came at the Carolina
Father/Son at Seven Lakes, near Pinehurst, where he and son Phillip carded a 65
in the alternate-shot format.
Last year at Mountain Ridge, Simson was virtually
untouchable in his six matches, with only first-round foe Steve Rogers taking
him to the 18th hole. He defeated Curtis Skinner, 5 and 4, in the 18-hole
“That’s a little unusual to have as good a week as that,”
said Simson. “You have to have a little bit of match-play luck and then you
have to play well. I played better last year than I did [in winning] at Lake
Nona [in 2010].”
Simson said it will take him longer to drive to Wade Hampton
than it did for him to fly to New Jersey last year. But he said his fellow
senior competitors will thoroughly enjoy Wade Hampton. After recently getting a
chance to play the venue for the first time, Simson came away impressed.
“Anybody who is going to be there, they are in for a treat,”
he said. “It is absolutely fantastic. Every hole is a postcard. And the last
hole looks like you are up in the [Pacific] Northwest. It is absolutely
gorgeous. It’s a little bit different than where we normally go.”
Senior Amateur Notes:
The five previous Fazio designs to host the Senior Amateur are The
Virginian Golf Club (2003), The Farm Golf Club (2005), Victoria National Golf
Club (2006), Flint Hills National Golf Club (2007) and Lake Nona Golf and
Country Club (2010) … Fazio, who resides in Hendersonville, N.C., will be the
guest speaker at the Players’ Dinner on Sept. 20. … Wade Hampton will be the
second Fazio design to have hosted a USGA championship in 2013. Martis Camp Club
in Truckee, Calif., was the host site for the U.S. Junior Amateur. … Not only
is Lewis Oehmig the only three-time Senior Amateur champion, he is also the
oldest to have won (69). Oehmig also was a three-time runner-up.
David Shefter is a USGA senior staff writer.
Email him at email@example.com.