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 final.
"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.