By Scott Baughman
Golfers usually aim for small numbers as the lowest score is the best result when hitting the links. But for Cleghorn Golf and Sports Club at Tryon Resort this year is all about a very big number as the club celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Designed in 1972 by world-renowned course designer George Cobb, the course is well known as a draw to the area for avid golfers and it has a bit of a reputation as being “not exactly difficult but certainly challenging” according to current general manager Dave Long.
“Cleghorn is a combination of notable things,” said Long. “The course is difficult, and known for that, but there have been changes in the last 15 years that make it easier than it once was.”
Course designer Cobb is famous for also creating Quail Hollow Club and Par 3 at Augusta National. While Cleghorn does not have quite the pedigree as those esteemed courses, the club is proud to say that the great playing conditions will give you four hours of solid enjoyment. Indeed, the Cleghorn website trumpets, “Your best round at Cleghorn will have nothing to do with your score. It will be about the challenge you face on every tee box and how you handle the 18 adventures in front of you.”
Long explains that golfers of all skill levels will find something to engage them.
“A single digit handicapper can come here and be forced to use every club in his bag,” Long said. “It is a spectacular layout with a lot of terrain and a lot of undulations. Some view the difficulty as a negative, some view it as a positive. We see it as a positive and we get people from all over to play here. The difficulty combined with its beauty make it well known. If you are an avid golfer, you have heard of Cleghorn.”
The official anniversary for the club will be Oct. 1, 2022. Once known as Cleghorn Plantation, the course has seen a lot of changes since 1972.
“We’ve had a lot of owners and then bankruptcies, I think due to some of the industry changes and our location and the state of the economy,” Long said. “But we want to celebrate that we are still here.”
Long has been working at the club since November 2013. When he first joined, the course had been closed for a couple of years.
“The bank had it and there was a big deal over the previous owner and the owner at the time were suing each other,” he said. “It was a mess then, but I came in to kind of bring it back from the dead. Nobody had touched it for two years. Imagine if you hadn’t touched your lawn in about two years and what it would look like. Multiply that by about 200 acres and you’ll see we have come a long way since ‘13.”
But Cleghorn has a few attractions other than just the golf.
“We have a gun club that is about one mile away and on site at the golf club we have an Olympic pool, basketball courts and pickle ball courts and tennis courts,” Long said. “People come back because it is in such great condition. I’ve figured out over the years that the layout is very important but the conditioning of the golf course is critical. People are willing to travel a great difference to play a course that is in great shape. We aren’t a private club but for a public club we are in great shape. The golf course gets people here and the service they get from the pro shop keeps them here. We do a very nice job of taking care of our players, customers and members. And people can tell as far as the repeat business.”
For Long the best part about the golf course is hole number 15.
“It kind of resembles Number 18 at Quail Hollow which Cobb also designed,” Long said. “It has a creek that cuts through the fairway and runs up toward the green. It is a little dogleg right hole and a challenging one.”
He has a few tips for beginners and first-time players to Cleghorn.
“People do a little research before they play a golf course,” Long said. “We are a little hard to find, we are a destination course because we are a little off the highway. People will ask what they need to know? 2 things – It is a very tight course but it isn’t long at all. Keep it in play off the tee. If you can hit fairways and greens you’ll do well here because we are not long at all.”
But Long cautions players that the course is in the mountains, after all.
“We have 12 or 13 of our greens that are elevated anywhere from half of a club to two clubs different. That elevation is something hard to figure out,” he explained. “It is a little easier to figure a downhill, but harder to figure out an uphill and how much club you should add for that. Therefore, everything is kind of out in front of you. There aren’t any blind spots so you know what you’re getting when you step up to the tee.”
The biggest thing that has changed in the history of Cleghorn according to Long is when the club was bought in April of 2016 by Tryon International Equestrian Center.
“They’ve done a tremendous job allowing us to hire a few more employees and help on our customer service end and allowed me to increase my maintenance budget which is what results in such a well-manicured golf course,” he said. “The notoriety of being associated with the center has probably brought Cleghorn up to another level as far as its popularity. That’s definitely the biggest change in the new millennium.”
The club plans to hold a big tournament and large party on Oct. 1 to celebrate their big birthday.