Full House Stars & Diamonds

BY Janice Ausherman

December is a wonderful time to visit The Greenbrier one of the world’s finest resorts which spans 6 500 Alleghany Mountain acres in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia. Each day of the holiday season will be filled with music performances dancing puppet shows seminars and workshops games and other celebrations.

Those who have visited before might be excused a yawning “so what else is new?” for there is always plenty of activity at this five-star five-diamond resort one of only three properties to maintain AAA five-diamond status since the inception of the rating system.

Visit this National Historic Landmark any time of the year and you will find more than 50 activities vying for your attention: golf skeet shooting mountain hiking and biking croquet bowling tennis swimming trout fishing falconry white-water rafting and horseback riding. On the quieter side there are carriage rides walks in the expansive and exquisite gardens movies relaxation in the architecturally significant public rooms or in your own beautifully appointed room suite or cottage and a multitude of pampering treatments in the 40 000-square-foot spa. Then there is the food which is outstanding in all of the resort’s 10 restaurants especially the five-star main dining room.

And all of it as worry-free and elegant as any place on the planet you are likely to visit.

There are 800-plus rooms at The Greenbrier. The design admittedly is not for everyone. “Our room was decorated in a tacky floral style dating to the 1980s ” one rare unhappy patron said on a rating’s Web site. It is floral but it is not tacky nor is it as young as the complainer thinks.

The Greenbrier’s distinctive décor was designed by Dorothy Draper when she was at the peak of her fame after World War II. As Architectural Digest described her she was “a true artist of the design world [who] became a celebrity in the modern sense of the word virtually creating the image of the decorator in the popular mind.”

“Her style was big brash bodacious bold and bordered on what some would consider gaudy shocking both men and women of her day ” according to Internet encyclopedia Wikipedia. That said 60 years later there is not a frayed carpet to be found nor an article of furniture that bears the slightest blemish not a thing out of place.

My sister-in-law is a designer and she also was not taken with the look which is bold pinks and bright greens — think giant rhododendrons in bloom. It is a style all its own and I think it adds to ambience of the resort. I have never seen anything else like it.

There is a considerable range of rooms from which to choose including suites with sitting rooms one- and two-bedroom accommodations and separate stand-alone cottages.

We stayed in the Spring Row Cottages during our last visit in September and can now personally confirm the rave reviews friends have given the cottages for years. They have wraparound porches and our one-bedroom unit had a very large bedroom bath sitting area and living room with fireplace and wet bar. Like all of the rooms we have experienced over the years the cottage was very beautifully furnished convenient for a traveler and in immaculate condition.

Shopping abounds at the resort with most of the shops in the main building of the hotel though there are antique and furniture galleries and more cottages devoted to arts and crafts in the Alabama Row Art Colony outside the central shopping area.

There is all this but The Greenbrier remains in many ways a golf destination. The three golf courses are all close together and funnel into one grand clubhouse.

The main course The Greenbrier is the most well-known and the most challenging of the three. Originally constructed in 1924 by Seth Raynor the course was redesigned by Jack Nicklaus in 1977. It is the only resort golf course in the world to host both professional international cup matches: the Ryder Cup Matches in 1979 — the first such matches under the current format — and the Solheim Cup Matches in 1994.

The 6 675-yard par 72 course is heavily wooded and demands carries onto the greens many of which are elevated and heavily bunkered. The greens themselves are terraced and require accurate iron play and a pretty good short game.

We played The Greenbrier in September and I can certify that there is not a blade of grass out of place anywhere. Stunning beauty meets immaculate condition.

The Old White Course was The Greenbrier’s first 18-hole golf course when it opened in 1913. It features generous fairways and challenging undulating greens. Every hole presents a variety of risk-and-reward routes to the greens.

The Meadows Course was originally built in 1962 as a nine-hole course. It was dramatically updated in 1999 and now offers challenging play from the back tees and a more forgiving golf experience from the shorter markers.

The Greenbrier began life in the late 18th century when people began arriving to “take the waters” of White Sulphur Springs to restore their health. Cottages gradually grew up around the natural springs over the years some of which still exist.

The area’s reputation continued to grow and the first large hotel the Grand Central was built in 1858. It was closed during the Civil War and both sides held the site at one time or another.

The arrival of Chesapeake and Ohio Railway brightened the resort’s prospects when it reopened after the war and White Sulphur Springs became one of the classic railroad resorts in the country a status it enjoyed for the next 100 years. C & O purchased the property outright in 1910 and by 1913 added The Greenbrier Hotel which is the central portion of today’s hotel and the Old White Course.

The Grand Central was torn down in 1922 leading to a substantial expansion and rebuilding of The Greenbrier Hotel.

During World War II the state department leased The Greenbrier for seven months and used it to house German Japanese and Italian diplomatic personnel and their families. In September 1942 the Army purchased the hotel and converted it into the 2 000-bed Ashford General Hospital.

C & O reacquired the property after the war and initiated Draper’s comprehensive redecoration of the hotel interior.

In the late 1950s the government again approached The Greenbrier this time for help in the creation of an Emergency Relocation Center to house Congress in the event of nuclear war. Between 1959 and 1962 a huge secret underground facility was built under cover of the addition of the West Virginia wing.

The secret complex was revealed in 1992 and decommissioned shortly thereafter. It is still maintained much as it was in 1992 and is open for tours. Recently the complex has been renovated and is also used for data storage.

The resort is about to undergo an 18-month $50 million renovation the most dramatic upgrade since the 1940s. The project will encompass the Main Dining Room Tavern Room Old White Lounge the main kitchen and guest rooms in the center section of the main building.

Noted designer Carleton Varney a protégé of Dorothy Draper will be overseeing the dining room makeover. It will be divided into two separate restaurants. With beautiful mahogany columns one will be an elegant upscale steakhouse serving prime meats and seafood. It will include an open cooking area that becomes part of the dining experience and a bar with a glorious wine list.

The other will become the Emerald Terrace a formal classic space with lots of light and energy according to the designer. It will incorporate the famous chandeliers from both halves of the current dining room and will offer the more traditional Greenbrier dining experience such as we have enjoyed for so many years.

There will also be a new restaurant called Hemispheres in what has been known as the Old White Lounge. A new nightclub with a Moroccan feel and contemporary atmosphere will be located downstairs.

“After considering all alternatives and in order to make these renovations as efficiently as possible we will suspend all guest services on Jan. 2 when our holiday guests check out ” recently retired president Ted J. Kleisner said last spring. “We have developed a very specific calendar of renovation to ensure that the project is completed to meet the demands of the business which is on our books for April 2.”

A stay at the Greenbrier is without fail our favorite vacation and one we have enjoyed over many years without disappointment.

If you have an opportunity to visit this magnificent resort I promise you will not regret the experience. Stay at least two nights so you have an opportunity to explore and enjoy a number of the many wonderful things it has to offer.

The Greenbrier has an airport with daily flights a train station at the entrance gates. Fortunately for us it is within easy driving distance of our home in Richmond Va. The trip from Wrightsville Beach is a bit more arduous — about 450 miles — but takes the traveler through some of the most beautiful scenery the East Coast has to offer. And what awaits you at the journey’s conclusion justifies whatever hardship the trip imposes.

Ausherman lives in Richmond Va. where she has raised three children and from where she has traveled extensively both here and abroad with her children and her husband a prominent attorney. This is her first article for Wrightsville Beach Magazine.