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The Mysteries of the Beautiful Blowing Rock Golf Course Continue to Prevail Through the Decades

by Bill Hensley

Sept. 27, 2013. In the scenic North Carolina mountains, there are two intriguing, unsolved mysteries that create lengthy-but futile- debates: the cause of the eerie lights on Brown Mountain, and who designed the Blowing Rock Country Club golf course. 

The often-heated arguments rank with notoriety along with who shot J.R. on “Dallas” and whatever happened to Jimmy Hoffa? Sadly, there are no answers. 

For years, the question of the Blowing Rock course architect has been a cause of much discussion and research, all to no avail. Was it Seth Raynor or Donald Ross? Or neither? The club lost all its records and documentation in a 1974 fire that destroyed the clubhouse and all files. Since then, historians have had a field day.

imgres-1Of course, a nine-hole layout known at Green Park-Norwood, was built in 1915. Another nine was added in 1922. Some even say, and it is possible, that Raynor did the first nine and Ross the second. Circumstantial evidence points to Ross, the famed Scotsman, as the designer. In the 1920s, he spent much time in the mountains designing the nine-hole Mayview course in Blowing Rock, which never opened; the nearby Linville Golf Course, and four projects in Asheville, including Biltmore Forest. In his book that lists the courses he designed, Ross includes Blowing Rock, where he redesigned nine holes and added nine more in 1922.

By the same token, some golf history books credit Raynor, a renowned architect from the Northeast, with the Green Park-Norwood course in North Carolina. Raynor’s trademark was a “redan” on each of his courses, which is described as a “formidable fortress” marked by a severe green. Purists say that the second hole, a par three, at Blowing Rock is a perfect example.

Noted golf writer and historian Brad Klein is adamant when he says “Raynor did not do Blowing Rock.” He said that a definitive list of courses designed by Raynor is in a book titled “The Evangelist of Golf” and that Blowing Rock is not listed. Since the book was written, however, the author George Bahto has come up with new evidence, including a 1923 article from a Statesville newspaper which said “based on his work in Blowing Rock, Raynor should be considered to design the new course in Statesville.” 

The late Mrs. Joseph Lineberger of Belmont, who first came to Blowing Rock in 1922, recalled the several years before he death that nine holes were added that year, and she remembered meeting and talking with Ross that year when he visited their home. She also remembered that long time member David Craig, a club founder, had entertained Ross in the 20s when he was working on the Linville course, indicating that a friendship existed. Course designer Kris Spence of Greensboro has stated in his history of the course that Raynor was the architect and cited the fine work that he did on the historic course. 

Blowing Rock Golf Director Wayne Smith, a 30-year veteran at the club, has studied and researched the question throughout his tenure and has come up with another mystery. Was a third architect involved? Smith said that during the period between 1927 and 1933, significant course changes were made. This was after Raynor’s death in 1926. Evidence indicates that the work was done by Charles Banks, a Raynor protege. Because of his extensive use of heavy equipment, he was known in the industry as “Steam Shovel Banks.” His work is evident on several holes, particularly in the third and 16th greens. 

“It appears that Banks was continuing Raynor’s work,” Smith said. “It is possible that three of America’s great architects were involved.”

So the compelling arguments continue. Raynor, Ross or Banks? Meanwhile, members and guests await the 98th year of the courses colorful existence when the course opens in the spring. The classic mountain layout plays to par 72 over its 6,162 hilly yards. The slope is 69.4/126. 

Regardless of who designed the course, the most talked about hole on the course is the par four 17th which measures only 311 yards. Two holes-in-one have been recorded but no one in either group saw the balls disappear into the cup because the green sits on the other side of a hill and isn’t visible from the tee. And the guessing game continues.