There a number of things critical to know about golfing in the mountains, but at the heart of all of them are two absolutes:
Your ball is going to carry just a bit longer than at the beach or on the flats – mostly because of physics (gravity, elevation, etc.) so you’ll need to adjust club selection to compensate; and…
You might want to make allowances for a slightly longer round of golf, taking just a bit more time to enjoy the views of lakes, valleys and other mountains in the distance.
Here are a couple of items to keep in mind as you warm up, take practice putts, and otherwise prepare for a round of golf.
Gravity is not a rule – It’s a law.
It’s simple to know, but difficult to keep in mind, as you progress through the round. You have to keep reminding yourself that gravity is at work, no matter what you do. That applies to drives where you’re tempted to go for the green when a creek guards the pin at about 225 yards. Come up just a bit short and you’re lying there, with a dicey little pitch over water. The sobering concept of layup comes into play.
Check hills and mountains behind you and in front of you.
Two things are for sure: putts are going to break away from the highest peak, and when there’s water, the break will turn toward lakes, rivers or streams.
Although greens may look flat, they’re probably not. Pay attention to the speed as well as the break.
A firmer grip pressure is a good idea, but don’t exaggerate your swing. Make sure your hold on the club is consistently firm. Don’t be intimidated when hitting a drive into the wind. Try not to let the simple breeze force you to swing more forcefully. It’s still all about club selection (maybe club up one club) and let the club do the work. Downwind is your friend. Keep in mind that there is something about mountains that causes there to be a breeze most of the time, maybe it’s because of elevation, but regardless, it’s a nice little nudge for your handicap.
When golfers refer to courses that have a “links course feel”, they’re usually making reference to Scottish links courses – in the land where the game of golf began. A casual comment might mean that the land is flat and there are few trees, but in the case of Blairsville’s Old Union, it’s a nod and a tip of the hat to a true Scottish links course designer, Denis Griffiths.
Griffiths designed the Old Union course, as well as more than 100 others, and remains the only American golf course architect to design a course in Scotland. He’s responsible for the two St. Andrews Bay courses just down the road from St. Andrews, the Old Course, and the Royal and Ancient, the home of golf.
So, as you play Old Union, you can be forgiven for perhaps being somewhat distracted by the legitimate feel of golf ghosts suggesting you play the course the way Old Tom Morris might have. And you should appreciate that in this beautiful valley surrounded by Blue Ridge Mountains, you have the flavor of true golf history.
Ups and downs
The beauty of a mountain is that it is always complemented by a valley or two, such is the nature of geology, geography and the more spiritual yin and yang. It’s perhaps not the lovely mountains that make Butternut Creek Golf Course so special, but more the rolling hillsides within the valleys down below. The mountains are ever-present, but the meandering fairways, the side hill lies, the challenging pitch of the putting surfaces, and the wide open tee shots, are all subtle pieces, contributing to the overall wonder of this little gem of a course. It’s traditional, serene, and tucked away, but convenient, and nearly walkable to the center of Blairsville.
The contrast between Old Union and Butternut Creek, less than five miles from each other and each convenient to both Blue Ridge and Blairsville, is that you can play both a day apart and enjoy each for their individual idiosyncrasies. Which is what golf is after all …