Blowing Rock Golf Course Mystery
Story by: Bill Hensley

Has the mystery been solved?

(Editor's Note: does not normally post a story about a golf club that is not open to the public.  However, this article is such we felt it alright for the sake of the history of golf.)

For decades, golf historians have debated—and argued—over who designed the Blowing Rock Country Club golf course.

Over the years, both sides have made strong cases but the issue has never been solved.  One camp has stated vehemently that the famed Donald Ross designed the course while the other side claims that equally famous Seth Raynor was the architect.  There is evidence  on both sides, but much of it is circumstantial.

Recently, long time Blowing Rock CC Golf Director Wayne Smith discovered a book written by noted golf writer O. B. Keeler in 1937.   In it, Keeler mentions playing the Blowing Rock course,  “which was designed by Seth Raynor,” he comments.

Last year a story was found  in the Statesville Record and Landmark, written in 1923, that said  local residents D. J. Craig and C. V. Henkel (both Blowing Rock founders) had invited Raynor to visit them in Statesville to discuss a possible course for that city. It went on to say that the  men  had “obtained Raynor’s services when he layed out the Blowing Rock course.”

“The case for Raynor keeps getting stronger,” Smith said, “but Ross supporters are not giving up.”

The nine-hole course was built in 1915 as the Green Park-Norwood. Another nine holes were added in 1922.  Some people say, and it is possible, that Raynor designed the first nine and Ross the second.

The club lost all its records and files in a 1974 fire that destroyed the clubhouse. Strangely, the legend of who designed the course did not prevail among members  from generation to generation.

Here is the case for Raynor, a renowned architect from the northeast who had a number of classic courses to his credit:

  1. The story in a 1923 issue of the Statesville newspaper.
  2. The mention by golf writer O. B. Keeler in his book on North Carolina golf written in 1937.
  3. Credit for designing the Green Park-Norwood course in North Carolina in a book by Robert Muir Graves and Geoffrey Cornish.
  4. The fact that a Raynor trademark, known as “redans,” is much in evidence on the course today.  This is described as “a formidable fortress”  marked by a severe green.  Purists say that the second hole, a par three, is a perfect example of a redan.
  5. A strong feeling by Kris Spence of Greensboro, NC, a course designer, who compiled a history of the course.
  6. A belief that Raynor worked in Blowing Rock in 1923 between jobs in Lookout Mountain, Tenn., and the meeting in Stateville.

The case for Ross:

  1. The Blowing Rock Country Club is listed in his book “Golf Has Never Failed Me,” as one of his North Carolina courses.
  2. The course is also listed in noted golf historian Brad Klein’s book on Ross courses.
  3. He designed the nine-hole Mayview course (which never opened) in Blowing Rock in 1923.
  4. He was in the area often during the mid-twenties when he designed the Linville Golf Club and four courses in Asheville, including Biltmore Forest CC.
  5. The late Mrs. Anna Lineberger of Belmont, who first came to the area in 1922, recalled having entertained Ross at her home and said he was in town to add nine holes to the existing course. She  said that member David Craig had also hosted Ross.

Smith, a 31-year veteran at the club,  has researched the argument diligently over the years.  He says that significant course changes were made between 1927 and 1933.  This was after Raynor’s death in 1926. Evidence indicates that the work was done by Charles Banks, a Raynor protégé.  Because of the extensive use of heavy equipment, he was known as “Steam Shovel Banks.”  His work is evident on several holes, particularly the original third and 16th greens.

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

So the question remains:  Raynor?  Ross?  Banks?  Like the cause of the famed Brown Mountain lights, the mountain  mystery continues.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Blowing Rock members and guests are enjoying the 99th year of the course’s colorful and historic existence.

Just don’t ask them who designed the course.