Old Club, New Attitude

Guyan Golf & Country Club offers first-class golf, enticing cuisine and more for the modern family. And today, it is more accessible than ever

By Keith Morehouse

Guyan

Pete Byer remembers coming to Guyan Golf and Country Club for the first time as if it were yesterday, even if it was a lot of yesterdays ago. It was the summer of 1959. Byer could handle himself pretty well on the links and had come from Greenbrier County to play college golf at Marshall, where he would later earn All-American honors. He knew a West Virginia Amateur champion named Bill Campbell because Campbell had already won six state amateur titles at the Greenbrier, Byer’s old stomping grounds. But, in ’59, they were on Campbell’s home turf at Guyan. In fact, Campbell had a home that was about a good 9-iron up the hill from the course’s first green.

“He’d come down and walk nine holes with me,” Byer remembers. “I had known him from back in the Greenbrier days because he and ‘Tut’ [Ed Tutwiler] had dominated up there in the ’50s.”

Guyan’s classic rolling layout, built in 1922 by Herbert Strong, proved a stern test for Byer’s game…and Campbell’s.

“It was in good condition, a nice course” Byer recalls. “It was a short course, but it was tough to play because the fairways were Kentucky bent [grass] and the greens were small. They kept the greens fast, and it was hard to get the ball close. They had some damn good holes out there.” 

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Fifty-eight years later, it’s now Bobby Cline’s job to make sure the course still provides a challenge for members and guests. He’s the new golf course superintendent, having checked into the clubhouse back in February, fresh off a stint at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma — the same Southern Hills that’s hosted three U.S. Opens and four PGA Championships.

On a hot June day, Cline can be found driving around in a golf cart. His tools of the trade would make the Caddyshack greenskeeper Carl Spackler proud. He’s got green spray paint in the drink container, a flashlight, a tape measure, a pruner and there’s not a golf club in sight of his cart. Behind his Ray-Bans, Cline’s eyes dart all over the course, always in search of that next grassroots effort.

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“For a guy in charge of the grass I sure get a lot of calls,” Cline says. “I’d say it’s a pretty high pressure job. This is like a living, breathing entity out here. There’s no set office hours, there’s no 9-to-5 here. It’s an ever-changing climate and Mother Nature can throw some pretty wild things at you. This course has more different grass types than anyplace I’ve ever been.”

And he’s been around. Cline’s worked at golf courses from Hilton Head to Panama, from El Salvador to Kazakhstan. His job is to make sure the members are happy. He might not be able to fine tune your swing, but he can make sure the course is up to par. He said he always appreciates feedback from the members.

“I just like it simple,” Cline says. “People will say, ‘the course looks great today.’ It’s nice to hear.”

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The Guyan board is intent on providing him with what he needs to make the course one of the finest in the entire state. Whether it’s lush tees and fairways, slick greens or vibrant landscaping, the board wants the very best for its membership. Bringing in Cline was another step in that direction.

“The people here have the desire to improve the course, and they’re willing to make the financial commitment. If I ask for things, I get them,” Cline says.

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Pat Carter, an 11-time West Virginia Amateur champion and member at Guyan, described the course as a unique golf experience.

“I think Guyan is one of the top courses in our state,” Carter says. “It’s a course that you never get tired of playing. It’s always in great shape — the conditions at the course are top-notch. The practice facilities are a huge plus, and the opportunity to play the course at my leisure is a great benefit.”

Many of the state’s top golfing names have honed their craft on the grounds of Guyan. Between Campbell and Carter, there are 26 West Virginia Amateur titles. With additional championship wins by Steve Fox and Jim Ward, the trophy room at Guyan is stacked with a lot of silver. 

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“Guyan is known throughout the state as a premier club,” says Chris Slack, director of junior golf and course rating at the West Virginia Golf Association. “The history of the club’s champions is something many clubs in our state look up to. Add to that one of the strongest junior golf programs anywhere and you’ve got a formula for success.”

The junior golf program Slack references is a model for any club. Guyan has produced numerous nationally ranked juniors that have brought home some very impressive accolades. Most recently, the Cabell Midland High School golf team won their second straight state championship by a record 25 stroke margin and placed all four members on the All-State team. Three of the four players — Noah Mullens, Josef Dransfeld and Andy Michael — on the team are products of the Guyan junior golf program.

Outstanding performances don’t stop on the links at Guyan. The tennis program, led by John and Laurie Mercer, has been a mainstay in the world of competitive tennis for many years. The courts at Guyan are home to no less than 20 state champions. This year Guyan produced four All-State girls tennis champions in Ava Ratcliff, Nicole Oliashirazi, Channing Varnum and Katie Swann. Meanwhile the boys garnered three All-State honors with J.J. Mercer, Chip Sweeney and Sam Haikal.

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If you’re into world-class cuisine, then be sure to meet executive chef Scott Poff. Goateed and gregarious, he’s almost as quick at whipping up a fancy dish as he is at whipping out a one-liner. His resume shows stops at the exclusive Gulf Stream Golf Club in Delray Beach, Florida, and at the prestigious Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville, Virginia, among others. Three years ago, Guyan called him home.

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“Being away from the state, there’s something about it that pulls you back,” Poff says. “I grew up in McDowell County, in the coalfields, and there’s no place on earth that I feel more peaceful than in West Virginia.”

Except maybe the kitchen.

“I learned the craft of cooking at the Greenbrier, before the old culinary talent left or retired. I learned from seven of the 71 master chefs that are left in this country.”

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He loves to show off his craft to the dinner guests against a stunning panorama of hilltops and greenery that are draped outside the windows of the club’s main dining room.

The Sunday brunch at the club has made a name for itself. Poff rattles off some of the options that include a full salad bar, smoked salmon, shrimp, oysters, fruit, eggs any style, waffles, biscuits and gravy, bacon, sausage, whipped potatoes and a full dessert bar.

But surprisingly, except for his specialty burger and renowned crab cakes, Poff said he serves more fresh fish than anything. He uses his culinary connections to bring in the best.

“We have a market fish on the menu. I have this connection from a meat and fish company in Charlotte and can get meat and fish from anywhere in the world in 24 hours. I bring in things they’ve never seen before like Icelandic Wolffish, Golden Tilefish, Grouper and more. I don’t forget favorites like Lake Erie Walleye, West Virginia Rainbow Trout and Chilean Sea Bass. People come out here to eat the fish and don’t even ask what it is.”

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In many ways, this is not your father’s Guyan Golf and Country Club.

“We’re working hard to help people understand that the club is accessible, affordable and family-friendly,” says Chris Michael, president of the board. “This is not just a place where dad goes to play golf. We’ve lowered the cost of entry, and we stress inclusion. We provide activities and events year-round that everyone in the family can enjoy. It’s a private club, sure, but you can come here and be yourself and escape from your workweek.”

“Guyan is a very comfortable destination for all of us in the family,” says Guyan member Ikie Light. “We love being able to come out and spend the day at the pool or the golf course and finish with a great dinner. We’ve been members for many years, and it’s a great value.”

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You can see plenty of what Guyan has to offer during your drive in on the newly named Bill Campbell Way. To your right are the Har-Tru tennis courts. A few speed bumps later is the difficult, uphill par 4 2nd hole on your left. Past those, down the hill on your left, is Guyan’s swimming pool.

All are real live roadside billboards, for a country club that’s aged very well.

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