Best Course You've Never Heard Of? Bright's Creek | Mill Spring, NC
Updated: Jul 22
As a question, it's impossible to answer. How could you? If you've never heard of it, how could you determine it to be the best?
As a statement, it's a little easier. You could just say "Bright's Creek". That's a bold statement for sure. But now that you've heard of it and (hopefully we've) piqued your interest, let's learn about Bright's Creek, it's history, adversity, uniqueness and potential that lies in a remote - yet closer that you might think - section of the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains.
This could really start back in the day if we wanted it to. Rich Albright, the club's Director of Golf Operations, says that the expansive 1300+ property includes at least six cemeteries and a Native American burial ground. Even the exposed cliffs around 3000', Albrights says, contain caves used by Confederate soldiers to escape capture. We'll leave that for another day however and begin with the course's grand opening in mid- to late-2000s.
Bright's Creek celebrated its inception with a bang - named as one of GolfWeek's Top 5 New Courses in America back in 2007. However, as the course enters it's adolescence in human years, it's emotional struggle began much earlier than a moody teenager.
Upon opening, all was good in this quiet corner of Mill Spring, North Carolina. Lots were flying off the map at a ridiculous pace - some selling in the mid-six figures (just for the lot!). I mean, what wasn't to like about a Tom Fazio designed retreat, flush with planned amenities and the kind of views that would make any course on the East Coast jealous?
We all know what happened a year later... The economy collapsed. The real estate bubble burst. Golf courses started struggling. Bright's Creek felt all of it. The club changed owners at least twice, lots sat homeless, memberships plateaued and the foreclosures (at least two for the club) began. Dreams were fleeting.
While the club ebbed and flowed for the next decade, the golf course itself remained a star. Golf Digest labeled it the 18th best course in North Carolina in it's 2017-18 rankings.
Then in 2018, in what seemed like an inevitable truth, the club closed after being in bankruptcy since 2017. However, that's right about the time the story gets REALLY interesting!
In recent years, some residential courses that were struggling along were actually saved by its residents. A course like Brickshire in the Williamsburg, VA area comes to mind. In Brickshire's case, the nearly 1100 homeowners surrounding the course pooled together to form an association that would purchase the club outright from its former owner. Of course this move allowed the residents to keep the main amenity of their neighborhood and prevent a decline in their home values.
That's all well and good, but as we mentioned previously, while lots sold, many of the homes were never built. More than a handful of them exist now, but certainly not 1100 homes like Brickshire's community in Virginia.
Thankfully for Bright's Creek, the right residents were there. Enter Bright’s Creek Partners LLC. The new owners of the club, Frank Blythe, Mark Lampert and Ed Garcia, are all homeowners in Bright’s Creek. The process wasn't as simple as they'd likely hoped. You know what they say, 'if at first you don't succeed, try 3 more times, then its a lock!'
As the hopeful partners tried and tried again to obtain the club, perhaps the most important aspect of the club's future was occurring every day, just like always. The prospective owners kept Paul Beam, the course's superintendent, onboard to keep the golf course itself from getting too far gone in the event that it could be secured through foreclosure and reopened quickly.
The savvy move paid off! Bright's Creek Partners purchased the course on May 29, 2020. On June 21st - smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic - golf was played at Bright's Creek. Incredible vision, persistence and execution!
BRIGHTER DAYS AHEAD
Golf won the pandemic. We're not talking about the guys and girls on the pro tours, either. Golf on the local level - your local courses and clubs - for the most part, excelled (depending on your state perhaps). Courses have seen more play in the last year than they have since before Bright's Creek initially opened its doors. Courses on all levels are reinvesting in themselves in an effort not only keep their new clientele, but better maintain their courses with the increased foot and cart traffic.
If investment can be viewed as the mercury in a thermometer for the health of the game, then golf has a fever. The only prescription, is more golf options.
Bright's Creek is expanding their options beyond the traditional 'private course' label.
An robust stay and play program is on the horizon as soon as the condos adjacent to the clubhouse are completed.
Ten guest rooms already exist in the clubhouse itself, housing national and/or prospective members.
The clubhouse also houses a few small meeting rooms, great for a poker game or a private dinner.
The restaurant just got an incredible new deck overlooking the 19th hole. Yes, it has a gambler's hole. And, just in case you didn't break your ties on the actual tee, there's a turf tee located just steps off the back deck! (pictured)
The indoor dining space appears next in line for a facelift as well.
A fully-equipped, 11-stall Equestrian Center with 30 acres of paddocks
More planned amenities include a swimming pool, tennis courts and pickle ball courts (under construction now).
As for the golf course... Tom Fazio visited Bright's Creek this spring for a charity event. It had been so long since his last visit, Albright says Fazio couldn't remember the last time he was there. Regardless, it is what Mr. Fazio told Albright while he was there that has our attention,
"This is the best course I've done in North Carolina." -Tom Fazio
Insert wide-eyed emoji here! Hi praise? Oh yeah! Fazio designed pretty much the Holy Trinity of NC Mountain Courses - Wade Hampton (GD NC #1), Diamond Creek (#3) and Mountaintop (#7). In fact, Tom Fazio built five of the top eleven courses in the Old North State (add Eagle Point in Wilmington at #5 and Forest Creek in Pinehurst coming in at #11) and worked on a sixth that hosts an annual PGA Tour stop, hosted a PGA Championship and is on deck to host the next President's Cup (Quail Hollow #6). Shew!!!
Does Bright's Creek belong in that same group? Time will tell, but we can tell you that it's pretty incredible RIGHT NOW... and it'll only continue to get better as more resources come back online.
Let's take a quick tour of the best course you've probably never heard of! If you're a golf archi-nerd like us, pay close attention to the photos where ridgeline mountain views are visible and how the bunker shaping matches those contours! NAV TIP: Click on any photo to turn it into a slideshow/view larger image.
At it's core, Bright’s Creek is a private club located in the western North Carolina mountains, at the end of a country road. The community is a haven where members, their families, and friends can gather in a safe, friendly, and inviting environment surrounded by the majesty of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
But... remember we said that while Bright's Creek is designed as a private club, it doesn't mean you don't have the chance to experience all they have to offer? For more information on accommodations, event planning (i.e. group golf trips, corporate retreats, weddings, etc.) and customizable packages, please click here to check out their one-stop contact page on their website! You won't regret it!
In case you haven't gathered our opinions of this place by now, we like it.
We like it a lot!
The Golf Crusade