Lake Toxaway CC & The Greystone Inn - A Marriage of Smoky Mountain Masterpieces
Updated: Oct 6
One of the best course architects you've probably never heard of laid down an absolute gem amidst rocky peaks, waterfalls and calm lakeshores at Lake Toxaway Country Club in the Cashiers/Highlands area of the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
The Highlands-Cashiers Plateau is home to some of the most incredible landscapes in the United States, if not the world. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the country for good reason. True, while most of the official park lies on the Tennessee side of the range, this area is home to some of the country's elite, if only for the summer months.
There is a gluttony of high-end, private courses here. You've got Mountaintop (#3 in state), Wade Hampton (top 100 on many lists) and Highlands CC (Bobby Jones summer retreat) to name a few. In fact, there is only one regulation course open to the public up here of the dozen plus championship clubs.
That brings us to Lake Toxaway Country Club.
Yes, it is private like all the others. That doesn't mean you can't play it though. Through a partnership with the neighboring Greystone Inn - boutique resort which was featured on The Today Show in early 2019 as a 'place to stay' about which you had no clue existed - you can play as part of your stay.
We're here to say on the topic of a great place to visit, it lived up to the hype.
The Greystone Inn is marvelous. It featured fantastic accommodations in the old mansion house that adorns a hilltop peninsula that extends out into Lake Toxaway - the largest privately held lake in North Carolina. It also includes a bit more modern condo style rooms, a terrific full-service spa (as my wife will attest), a rustic pub within the mansion house and a full service restaurant with floor to ceiling windows that make it feel like you're staring at a painting instead of one of God's great creations.
They even have a wooden boat that takes guests out on the lake nightly!
Here's the kicker... guests at the Inn also get full run of the services offered at Lake Toxaway Country Club. That includes golf, croquet, tennis, its own restaurant and bar found within its brand new $6M clubhouse, warm up range, Fazio Golf Center down the road, and a soon to be built pool and pickle ball courts. You're given a guest number upon check-in to use it at the club just like you would if you were a member. Services are billed to your room, so there's no need to even carry cash or card with you.
This is Southern Hospitality at its finest. My wife and I visited for our 10th anniversary and would recommend to anyone looking for a similar excursion, golf trip, girls weekend or just a quiet weekend away.
As we noted and you can see from the photos already, you kind of have that Shoeless Joe Jackson moment the first time he steps on the ballfield in Field of Dreams...
"Is this Heaven?"
No. And its sure not Iowa (no offense Iowianerists - I'm sure your state is lovely).
The lake has an interesting history itself. It's man made and was solely dammed up for recreational use, but it isn't the first Lake Toxaway. The first lake (born in 1890!) was washed away by a dam failure in 1916. The current lake made its reappearance in 1960 when the Lake Toxaway Company purchased the land and rebuilt the dam.
While we hadn't visited before this trip, it's got to be safe to say this is undoubtedly its best time in its history.
Course architect Kris Spence, known more for his restoration work on Donald Ross courses, took a sleepy middling country club course, tore it completely down and turned it into a spectacular showpiece for the region. We are thrilled to have gotten the chance to play it and now share it with you!
Spence's Ross restoration work in North Carolina is universally praised. A few of his projects we've visited - such as Mimosa Hills in Morganton and the Grove Park Inn in Asheville - are tremendous, but its the Seth Raynor-like holes he added at Blowing Rock CC that drew the most admiration from yours truly. The first hole at Lake Toxaway even had a bit of a Raynor-esque rectangular green.
Here's an example of the old soul that Spence bring to his greens. The first is an image of a Ross green at Mimosa Hills, the second is a Raynor style box green from Blowing Rock and finally is his own hybrid of the two (1st hole at Lake Toxaway).
I always wondered what kind of course Spence would build if not burdened by living within the confines of someone else's design - even those as great Ross and Raynor built.
Wonder is a good word. This course is a wonderful exercise in framing, strategy and fun.
The hills frame the course at nearly every turn. That's not hard given the region's plethora of peaks, but as LTCC head PGA Professional Will Bartram explained, Spence turned 14 holes around in the reverse direction. The results speak for themselves. Enjoy a few looks...
The only - and I do mean only - asset this course doesn't have is big length. It tips out a little over 6400 yards, so as you’d expect, strategy is paramount. That doesn't mean you have to layup on every tee box, but there are options that reward the bold. Take into account the 3000+ foot elevation and you'll get a little extra 'feel good' on your shots and you can carry a lot of the trouble that finds your eye from the box. Trust it and let it rip!
The real defense of the course is in the greens. Even though they were aerated about 8 days prior, they were near fully healed. The grounds are loved here - that much is evident and appreciated by membership. Bartram said in prime condition they keep them stimping at a 10 or 11 because anything more would be cruel.
You'd probably expect someone who spent so much time and effort restoring Ross greens to know a thing or two about laying down some bent grass. If you did, you'd be correct.
As if the course wasn't good enough, we ate lunch and dinner at the clubhouse. Both were excellent. Having the luxury of three dinning options (pub, club and inn restaurant) make the remote area you find yourself in feel like home.
I mean come on, who wouldn't enjoy a view like this with a cold IPA, a glass of wine or bourbon over ice after a round or a meal?
Oh yeah, I almost forgot. You get to Happy Gilmore ball flight one into a mountain with a giant waterfall on it on the 4th tee. No biggie, just wanted to get that one in there! You know, in case you didn't want to play it bad enough already...
For a secluded mountain course, the terrain isn't as severe as you may expect. The front nine would actually be a pleasant walk. In fact, we did just that the night we arrived. The cart paths are extra wide since the community is allowed to bike or walk it after 7pm daily. We didn't do the whole front loop, but the short distances from green to tee make it possible.
The NC Golf Panel ranks Lake Toxaway CC the 69th best course in the state for 2019. If there are 68 courses better than this one, even in a state with as many great places to play as the Tar Heel State, I'd be shocked. We've played over 70 in the state and I'd feel very comfortable throwing it in our NC Top 10.
Lake Toxaway CC - awesome. 4.75 Stars
The Greystone Inn - awesome. 4.75 Stars
(Downtown Highlands, NC - awesome too BTW - great shopping, food and Ice Cream!)
We will be back. If you haven't been here before, you need to go.
Maybe we'll see you there!? Cheers,
Enjoy some more of the best views of The Greystone Inn and Lake Toxaway Country Club.