Springdale Resort | Cruso, NC
A few miles down the left side of a back country road, cut between four thousand foot peaks, stands a dark green sign supported by two whitewashed fence posts.
The sign exclaims, “Welcome to CRUSO” in big, bold gold and script white lettering. The subtext, a little more difficult to make out even at a modest 45 mph clip, reads: “9 Miles of Friendly People Plus One Old Crab”.
While the sign shares a color scheme with a certain course down in Georgia, you're heading someplace that could not be more different than Magnolia Lane.
As your eyes work overtime to take in the scenery around you, your pulse starts to pick up with excitement. The picturesque Pigeon River basically rides shotgun with you as you head deeper into the wilderness.
Then you begin to notice you’re not heading towards normal.
After a few more twists and turns in the road, you can’t help but notice something unnatural has happened here. Go around a few more bends and what you see comes into focus.
You see heartbreak.
You see houses ripped off foundations, the equivalent of small forests torn from the ground, littered throughout the river itself. There are massive amounts of debris strewn everywhere it shouldn’t be.
On August 17, 2021, a microburst in the remnants of Tropical Storm Fred dumped over 20 inches of rain in a matter of minutes. The resulting flood destroyed those aforementioned homes, trees and, unfortunately, human lives. Over 100 people had to be rescued from the raging torrents and mudslides. Tragically, six lives were lost.
In order for a heartbreak to occur, logic would imply that there must be a heart in order to be broken. Along the nine miles of Cruso, North Carolina, Springdale Resort is metaphorically and geographically its heart.
For more than fifty years, golfers have been coming to one of the least obvious golf destinations you can imagine. You can tell the golfers that come here believe what the sign says, that Springdale and its surrounding community are home to ‘friendly people’. They come to Springdale because they’re treated like an old friend happy to see you when you return home – even if its to your home away from it.
So when in 2018, under the new ownership of the West Family, plans were set in motion to revitalize a golf course in need of some TLC, add new amenities and inject capital in an area that just doesn’t get much of it. Spring hoped eternal at Springdale.
If hope served as the foundation, it was a strong one. Atop that hope was built a reimagined resort hub, including a welcome center, pro shop, fitness center, pool area, bar and restaurant (Rocky Face Tavern) flush with outdoor spaces to enjoy the ever present views and enhance the sense of community among its guests.
There is also a square courtyard, plush with artificial turf for large outdoor gatherings such as weddings, reunions and concerts. A smartly placed ‘turn window’ allows for food and beverages to be served from a fixed location next to the restaurant kitchen, while also providing golfers passing through on their way to the 10th tee the equivalent of a drive-thru window for your cart!
The most recent addition is the ‘Baby Spasm’. The ‘Springdale Spasm’ is the incredibly frustrating and infamous hole that, according to the sign that precedes it, 'may be harmful to your mental health'. After three attempts at it, we can confirm it is not recommended for the enjoyment of your stay.
The Baby Spasm is a nine-hole putting course designed by Springdale General Manager Buddy Lawrence and Jim Sparks of Southeastern Golf. It is sandwiched between the fitness center/pro shop building and Rocky Face Tavern that includes a hilltop view of both nine and eighteen greens. It's the perfect place to settle some bets or make some new ones after your rounds (plural usage of round for beers and golf, of course).
And, as is customary with putting courses these days, a drink holder is provided on each hole for your convenience!
After switching the nines, the 18th now finishes in the arena just below the clubhouse/Rocky Face Tavern. We doubt it was an accident (it was a good one if it was!), but one can't help but notice the roofline of the building mimics the ascending slopes of the 6000’ Cold Mountain in the background.
As for the golf course, architect Ron Garl was contracted to come in and give the course a mild facelift. There aren’t a million bunkers, but the twenty-nine that exist here are well placed, classical in their design and were filled with pure white sand mined from The Carolinas (Columbia).
As you can see, things were at a fever pitch and pace. Projects were wrapping up and the course was poised for a metaphorical celebration towards the end of summer.
Until August 17, 2021.
The front nine of the course plays in the valley adjacent to the Pigeon River. Wildlife is plentiful everywhere you look. The second morning we played, just after teeing off on the second hole, a bald eagle flew over our heads. A few holes later, a pileated woodpecker came out to greet us. We didn’t see any deer, but wouldn’t be surprised if a herd came strolling through each morning or a bear wandered down from the unspoiled forests above.
Of all of those surprises, one could not possibly fathom the scene last summer when a wall of water induced the unbridled destruction previously described.
Not mentioned in the aforementioned devastation was the golf course. Every bunker – freshly renovated mind you – had to be redone. Every bridge on the course – not only vital to the player for transit, but essential to golf course superintendent Jeremy Boone and his staff for maintenance and recovery – was gone.
Flood Photos courtesy of Jeremy Boone/Springdale Resort
Some of the greens in the low-lying areas were ripped up and carried away or covered in mud and silt. Creek banks that were once gently sloped and grass-faced, now eaten away, eroded and filled with stone, boulder and debris from the fury.
Two before and after shots of the flood-induced creek erosion
Driving through Cruso, you see that if life wasn’t easy before the waters came, it isn’t any easier now. That said, what you also see is that spirit and perseverance are abundant. Same can be said for the crew at Springdale.
The West Family committed to donate half the course’s take (until Christmas!) once the course reopened to the recovery effort. A tournament raised another $10K+ for the effort, then the West's added a matching gift on top to boot. That generosity for superintendent Boone - a Cruso native who grew up playing the course and whose family has worked at Springdale for four generations - needed not to look beyond his workplace for inspiration.
“You don’t need much more motivation than that to do your part.” - Jeremy Boone
Sparks, who has seemingly worked on as many courses as we've played, worked on the renovation before and after the waters came and went. He echoes Boone's sentiment.
"One of the best groups of people that I have worked with in the golf industry," he explains. "I've been (in the golf business) for forty plus years. Haywood County is blessed to have these folks in their community."
In just eight weeks’ time, the course had re-opened. All the bunkers were filled, bridges rebuilt and greens cleaned. All that effort. All that passion. Worth it!
To date, an estimated fifteen million dollars has been invested into Springdale’s course, clubhouse, restaurant, signage, infrastructure, amenities and lodging options. Additionally, the course hosted a STEM class field trip (the local school's first field trip since the start of COVID) to learn about the different aspects of taking care of a biologically diverse ecosystem such as the golf course!
The heart of Cruso is beating. Strongly. Vibrantly. Friendly.
The best days of Springdale appear to be ahead of it. For that, the thanks go to its people – many of whom you’ll call your friend if you make your way down that nine mile stretch of back country road.
Just keep a watchful eye out for the Old Crab!
The Golf Crusade had the great pleasure of participating in the 10th edition of "The Battle of The Smokies" Media Golf Challenge, held May 1-3 at Springdale Resort. The Ryder Cup-style match play event pairs golf media types from Tennessee against their peers from North Carolina. The Great State of Tennessee won this year's back-and-forth battle 32 1/2 to 27 1/2 - due in large part to a dominant final round of singles matches.
We would like to thank Craig Distl of Distl Public Relations for the opportunity to participate in such a great event. A very special thank you to all of our fellow participants for making a couple new guys feel welcome, even if someone did steal our golf cart from the range the first day, forcing us to walk up the mountain back to the clubhouse :)
Lastly, a sincere thanks to General Manager Buddy Lawrence, Director of Golf Rodney Russell, GCS Jeremy Boone, the kitchen and service team at the Rocky Face Tavern and the rest of the Springdale staff. We wish you all the best in the coming years! We hope to check up on you again soon.
Please take a few minutes to enjoy some of the sights and scenes at Springdale from our 3-day, 2-night stay on property at the base of Cold Mountain below.
Dooner & BMAC Your Golf Crusade