The gentleman in the white cap slapping the ball down the multicolored fairway at the left is playing one of the 45 holes of the Greenbrier Hotel, a mammoth resort at White Sulphur Springs, West Va., that is up to its portico in golf and healing effervescent waters. Its 6,500 acres provide almost any form of recreation which the tired businessman might seek, and there are enough rooms opening off its endless corridors to give sleeping quarters, in a pinch, to 975 guests. While it tries to maintain a practical capacity of 750 to 800 visitors, it has served 1,100 at one meal.
The Greenbrier stands today because in 1778 a rheumatic lady named Anderson immersed herself in a hollowed-out tree trunk filled with local sulphur water, and got up cured. By 1808 the first inn was built, and at a time when Baedeker was cautioning Europeans that Americans still spat in U.S. hotel lobbies, a London visitor to White Sulphur wrote that life there is "only slightly removed from heaven."
WATERMELON AND CHAMPAGNE
Each morning at eleven, belles and swains would gather at the spa to meet and mingle over watermelon and champagne. Colonel Pope of Alabama formed a Billing, Wooing, and Cooing Society, inscribing the names of its 1,700 members on a pink scroll that hung in the ballroom. Wrote Perceval Reniers, in his 1941 book, The Springs of Virginia: "You took the waters or you took a mate or you took both, and with both it was the same; there was no knowing what the effect would be." Three presidents made it their summer White House, and by 1858 the son-in-law of the first innkeeper expanded to a new hotel called The Old White. It became the nation's most famous, most fashionable hotel. A post-bellum debutante, rather than being launched at Newport, could become a Belle of The White, a title respected on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. One was Mrs. Charles Dana Gibson, the original Gibson girl.
HOSPITAL TO HOUSEPARTY
September 19, 1954
After serving as a plush internment camp for German and Japanese diplomats at the outbreak of the Second World War, the hotel became a U.S. Army hospital. The Chesapeake & Ohio Railway, which had bought the resort in 1910, got its title back from the government at the end of 1946. Decorator Dorothy Draper spent $4 million doing it over, including $4,000 for potted palms designed to give the lobby an outdoor effect. When it was all ready, Robert R. Young, then C. & O. board chairman, gave it a glittering unveiling attended by the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winthrop Aldrich, Bing Crosby, two Senators, assorted Astors and Biddles and Elsa Maxwell. Said LIFE: "The most lavish on-the-house houseparty of the century."
If there were hangovers the next day, there was no trouble in treating them. The Greenbrier can supply sulphur baths, salt glows, Scotch sprays, needle sprays, whirlpool baths, and electric blanket packs at the push of a bell. High and low blood pressure, arthritis, insomnia and just plain frayed nerves are among the ailments justifying a stay there, and a clinic specializes in giving three-day check-ups to business executives at a flat $100 per.
Once a year the 1948 house party is commemorated by a spring festival of business executives and the Greenbrier $10,000 Pro-Amateur golf tournament. Though the executives pick up their own checks, the Greenbrier puts up the prize money.
Sam Snead, who was raised near Greenbrier's golfing links, is the resort's pro. He oversees the three courses, all of which begin from the Casino, a snug house decorated with a yellow-and-white striped awning where guests can nibble lunch or tea while watching the niblicks go by or the tennis games on Greenbrier's five courts. Snead holds the record for two of the three courses. He sometimes plays with Greenbrier guests and once took up the challenge of a Cuban named Gustavo Tomeu. Tomeu used his full bag of clubs, but Snead was limited to a sand wedge and a bent tree branch with a lead weight at the bottom. Score: Snead, 78; Tomeu, 86. Snead is emphatically a local boy who played good.