Old Town Club, located next door to the Wake Forest campus, has been the official home of Demon Deacon golf for many decades. Like Wake Forest, Old Town also has a rich golf tradition.
In the summer of 2012, Old Town retained world-renowned golf course architects, Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw, to restore the Perry Maxwell masterpiece and complete the club's decade-long project of recapturing the look, playing character and hand-hewn finish of its original 1939 design.
Already ranked as one of Golfweek Magazine's "Top 100 Classic Courses" in America, the restoration provided the catalyst for one of the biggest jumps in Golfweek history. Old Town catapulted an unprecedented 43 places up the chart to the 29th spot -- out of roughly 6,500 classic layouts in the country. That's the biggest leap by any classic course in the history of the rankings.
Old Town is now the second-highest ranked course in North Carolina, coming in only behind Pinehurst No. 2. In addition, Old Town is now ranked alongside many early American treasures, such as Olympic Club's Lake Course (No. 27) and Southern Hills Country Club (No. 26), which are celebrated U.S. Open venues. Demon Deacon golf feels extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to call Old Town Club our home.
For Coore, the Old Town restoration represented a homecoming. Born in Richmond, Va., Coore grew up 24 miles away from Old Town outside of Thomasville, N.C. Though he only remained a member of the Wake Forest golf team through his sophomore year and never played in a varsity match, Coore developed a keen sense of knowledge and understanding of the Maxwell design while regularly playing the course all four years as a student.
Old Town's reclamation focused on recapturing the size, shape and character of Maxwell's original bunkers, which often contained jagged-laced edges, exposed dirt faces and tall stalks of native grasses -- "closer to what Mother Nature would have left behind," according to Dunlop White III, Old Town's golf chairman.
The restoration also featured the redesign of Old Town's double green at holes 8 and 17. Coore enlarged the dual putting surface from 8,200 to 16,700 square feet to more closely resemble its source of inspiration at The Old Course at St. Andrews -- home to seven double greens. In the same spirit, Coore also ushered in a new joint tee for holes 9 and 18, where golfers tee off between the same two tee markers when playing both holes.
Like Pinehurst, Coore also eradicated more than 25 acres of Bermuda rough at Old Town in favor of re-establishing expansive outstretched fairways. Now, in more old-school tradition one single swath of fairway connects holes 4, 7, 17, 8, 9 and 18 successively without interruption of rough.
Perhaps no other improvement contributed more toward Old Town's visual transformation than the removal of hundreds of overgrown trees and secondary tree plantings. As a result, turf quality improved and breathtaking panoramas were rediscovered from most every vantage point on the property.
Maxwell's bold green contours, affectionately known as "Maxwell's rolls", stand out at Old Town as well. Coore says that Old Town's greens are among the most intricate in the Maxwell repertoire.
The greens, however, are not the only undulating features at Old Town. The sweeping character of the entire property highlights Old Town's routing. Bradley Klein, architecture and design editor for Golfweek, admitted, "I didn't realize how extraordinary the property was until I approached the interior stretch and noticed that distant site lines and sweeping vistas were available of the entire premises."
Much of Old Town's brilliance emanates from its routing, according to Coore. "I've always said that any serious student of golf course architecture must first go to Old Town to see how Mr. Maxwell laid out the course over such an extraordinary piece of undulating terrain. Given the hole variety and the fact it's still very walkable, that's quite an accomplishment", says Coore.
Each fairway contains varying degrees of slope, which generates many awkward lies on approach shots. Wake Forest legend, Lanny Wadkins, who was recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame professes, "Old Town offers so many varied challenges that it is the best proving ground for training serious, young golfers."
Old Town also lengthened nine select holes to offset modern technologies impact on the game. Today, the par-70 configuration measures 7,037 yards.
For first-timers, it's readily apparent that Old Town is not your typical country club. Tucked away in the Piedmont Triad region of North Carolina, the club's entrance is subtly marked, and the clubhouse isn't dressed up with elaborate gear. Nothing glitzy cuts the eye. With 372 members, Old Town is modest in size, but the golfing membership is even smaller.
It all started in the early 1900's on "Reynolda", a 1,000-acre estate of tobacco tycoon, R.J. Reynolds. "Reynolda" was eventually passed down to R.J.s' daughter, Mary Reynolds Babcock, and her husband, Charlie. In 1938, the Babcock's donated -- 165 of Reynolda's 1,000 acres to start a new club named Old Town -- adjacent to the "Reynolda" mansion. (The estate, by the way, is now showcased as the Reynolda House & Gardens, which contains an art museum that's listed today on the National Register of Historic Places).
In 1938, Charlie Babcock's investment group -- Reynolds & Company (later to become "Dean, Witter, Reynolds") -- had just hired Clifford Roberts as an employee of the firm, the same Clifford Roberts, who co-founded of the Augusta National Golf Club. Roberts was working with Perry Maxwell at the time reconstructing many of Augusta's greens for The Masters Tournament. Delighted with the results, Roberts recommended that Babcock also retain Maxwell to design the new course in Winston-Salem.
In 1956, the Babcocks donated 300 more acres of the Reynolda estate, immediately north of Old Town's golf course, to bring Wake Forest College to Winston-Salem from the eastern part of the state. But Old Town's close association with Wake Forest golf actually pre-dated the University's relocation to Winston-Salem. The relationship was actually ushered in by Arnold Palmer's masterful play during a trio of conference championships held at Old Town between 1949 and 1954.
The Southern Conference Championship was held at Old Town in 1949 and 1950, where Palmer won low individual medalist and runner-up honors in those years consecutively. Thereafter, the inaugural Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) Men's Golf Championship was also held at Old Town in 1954, where Palmer prevailed again to claim his second conference championship on the Perry Maxwell layout.
Following that exciting beginning, the ACC Men's Golf Championship returned to Old Town every year through 1958, and then again in 1962. Since 1956, Old Town has proudly served as the home course of Wake Forest golf.
Today, photo portraits of all Hall-of-Famers and All-Americans from Wake Forest's storied past now hang in a wall gallery at the club to help commemorate a long lineage of outstanding Demon Deacon golfers, including Palmer, Leonard Thompson, Jay Sigel, Joe Inman, Lanny Wadkins, Curtis Strange, Jay Haas, Scott Hoch, Gary Hallberg, Jerry Haas, Billy Andrade, Bill Haas, and Webb Simpson. Old Town has also honored the five professional major championship winners from this distinguished ensemble as the club's first "Honorary" members. Palmer was duly elected as the first "Honorary" member followed by Wadkins, Strange, (Jay) Haas and Simpson.
In addition, Old Town has helped develop a long list of talented young lady golfers, many who achieved All-American status, including Stephanie Neill, Laura Diaz, Alexandra Armas, Marta Prieto, Nuria Clau, Ashley Hoagland, Mandy Goins, Natalie Sheary, Nannette Hill, Michelle Shin and Cheyenne Woods.
Indeed, Old Town Club and Wake Forest golf are age-old companions!