Ben Wright: Cliffs Valley Days

Jim Anthony, the owner and developer of the Cliffs Communities, came into my life almost by accident. After completing a voice-over extolling the virtues of Jim’s first course, the Cliffs at Glassy, I was dragged off to lunch in the temporary clubhouse on the mountain top by the Collins brothers, Dan and Mike, who were marketing the project, expressly to meet Jim.

I had played the course once, and while I found the views absolutely magnificent, I told Jim the layout was much too tough for me. I added that, since I was on the back nine of life, most people who could afford to live at his course would probably feel the same. I also said that if I had to play his course every day I would quickly find myself another sport. He was quite taken aback by this outspoken Limey.

The Cliffs Valley

To my amazement Jim then told me he had just acquired a large parcel of land nearby. I had been trying for some time to put together a plan with two others to buy the property and build a golf course on it. But the local banks had been highly uncooperative—or maybe realistic—and Jim had come along and bought the place for a comparative song.

Quick to sense my frustration, he asked me what kind of a course I would build on the site. I told Jim rather rudely that it would be as different from Glassy as possible: no blind shots, minimal earthmoving, links style, walkable, very few bunkers, gently contoured greens, but more than anything, user friendly.

To cut a long story short, I started work almost immediately with my new friends: shaper Tony Munger, an artist with a bulldozer; concrete, bridge and quarry man Leon Allison; and landscaping expert Phil Corn. And of course, Jim himself. He liked nothing better than to map out and cut roads, or ride a bulldozer. Jim didn’t play golf, but he was a mean engineer. And he gave me carte blanche with the project, with one exception: I wanted concrete cart paths; he opted for asphalt.

Of course there were setbacks. We had a rude awakening on March 13, 1993, when we arrived for a press conference to announce the project, to be known as Cliffs Valley. The land was then the site of a working cattle farm, and the marquee, erected the previous day, had been “used” by the cattle during a very cold night. It was a slightly malodorous reception, needless to say!

I was still a member of the CBS golf team at the time, and would more than occasionally come back from a stint on the road to find that my carefully drawn plans had been ignored. This caused some serious friction that was always minimized by Mr. Anthony’s intervention, always on my behalf.

But the most serious problem of all was the summer of 1995, just weeks before we were due to open on October 2 with an exhibition match I had arranged featuring Paul Azinger, Jim Colbert, local resident Jay Haas and my CBS colleague Bob Murphy. All summer, afternoon thunderstorms literally washed us away on a regular basis, forcing us to leave the severe contours of the 2nd and 10th greens alone to be sure we were ready to open on the appointed date. While I vividly remember standing on the clubhouse site with water coming over the top of my knee-length Wellington boots, I also remember the dry spells, when the dust from the temporary parking lots would billow choking clouds into the trailers we used as the clubhouse and pro shop.

Since the opening I have taken out one bunker,  on the 6th, and added one on the 10th. Of course, I wish the 2nd and 10th greens were less severe, and I freely admit that I was forced to lengthen the 6th from 475 to 499 yards to make it a true par 5.

But there are fewer than 30 sand bunkers in all, and apart from the two aforementioned greens, I have never had a single complaint from the golfers whose opinions I value. Thankfully, there are many of them who enjoy the course as much as I do, day in and day out. I am proud of that.