A Favorite Mountain Retreat Reimagined
By Dave Daubert
High Hampton has been serving as a time capsule in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Cashiers, North Carolina for close to a century, where days consisted of morning walks along the lakefront and waterfalls, and lazy afternoons were spent swimming in the lake or fishing the mountain streams.
In the late 1800s, Caroline Hampton Halsted and her husband, William Stewart Halsted, one of the founding surgeons of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, purchased the then 450-acre Western North Carolina property and its historic hunting lodge from her aunts, naming it High Hampton. A North Carolina couple, E.L. McKee and his wife Gertrude, converted it to an inn in the early 1920s. Ever since then the McKee family has been welcoming guests seeking relaxation and refuge from the sweltering summers. Today this unique resort and club, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, sits on more than 1,400 pristine acres of Blue Ridge countryside near the Nantahala National Forest.
My wife Carol and I spent part of our honeymoon at High Hampton in the fall of 2004, enjoying the colorful autumn leaves, the historical resort, and its warm and cozy four-sided fireplace at breakfast and during the chilly evenings. The golf course was a fun getaway traversing the rolling hills around the resort which needed some TLC.
In 2017, a trio of family-run Southern companies, all with ties to the area, purchased the aging Inn and Resort and sought to preserve the spirit of High Hampton while making thoughtful updates that would ensure another hundred years of memories. One of the new owners, Sandy Beall, cofounder of Tennessee's Blackberry Farm and Blackberry Mountain, first visited the storied property with his family in 1982. Sandy tried to buy it then, but the Mckee descendants declined and instead charmed him into purchasing a private home in one of their residential communities. Now Beall and the Blackberry team brought their decades of hospitality expertise to the reworked Inn and its two restaurants, which began welcoming guests again this spring after nearly three years of renovations.
"High Hampton is truly a one-of-a-kind property," says Sandy Beall. "We're working to respect that in everything we do including how the Inn will be operated. Independent of our other properties, the food, style and sensibility of the Inn will reflect the charming character of this classic mountain retreat."
Working closely with the North Carolina State Historic Preservation Office, the design team updated and enlarged the twelve rooms in the Inn and the forty-seven others in the surrounding cottages with heat and air conditioning, textiles, contemporary lighting and artwork rooted in history, all television free. High Hampton is now a year-round family getaway.
At the back of the Inn, the two restaurants were expanded with outdoor dining spaces to take advantage of the views of the lake and Rock Mountain, which turns a brilliant rose gold as the sun sets. Open for lunch, the Tavern is laid-back, serving elevated comfort food like Providence Farm beef tartare with black pepper chips. The upstairs Dining Room no longer requires a coat and tie, but jackets are recommended for dinner. Instead of the long-running buffet, a talented pair of Blackberry alums- executive chef Scott Franqueza and his wife, pastry chef April-now oversee an a-la-carte Blue Ridge inspired menu, relying on a network of local purveyors for dishes such as benne-crusted trout.
"When the resort was purchased in 2017, it was time to renovate the Inn and golf course for the next 100 years," said Bryan Bowers of Fazio Design. High Hampton was originally designed as an 11-hole layout in 1923 by J. Victor East before it was renovated and expanded to 18 holes by George Cobb in 1956. The routing remained the same until the Fazio team came in.
The golf course was reimagined to allow for the expansion of the resort core, with six new holes and 12 others reconstructed in the existing corridors. It is a brand new golf course with every hole reshaped or reconstructed with new infrastructure. The finishing holes, 15 to 18, are framed by Rock Mountain and Chimney Top. They are spectacular.
"It was like putting a puzzle together from a design perspective," said Bryan. "We experienced 370 inches of rainfall over the course construction, and it was critical to protect the trout streams, lake and wetlands from erosion. We were required to work in two-acre increments at a time, having to turf the first two acres before opening up new ground."
The High Hampton golf course, which is near two other Fazio designs in the Cashiers area, Wade Hampton Golf Club and Mountaintop Golf & Lake Club, now plays as a par 71 extending to 6,900 yards. Other amenities include tennis, pickle ball, lawn games, donkey rides, new swimming pool and spa, 15 miles of hiking trails, canoeing, kayaks and fishing.
"Western North Carolina has been my home for the past 40 years, and I'm fortunate to be part of the evolution of golf in the mountains during that time," said Tom Fazio. "The course at High Hampton is truly exceptional. The property is a family environment with landscaping and natural resources unlike anywhere else. With six new holes and the renovated 12, we blended old and new to create a course that is playable, approachable and fun. I look forward to seeing golf continue to thrive at High Hampton for generations to come."
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Revised: 07/14/2021 - Article Viewed 639 Times
About: Dave Daubert
David has been writing about golf since the turn of the century. He was Managing Editor at a regional golf magazine for 11 years, published in Canada, the IAGTO and a Staff Writer for The Georgia Golf Trail. His insightful perspective brings golf to life.