SYLVA, N.C. – Park benches line Main Street of this four-block mountain town, imploring tourists to “Slow down and see Sylva.” The call to inaction comes complete with sketchpads, to help “Draw Sylva” and bring the visitors’ down-shifted vision into two-dimensional life.
On a recent spring weekend, some 10,000-plus folks stopped by for the annual Greening Up The Mountains festival, a spring salute to the change of seasons. Sylva owns a reputation as a quieter mountain option to bustling Asheville, about 45 minutes east.
“It’s an Asheville alternative for the crowd-weary,” said Nick Breedlove, 33, who grew up in the area and oversees Jackson County tourism. “They’re looking for the taste of the mountains but with a small-town feel.”
Trout fishing and whitewater rafting in the Tuckasegee River. Hiking amid the raging waterfalls of the surrounding Great Smoky Mountains. Farm-to-table cuisine at the eclectic downtown eateries. Perhaps most impressive: a town of 2,600 residents supports three microbreweries, with a fourth scheduled to open this summer on the Jackson County Ale Trail. Thirsty undergrads from Western Carolina University, six miles south on N.C. 107 in Cullowhee, help to keep the taps flowing.
The opening tee shot at Bear Lake Golf Club will try the best of nerves. (Photo: Steve Harmon)
Wrapping silverware at the Guadalupe Café after a busy Saturday, Norrie Meus paused to catch her breath and share the “community feel” of her adopted hometown. Meus, 31, teaches English at a local community college and waits tables at the Main Street diner. After a visitor ordered the curried goat and washed it down with an Asheville-brewed IPA, Meus added more local flavor to the meal. The café buys much of what it serves from local farms, with employees even visiting the animals on occasion. That fare includes the goat cheese and, when the goats no longer can produce milk for cheese, the goat meat.
“It led a good life,” she said of the recently-eaten mountain-dweller.
Jackson County, which stretches to the South Carolina border, should be known for more than its laid-back county seat. It’s a hidden golf destination, with the options as varied as the seasons here.
Climb the mountain south along N.C. 107 to bucolic Cashiers (pronounced CASH-uhrs), where High Hampton Inn and Country Club stands as a testament to a gentler time. The resort’s golf course, a 1956 George Cobb design, sits at 3,500 feet altitude and plays 6,000 yards from the tips, ticking all of the boxes for an enjoyable round.
“It’s an ego course,” head pro Craig Hartle said.
High Hampton offers its version of Southern hospitality with a few driver-wedge par 4s. The par 3s, ranging from wedge to fairway wood or driver, and stout par 5s deliver a playful mix of holes.
After the round, stop by The Orchard restaurant on 107, where brothers/proprietors Chad and Travis Boswell greet their customers and serve fresh mountain fare. Try the signature Orchard chicken and a cold beverage al fresco on the back patio.
At nearby Bear Lake Golf Club, a mountaintop retreat in Tuckasegee, the public can access the nine-hole, par-29 course for a daily resort fee. On the elevated tee at the serpentine first hole, go ahead and take a mulligan. You’ll likely need it after the winding drive up the mountain to the Jack Nicklaus-designed cliffhanger.
The view looking down on the par-4 seventh green. In the distance is the peninsula green at the par-3 eighth hole. (Photo: Steve Harmon)
Bo Alexander, who runs a local travel business with his wife, recently was recruited back to Bear Lake as a property broker. He knows the area golf scene, with stops at the ultra-luxe Wade Hampton Club and having overseen the 2008 grow-in at Bear Lake. Golf here was designed to complement other outdoor attractions, not replace them.
“Golf was fifth or sixth on the list of what people wanted,” Alexander said during a tour of the course, which emphasizes dramatic long views and a precise short game.
Perhaps that slogan should read, “Slow down and play.”
Sapphire National Golf Club
Location: Sapphire, N.C.
Food & Drink
Location: Sylva, N.C.
Steve Harmon is the editor of Morning Read. He lives in Longwood, Fla.