MT. AIRY, N.C. -- Golf and wine in Mayberry. Who knew? Last I heard, Sheriff Taylor and Deputy Fife were still busting up stills in their neck of the woods of North Carolina. There was a fishin' hole, Floyd's Barber Shop and Snappy Lunch but never any mention of par 3s or elevated tees. Apparently times have changed, but, fortunately, a few things have remained the same.
Mayberry, of course, was a fictional town, but the setting for the 1960s' "The Andy Griffith Show" was based on a real place: Griffith's hometown of Mt. Airy.
The Yadkin Valley town -- which has grown to more than 10,000 people and now has plenty of franchise restaurants, convenience stores and is no longer dry, apparently -- still holds onto much of its innocent, small-town charm. Without a doubt, this might be the friendliest spot I've ever visited, just like the show. In fact, the locals are always eager to share stories with you when you walk down Main Street and observe the landmarks made famous in the show.
Today, establishments such as Barney's Cafe -- where you can get eggs, grits and country ham in the morning -- cater to tourists yearning for a connection to the lovable Mayberry, but others -- such as Floyd's Barber Shop, Wally's Filling Station and The Snappy Lunch diner -- were there when Griffith was growing up.
Yadkin Valley Golf Experience packages
What wasn't there, of course, were the wineries, golf courses, deluxe accommodations, Squad Car Tours and the Andy Griffith Museum, which are offered in the Yadkin Valley Golf Experience packages.
One of those packages is aptly titled "Golf, Grapes and Gomer" (yadkinvalleygolf.com), which adequately sums up the experience. The golf is well above average and certainly challenging, the wine is better than you might expect, and Gomer -- yep, that's a bonus. All of this takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northern North Carolina, where summertime temperatures can be 20 degrees cooler than most of the country.
Yadkin Valley golf
While the courses may be a little quirky, they're certainly challenging and very memorable.
My first golf experience came at Olde Beau Country Club, a semi-private facility named for course designer Billy Satterfield's beloved bulldog.
The course is a scenic hour drive from Mt. Airy, perched high in the mountains with views from most of the tees and greens and 1,500 feet of elevation change. From the tips, it's 6,710 yards but plays much tougher than its yardage with deep rough, some narrow fairways and precise doglegs. A real shot-maker's course, it also has two of the most unusual par 5s I've ever seen. They're quirky but not unfair and totally memorable: the 17th, in particular, with a second shot for those who are going for it in two playing downhill to a green some 240 yards away. Because of the drop, it plays two to three clubs less.
Another course that's offered in the packages is Cross Creek Country Club, another championship-level course with a few unusual holes. It's rarely busy because its golf-playing membership is pretty low, which means visitors can enjoy quick rounds. Set in the valley in Mt. Airy, temperatures are quite a bit warmer than they are at Olde Beau but still cooler than the rest of the south. From the back tees, it's almost 6,800 yards, so there's plenty of challenge.
A few years ago, it underwent a renovation that rerouted a few holes, and like Olde Beau, the back nine is tougher than the front nine, where there are more scoring opportunities. In fact, the first hole in our group yielded a birdie (by me) and an eagle by our host, Director of Golf Brad Edwards. The 16th, 17th and 18th, which all play around or over water, make up a strong finishing stretch.
The third course that anchors the packages is Cedarbrook Country Club, which was carved out of the rolling countryside and thick forests in Elkin. The course was designed by Ellis Maples, who studied under Donald Ross and has a several outstanding North Carolina courses to his credit, including Pinehurst No. 5, Grandfather Golf & Country Club and The Country Club of North Carolina.
The golf is packaged with a variety of accommodations, including the Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn, Rockford Inn Bed & Breadfast, Klondike Cabins and Cabins at White Sulphur Springs, just outside of Mt. Airy, which is where we stayed. The cabins were rustic looking from outside but well-appointed inside with all the modern conveniences, including a kitchen, big-screen HDTV and comfortable furnishings.
Wine, dine and tours de police force
Perhaps our most surprising experience, however, came at Shelton Vineyards, the largest family-owned winery in North Carolina, set on a 383-acre estate just outside of Mt. Airy. The winery is one of more than a couple of dozen in the area, many of which sprung up replacing tobacco farming with grapes.
Founded in 1999 by Mt. Airy-native brothers Charlie and Ed Shelton, who made their fortune in construction, Shelton Vineyards offers everything from Riesling to Merlot and also has an outstanding restaurant on site, the Harvest Grill. The latter, under the direction of Chef Paul S. Lange, has received many accolades and deservedly so. With an ever-changing menu and cuisine paired with wines, it's a memorable fine-dining experience. The Carolina Summer Seafood Stew -- with scallops, clams and grouper -- was most memorable.
For steaks and Southern boneless fried chicken, nothing beats 13 Bones in Mt. Airy, popular with locals and tourists alike, including motorcyclist enthusiasts (they always know where the good grub is). Or if you're looking for something a little more Mayberry-like, all you have to do is go down Main Street. The aforementioned Barney's Cafe is adorned with celebrity photographs, a life-sized picture of Don Knotts in his sheriff's deputy costume and a map with pins from the hometowns of all the visitors. Owner Eric Fleming is a member at Cross Creek Country Club and loves to talk golf.
Barney's wasn't in Mt. Airy when the Andy Griffith Show was on the air, but Snappy Lunch was, and the near 90-year-old business was mentioned several times in the show. The diner is known for its pork chop sandwiches, a calorie-laden, messy concoction that includes a fried pork chop, cole slaw, salad dressing, mustard and chili. In a pork-chop eating contest, one customer once ate more than a half dozen of these sandwiches.
You might also want to visit Wally's Service Station, another landmark featured on the show. Next to it are replicas of the courthouse and jail, and it's also where the Squad Car Tours originate. For $35 a carload in one of the company's five restored Ford Galaxies made to look like the show's police cars used by Andy and Barney, they take you around town, explaining all the landmarks, including the world's largest open granite quarry, which can actually be seen from astronauts orbiting the earth.
Need a haircut? Well, head to Floyd's Barber Shop on Main. It's owned by Russell Hiatt, the 90-year-old barber for whom the show's Floyd was based on. Inside are hundreds of photographs of Hiatt's customers over the years. Hiatt, by the way, is the in Barber's Hall of Fame, class of 2000.
You'll also want to visit the Andy Griffith Museum, which depicts the late star's life not only in Mayberry but his other credits as well, including movies, his standup comedy and "Matlock." The museum also includes all kinds of artifacts and props from "The Andy Griffith Show," including a large section donated by Don Knotts' widow.
And finally, if you visit the museum, you can also check out a separate exhibit next door that chronicles the lives of Chang and Eng Bunker, the original Siamese Twins who settled in Mt. Airy in the 1800s to raise crops and a large family.