Golf 2010

Robert Gilbert



BMW rocks the 'ultimate drive'

Posted 12/13/2010 9:52:00 PM

The most memorable moment from my recent golf vacation in Greer did not involve hitting a 350-yard drive, nor did it include me sinking a 90-foot putt, or even acing a hole. In fact, it didn’t even involve a golf course.

The moment occurred as I reached 105 mph in a $90,000 BMW M5, just before slamming on the brakes, cutting across a tight turn and unleashing the full fury of a German-engineered 500 horse power engine all over again.

While this sounds like a scene out of the video game Grand Theft Auto, I was actually taking part in one of the most unique, adrenaline charged golf vacations you’ll find anywhere.

“If you love driving golf balls, and you love driving cars, this package is definitely the way to go,” said Jim Millard, an instructor at the BMW Performance Center Driving School, located next to BMW’s North American Headquarters just outside of Greenville.

The BMW M School and Golf Package is organized like many other golf vacations. Participants are provided with accommodations, meals and two days worth of activities. However, only one of those days is on the golf course. The other day is spent driving, and at times racing, BMW M Cars around various tracks at the Performance Center.

The package, which is $1,950 per person, includes 2 nights accommodations at either the Hilton Greenville or Marriott, although sleep will most likely be the last thing on your mind once you arrive.

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When the folks at the BMW Performance Center promise you a full day of driving, they are not exaggerating. While the M School does start out with a classroom session, it is surprisingly brief. After less than an hour of orientation, the instructors turned us loose on the track.

For the next seven hours, we rotated through six driving stations in three different cars, including an M3, M5 and M6. For those keeping track, the collective value of these three cars is over $250,000. However, you wouldn’t know it based on the comments from the instructors.

Rather than urging caution, the instructors actually spent most of the day encouraging us to push the cars harder.

Several instructors reminded us, “These are not your cars … you’re not paying for gas, and you’re not paying for tires. We want you to drive these cars as hard as you can.”

The morning sessions were focused on learning three key skill sets — maximizing speed and control through curves, maintaining control of the car in wet conditions, and shifting gears efficiently.

The fun really started after the catered lunch as the afternoon sessions put all of the morning’s lessons to the test in series of friendly competitions. From racing the other participants around the wet track, to running time trials and challenging for high speeds on the large oval track, the afternoon was an unbelievable experience. However, it was also educational.

“The beauty of the driving school is that you get to have a great time, but you also learn some things along the way,” Millard said.

When it comes to the golf portion of the package, the bar is set equally high.

The BMW Performance Center has partnered with two of the most exclusive and acclaimed golf venues in the southeast — Thornblade Club in Greer and The Cliffs at Keowee Springs on the shores of Lake Keowee in northwestern South Carolina — to offer package participants some of the best golf the area has to offer.

Host of the Nationwide Tour’s BMW Charity Pro-Am, Thornblade features a challenging design by Tom Fazio. The course also boasts several prominent members, including professional golfers Jay Haas, Lucas Glover, Matt Bettencourt and professional cyclist George Hincappie. The design, one of Fazio’s first, features the challenging greens and large bunkers that define many of his courses. It carries a slope of 143 from the back tees.

The Cliffs at Keowee Springs also is a Fazio designed course and was recognized in 2008 as one of the “Top Ten Best New Private Courses” by GOLF Magazine. Like all of the courses in the Cliffs family of neighborhoods, Keowee Springs provides world-class scenery as well as world-class golf. Located on the shores of pristine Lake Keowee, the course sits at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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While the quality of golf is exceptional, Millard makes it clear where he thinks the majority of memories will be made. And while he might be a little biased, after experiencing the M School first-hand, it’s hard to argue with his assertion.

“Some participants may find that the golf gives them more of an adrenaline rush than the driving,” he said, “but I really doubt it.”

For More Information

BMW Performance Center: (864) 968-3000; 1155 Highway 101 South, Greer.