“Leave it better than you found it” ~ Don Panoz

It’s an important week in golf. With that in mind, we bring you the first of a series of articles surrounding the revitalization of the Legend’s Clubhouse by Chateau Elan founder, Don Panoz. Many know how the Legend’s course was designed in part by Kathy Whitworth, Sam Snead and Gene Sarazen. What is less known is Panoz’s special relationships with Snead and more especially, Sarazen. Panoz’s commitment to honor the spirit of the game and foster that same love in golfers today, is detailed below.

To honor the legendary and create a legacy is something rarely done in the private sector.

It takes a great deal of passion to work hard enough to foster, execute and preserve ideas. Don Panoz is a man of great passion. From humble beginnings, Dr. Panoz has spanned the globe as a pioneer in the pharmaceutical, hospitality and motorsports industries. He’s amassed a fortune, dined with dignitaries and movie stars, he’s earned an honorary doctorate and is widely known for his business prowess. Dr. Panoz has a list of rules for success in business. Should you meet him, one rule will stand out.

“Leave it better than you found it.”

At 83 years young, Panoz is still actively leaving things better than he found them. Sitting in his Braselton office, he’s dressed smartly in a suit and tie. Panoz, in spite of his status, is genuine, warm and welcoming. He’s surrounded by mementos, certificates of appreciation and achievement in his storied careers (note the plural).  From a weathered painting of his father as a young man in boxing regalia to his beloved schnooker stick wedged in a corner, crowded with stacks of artifacts from a life well lived, Dr. Panoz’s office is a reflection of an extraordinary man.  There is no pretentiousness, nothing ornate or ostentatious and Dr. Panoz, is a great storyteller. He delights in recalling the moments that shaped him and helped build his dreams.

Dr. Panoz is best known in North Georgia as the founder and long-time owner of Chateau Elan Winery and Resort. Chateau Elan sees thousands of visitors each year for both wine, golf, spa treatments and dining. The idea for a winery came from a glass of muscadine wine and Dr. Panoz’s keen observation of the native grape and its ability to thrive in spite of our often-rigid clay soil. “I brought some experts over and asked them if we could grow grapes and they said hell yes,” Panoz said with a sideways smile.

Grow grapes, they did! Chateau Elan is the first winery of its kind since prohibition in North Georgia. Though Panoz paved the way for the more than 20 wineries that dot the North Georgia Mountains today and he reshaped the region’s tourism profile, the wine wasn’t as interlaced in his life as golf. In that vein, the resort and winery were recently sold. Dr. Panoz retained ownership of The Legends Clubhouse and has exciting plans to renovate and upscale the property all interlaced with his passion and love for the essence of the game.

As a boy, Dr. Panoz was educated at Greenbriar Military Academy in Lewisburg, West Virginia before joining the United States Army. Like many other military institutions, Greenbriar operated on a demerit system. On occasion, Dr. Panoz would have a need to work off demerits. Rather than walk boring laps around the flagpole, he would often choose a service. One of those services was to gather the golf balls at the neighborhood course where the golf pro on staff was none other than the now legendary Sam Snead. In that simple act and through the association with Snead, Dr. Panoz became enamored with the class and spirit of the sport. It was a seed that would sprout and grow to eventually forge friendships that would lead to historic moments in the International golf world.

When Dr. Panoz retired from his iconic and revolutionary pharmaceutical company, Ireland based Elan Corporation, he already had plans to build a hotel. Dr. Panoz and his initial partner Mike Puskar began their historic careers in pharmaceuticals traveling the West Virginia Turnpike in an old Pontiac Bonneville and sharing many “less than resort quality” hotel rooms. From their meager beginnings, Dr. Panoz became the youngest president of a pharmaceutical company in the United States and as the pair lead the industry in the production of gelatin capsules, Dr. Panoz traveled more and more. Always observant, he made mental notes of what worked well in the hospitality industry as well as what was detrimental. Those mental notes were put to great use when Dr. Panoz and his wife Nancy would build The Inn at Chateau Elan. What better to pair with a winery and luxurious European Inn than world-class golf courses, with that long-ago seed nurtured; golf was always part of the vision for Chateau Elan.

His early association with Sam Sneed paid dividends when the idea for The Legends Course formed. The Legends Course emulates the favorite holes, worldwide, of legendary golfers Sam Snead, Kathy Whitworth and Gene Sarazen. Dr. Panoz’s friendship with Sarazen would serve as inspiration for the preservation of “the spirit of golf” within the community that would surround the courses and resort area.

Gene Sarazen and Don Panoz have a lot in common. They both have an Italian heritage and the subsequently abbreviated names that sometimes come with immigrant families. Dr. Panoz’s father was born Eugene Panunzio. As a champion feather-weight prizefighter, he found it difficult to fit Panunzio across his robe and became Gene Panoz.  Similarly, Sarazen, born Eugenio Saraceni encountered prejudice and difficulty in spite of his nearly miraculous skill on the course and, he too, changed his name.

“Gene Sarazen was one hell of an ambassador for golf,” Dr. Panoz said. “He was an absolute gentleman, they called him ‘The Squire’”, he continued. Sarazen was a prodigy who won two major championships at age 20. Dr. Panoz explained that Sarazen embodied the spirit of golf. His skill, his devotion, his attitude, his appearance and his commitment to the heart of true competition without the politics is what Dr. Panoz remembers and wishes to honor in his rejuvenation of The Legends Clubhouse.

“Sarazen’s Den”, a gathering area upstairs will host a billiards table and will highlight “The Squire” with furnishings and décor befitting the gentleman who hit “the shot heard ‘round the world” at Augusta National Golf Club around this very time in 1935. Still one of the most famous shots in golf history, Sarazen played a major role in the history of the Master’s tournament.  In 1935, Gene Sarazen won $1,500 for besting Bobby Jones. At the culmination of the Master’s Tournament this week, the winner will be awarded 11 Million.

The Legends Clubhouse will offer a Junior Golf lounge, an expansion of the restaurant, and areas of the clubhouse will also be devoted to honoring both Sam Snead and Kathy Whitworth. Dr. Panoz’s heart is in this project and it seems to mean much more to him than a simple renovation. It’s a revival of the golf greats, a memorandum of the purity of the game and the return of the principles and grace with which the legends of golf played. It’s a standing reminder for all to “leave it better than you found it”.

Check back in the coming weeks as we reveal more detailed plans regarding the changes at the Legends Clubhouse and the surrounding properties and we learn more about Dr. Panoz and his commitment to the betterment of the Legends Community.

Classic Southern Pimento Cheese Spread

  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons hot sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated onion
  • 1 (12-oz.) jar diced pimiento
  • 8 ounces coarsely shredded extra-sharp white Cheddar cheese
  • 8 ounces coarsely shredded sharp yellow Cheddar cheese