If ever there were a magical wedding location, it’s in Highlands, North Carolina. Just ask Brock and Kirby Bates. The Birmingham couple, who met at the University of Alabama, has been smitten with the Highlands Country Club ever since Brock’s sister said “I do” there several years ago. From Southern traditions to a parade led by a bagpiper, this is one wedding that will leave you captivated.
When Brock Bates and Kirby Whitehead were set up for a “date party” in college, it was clear they had something special. And while there may have been nearly eight years between that first date and their wedding day, Brock and Kirby certainly had a memorable engagement, too!
Describing it as “one for the books,” Kirby explains how Brock’s proposal didn’t go quite as planned. “I was at a wedding in Auburn, and Brock stayed in Birmingham to play at a big golf tournament that he plays in every year. On Sunday, he wanted me to watch him play, but I got back from the wedding, and I was so tired that I didn’t make it off the couch that entire day … Brock ended up coming over and bringing me soup, then he got down on one knee, and we got engaged while I was eating my takeout!”
Thankfully, the rest of the wedding planning was a bit less eventful, as Kirby set about securing the details for their big day. With their venue already chosen, the couple began pondering additional vendors for their June 5, 2021 wedding. “We definitely dove right into the wedding planning,” says Kirby, who had about nine months to prepare. “Probably 10 days after the engagement, we knew that we were getting married in June, in Highlands.”
Kirby started by booking the band and photographer, then hired a day-of wedding planner, who offered assistance throughout the process. “I’m super hands-on, and I do a little bit of everything for my job, so I knew that I could plan a wedding,” says Kirby, who is the Director of Sales and Marketing at A’mano Gifts in Birmingham, “but I didn’t want to be stressed out doing it. So, after I booked everything else, I reached out to find a wedding planner. I hired Tara Skinner out of Savannah. She helped me the entire time, and she was so nice to have!”
The picturesque North Carolina mountains played a big role in Kirby and Brock’s wedding aesthetic, with yellow and cream florals highlighting the local backdrop. “Highlands is beautiful and natural, and there’s not a lot of fuss to it,” Kirby tells us, “so, that’s what I wanted our wedding to be … that inspired all of it. I wanted it to feel easy and effortless, and I wanted the flowers to feel pretty but not overdone.”
Somewhat surprisingly, Kirby held off on dress shopping until the last minute. “I really dreaded it,” she admits. “I’m kind of picky, and I had a vision.” Fortunately, a friend who works in a Birmingham bridal store came to the rescue. “I was looking through wedding stuff, and I took a screenshot of that dress and sent it to her, saying, ‘Do you all have this dress?’” Believe it or not, they did, and the rest is history thanks to Ivory and White Bridal Boutique in Birmingham. The stunning Lela Rose drop-waist gown with spaghetti straps was precisely what Kirby was hoping for, and she paired it with nude-colored block heels by Stuart Weitzman.
On the morning of the wedding, Kirby and her bridesmaids got ready in a rented house on the golf course. The women spent a leisurely morning having their makeup done, snacking, and toasting with champagne. In a romantic turn of events, the bride even got to wave to her husband-to-be from the balcony as he played golf. “Brock and his friends played golf that morning, and we were right on the 13th hole,” Kirby explains, “so everyone came by. It was relaxed — I had my mom and friends over. My nieces were there, and my aunt made this huge breakfast spread for us with everything we could have ever wanted.”
Once the bride and groom were dressed and ready, they met up for first looks. “His parents have a vacation home, which is right up the road,” says the bride. “That’s where we had our first looks. They have this cool house with a view, and it was really special. When we bring our own family there [years from now], we’ll have pictures there of the two of us on our wedding day.”
With a large bridal party consisting of 15 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen, a pre-ceremony photo shoot was in order. The ceremony followed, which was held on the golf course — a decision Kirby says was very on-brand considering her husband is an avid golfer. A string trio played Kirby and Brock down the aisle, where they exchanged traditional vows in front of their 200 guests. “We talked a lot about who we wanted to officiate our ceremony,” Kirby tells us. “We laid it on one of Brock’s father’s best friends — they worked together for years. About 10 years ago, he went to seminary, and now he’s an Episcopal priest. It was really cool because Brock grew up with him; they had houses right next to each other, and he was there when Brock was born. So, it was really special to have him do the ceremony.”
After the pair were officially pronounced husband and wife, the wedding party gathered to pop champagne as a bagpiper began his serenade. “The bagpiper led a parade!” exclaims Kirby. “I think we were the first parade to ever happen at Highlands Country Club. We left the putting green and went by the croquet courts where all of these people were playing. Everyone was hanging over the side, waving at us. Then, we went underneath the cart tunnel. There were golfers on the 18th green, and they were clapping … It was really fun.”
When the parade, which included the bridal party as well as guests, arrived at the reception, champagne awaited. Guests enjoyed a cocktail hour, complete with a beautiful lineup of passed hors d’oeuvres such as mini BLTs, pan-fried quail breast, and wild mushroom bruschetta with goat cheese. While guests mingled, sipped, and enjoyed small bites, the bride and groom were whisked away to a private dinner for two.
In keeping with Southern tradition, the couple also unearthed the bottle of Woodford Reserve that had been buried there the month before. According to folklore, burying a bottle of bourbon at the ceremony site exactly one month before the big day wards off wedding day rain. “Everyone that we know who gets married up there does it; people really believe in it!” she tells us. Though Brock and Kirby were unable to make the trip to bury their bottle, Brock’s mother generously offered to do the honors. “A month to the day before our wedding was Cinco de Mayo,” Kirby tells us, “and it was a weeknight. My amazing mother-in-law went up and [buried our bottle] with the event planner at the country club.”
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As the cocktail hour transitioned into the grand reception, the band introduced the new Mr. and Mrs. Brock Bates, who shared their first dance to “Peg” by Steely Dan. Rather than a formal sit-down dinner, the couple opted for casual dining stations with wonderfully whimsical names such as “Breakfast with the Bates” (chicken and waffles, biscuits and jam, cheese grits, and candied bacon), “Sliding Rock Station,” named after a well-known nature trail in the area (crab cakes, braised short rib and pulled pork sliders with French fries and green beans), and “Cinco de Junio,” a station with queso, guacamole, salsa, and build-your-own quesadillas. Guests feasted, then hit the dance floor for some raucous fun.
As the evening came to a close, the bride and groom departed to a cheering crowd and prepared for their honeymoon to St. Bart’s. “We had sparklers lined up,” says Kirby of their original departure plans, “but Highlands is in the rainforest. The buried Bourbon worked until the last hour of our wedding reception when it absolutely poured! We lost power, but no one even noticed because the band was playing and everyone was on the dance floor.”
Though the rain put a damper on their sparkler exit, (and made a mess of the flower-adorned golf cart they’d prepared to leave in), the couple exited to a chorus of cheers from friends and family. “In hindsight, it was way better than sparklers,” says Kirby. She also offers a bit of advice for future brides. “Embrace the ceremony,” she suggests. “Ceremonies don’t get a lot of shine these days — it’s all about the reception. But the ceremony is so special!”
Ceremony & reception: Highlands Country Club in Highlands, North Carolina
Coordinator: Tara Skinner Events
Photographer: The Film Collective
Flowers: Floressence Flowers
Hair and makeup: The Moore Agency
Bride’s gown: Lela Rose from Ivory and White Bridal Boutique
Bride’s shoes: Stuart Weitzman
Groom and groomsmen attire: Mr. Burch
Invitations and programs: The Scribbler
Menu cards: Sally Goodloe Designs
Calligraphy: Bess Booth Design and Calligraphy
Catering: Highlands Country Club
Cake: Blue Ridge Bakery
Entertainment: Allegro Music (string trio), Michael Waters (bagpiper); Atlanta Pleasure Band (band)
Rentals: Professional Party Rentals
Transportation: Appalachian Transportation
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