Sunday, June 15, 2008

The question should not be whether to take your next golf trip to Virginia, but where in Virginia you should go. We offer a few suggestions.

1. Take a trip to Front Royal, which has become a golf destination. The town is known as the Canoe Capital of Virginia, but what may solidify it as a true golf destination is the opening of the Holiday Inn Hotel and Suites at Blue Ridge Shadows. The hotel, which is adjacent to Blue Ridge Shadows Golf Club, is a full- service conference hotel, with a restaurant, pool, fitness center, day spa and 124 rooms, including 26 luxurious suites overlooking the course. The hotel is four miles from downtown Front Royal, gateway to the world-famous Skyline Drive and minutes from Skyline Caverns, Shenandoah National Park, Shenandoah River and George Washington National Forest.

2. Go underground. While you’re in the Front Royal area, drop down to Luray, which, of course, isn’t known for golf. But you will be pleasantly surprised at what you find above ground. The fairways and greens of Caverns Country Club are among the most scenic in the state. Luray is famous for its caverns, which are even more amazing.

3. See one of the wonders of the world. Natural Bridge was once touted as one of the Seven Wonders of the World and is millions of years old, but the golf course that was supposed to help attract visitors to the area didn’t make it to its opening day. Virginia designer Algie Pulley had the course almost completely grown in before the developer ran into financial trouble and the project, unlike the rock-solid Natural Bridge, collapsed. These days, the nearest course to Natural Bridge is Vista Links, 15 minutes away in Buena Vista. Natural Bridge is a National Historic Landmark. It was purchased by Thomas Jefferson from King George III and initialed by George Washington.

4. Play jailhouse golf. In jail – that over-used bit of golf jargon – took on a new meaning when Laurel Hill opened on the grounds of what once was one of the baddest places in Virginia – the D.C. Correctional Facility’s Lorton Reformatory. The prison closed in 2001 and most of the 44 miles of barbed wire has been removed, but many of the buildings still stand, including the one known as Central Max, where some of the most hardened of the District’s criminals lived. Fairfax County bought the 3,000 acres from the federal government and plotted out a mixed-use development, dedicating 280 acres for golf. Now the county has one of America’s unique layouts. The course logo and tee markers incorporate an image of one of the prison’s guard towers. One thing most people even in Washington and Northern Virginia don’t know is that the Lorton site also housed Nike missiles, strategically placed there to protect Washington from the threat of Soviet bombers.

5. Visit Charlottesville. Had golf been around in Thomas Jefferson’s day, the statesman likely would have indulged himself in that, too. We fancy he would have been a moderately good player and an even better golf course designer. And his best course, naturally, would have been built near Charlottesville.

Jefferson lived 100 years too early to have a significant impact on golf, but his beloved Charlottesville has not suffered. Several stately resorts in the area make the town best known as home to the University of Virginia a great golf destination.

The golf starts right across the street from UVa., where Birdwood, the university golf team’s home course, lies. It is also the course of the Boar’s Head Inn, an elegant resort with a fancy sports club and a great dining room. Guests and the general public can enjoy Birdwood, a Lindsay Ervin design that is about a pure as golf gets. Ervin’s low-key design uses the land’s natural features and the result is one of the best university golf courses in the country.

6. Discover something new. Leave it to a patent attorney to develop 330 acres of “intellectual property” in Caroline County. Mattaponi Springs Golf Club is the brainchild of owner and builder Jim Oliff, who spent two years looking for a site for his course and another five years building it. “The property at Mattaponi Springs was enough to get any architect keyed up,” says designer Bob Lohmann. “There’s tremendous elevation change and the sandy soil allowed us to create some fabulous natural waste areas in the Pinehurst tradition. “What makes a round really enjoyable are the player-friendly surfaces – the zoysia fairways and bentgrass greens. Perfect lies are the rule, not the exception. We tried to get a lot of variety of holes,” says Lohmann. “Short par 4s, long par 4s, different types of doglegs. It’s real evident here with the short par 3s.”

7. Learn the legend of the Golden Horseshoe, which recalls the origins of Virginia history. In 1716, colonial governor Alexander Spotswood organized a daring expedition to explore the far reaches of the Virginia colony. Spotswood, aware of the frontier’s economic potential and bent on encouraging westward settlement, led a party of 63 men on the arduous journey.

Hugh Jones offered his account in 1724 of the toll taken by the rocky soil of the Piedmont and the Blue Ridge:

“For this expedition they were obliged to provide a great Quantity of Horse-Shoes (Things seldom used in the lower Parts of the Country, where there are few Stones). The Governor, upon their Return, presented each of his Companions with a Golden Horse-Shoe, some of which I have seen studded with valuable Stones resembling the Heads of Nails.”

Although several persons in the 19th century claimed to have seen them, none of the small, golden horseshoes described by Jones has been found.

The Golden Horseshoe golf courses epitomize the tradition and mystique of Spotswood’s expedition: the challenge of daring adventure, the enjoyment of a peaceful and spectacular environment and the reward of completing an arduous test.

8. Play one of the king’s first designs. Massanutten Resort has completed a three-year renovation project on its Mountain Greens course. The course opened in 1976 and was one of Arnold Palmer’s first designs. It has gorgeous views of the surrounding mountains.

Over the last few years, the course has undergone two renovation projects. In 2003, the back nine was closed, renovated and reopened in July of 2004. In 2006, the front nine was renovated. Improvements include the renovation of all green and tee complexes, strategic placement of bunkers and many aesthetic changes, all of which will make the course more enjoyable and playable.

Mountain Greens, which plays below the resort’s ski slopes, closes each winter but the Woodstone Meadows course remains open. Woodstone is a midlength par-65 layout that is great for beginners and families.

9. Head to the beach. The closest course to the sands of Virginia Beach is Red Wing Lake. The course was closed for two years for total renovation but now it’s back in full swing for your beach week delight. Kevin Tucker is the architect responsible for bringing the George Cobb classic back. Views of the ocean come from the window of The Breakers Hotel on Atlantic Avenue.

10. Discover an out-of-the-way course. If you know the name Harold Louthen, you know Virginia trivia. While working as a land surveyor, he was part of the engineering team that designed the Capital Beltway. Although you may curse him and his buddies for the ring of concrete that circles the District you will love him for what he accomplished in his retirement. He later relocated to Pulaski, and with his two brothers designed and built Draper Valley Golf Course.

Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains south of Roanoke, Draper Valley was farmland before Louthen decided to try his hand at golf course design. His results are pretty impressive. Using his civil engineering training and reading some books on golf course design, he carved out a course that uses the natural rolling hills of the area for elevation changes. The mountain ranges provide wonderful backdrops for a course that plays more than 7,000 yards.

Draper Valley is devoid of blind shots. All hazards are clearly visible. Still, Louthen did put a little Beltway logic into the course because he says just like the original Beltway, every fairway is the exact same width. The ride, however, is usually much smoother and faster.

11. Play muni golf. Northern Virginia has an eclectic mix of older municipal courses built in the 1950s and ‘60s by government agencies wishing to offer more recreational opportunities to their citizens and modern upscale courses where impeccable conditions, excellent service and food that goes beyond the traditional hot dog at the turn are expected. The two golf philosophies collide in Fairfax County where the park authority runs six traditional munis that are convenient and inexpensive for residents. The county’s 36-hole facility at Twin Lakes is old meets new. The original Lakes Course is pure municipal while the Oaks Course is a modern, upscale treat. Greendale Golf Course, near Telegraph Road and Route 1, allows the authority to provide a solid, traditional experience to residents. It is straightforward and nothing fancy, just a nice round for little money.

12. Stroll the world’s longest resort beach. It’s 28 miles of Virginia Beach shoreline, so you won’t do it all, at least not in one day. Walk for a while then play any of the city’s great courses: Bow Creek, Cypress Point, Virginia Beach National, Signature at West Neck, Hell’s Point, Heron Ridge, Honey Bee, Stumpy Lake, Kempsville Greens, Owl’s Creek or Red Wing Lake.

13. Play in the valley. It’s easy to find courses to play as you travel through the Shenandoah Valley, but uncovering hidden gems is a real treat. Just off of Interstate 81 in Harrisonburg is the 36-hole Lakeview complex. The four nine-hole layouts are each a treat and the differing styles make for eclectic mixes. The newest nine, Mountain, is a modern routing with, at times, a linksy feel. The three other routings – Lake, Peak and Spring – are more classical. They are tree-lined with small, slick greens, and in the spring and fall when the rough is thick you’ll appreciate the fact that they’re not as long as the Mountain.

14. Discover a new destination. Golf in Virginia’s Hampton Roads region is dominated by the destinations of Williamsburg and Virginia Beach. But there is plenty of good golf that is overshadowed, and that is certainly the case in the ship-building town of Newport News.

The Newport News Golf Club delivers 36 holes, country-club conditions and a big-time layout. Designed by Ed Ault, Deer Run is rated four stars in Golf Digest’s “Places to Play.” The course extends to 7,206 yards (73.7/133). The Cardinal Course is a more manageable 6,645 yards (70.9/118).

Nestled in the heart of Newport News Park, an 8,000-acre urban oasis, both the Deer Run Course and the Cardinal Course are exceptionally well maintained, offering rolling Bermuda greens that make for a variety of shots that will challenge even the most experienced golfers. Play a round at the Newport News Golf Club and walk among the ghosts of Confederate and Union soldiers – the Cardinal Course neighbors a Civil War battlefield.

Despite the history and quality, prime-time green fees at Newport News are $35 and overnight packages start at $99 per room per night. Packages can include a round at Kiln Creek Golf Club & Resort, where eight water holes and more than 100 bunkers await. The course is meticulously groomed and its undulating greens present a challenge for even the best putters.

15. Battle Yorktown. Something fresh yet traditional can be found at Williamsburg National Golf Club these days with the 2007 opening of its Yorktown Course. Designed by Tom Clark of Ault, Clark and Associates, the Yorktown provides a nice complement to the original Nicklaus-design course (now known as the Jamestown) located on the other side of the property.

As a heads-up, the Yorktown Course is a back-loaded wonder with the final five holes offering the peak drama as they play around a lake. Two of the three last holes measure in the neighborhood of 600 yards (both par 5s), and the 210- yard par-3 No. 17 requires a demanding carry over water. The back nine features a unique blend of three par 3s, 4s and 5s. The front nine has a more subtle quality to it, loosening you up for a final stretch that is guaranteed to knock your socks off. Comparing it with its older sibling, the Yorktown incorporates more than twice the number of bunkers, has greater elevation changes and more water features. But as Clark likes to say, “no gimmicks.”

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