A Blue Ridge Mountain Golf Sampler
Three Virginia destinations and five fine golf courses for the refined, discriminating traveler.
Keswick Hall and Golf Club
Thomas Jefferson once called the region around his Monticello home the “Eden of the United States,” and that idyllic description of the Blue Ridge Mountains couldn’t be more apt, especially when it comes to golf. The terrain is varied, the weather is moderate during all four seasons, and the people are down-to-earth and gracious. While there are numerous golf destinations in the area, these three are must-visits.
Keswick Hall and Golf Club
This boutique resort in the hunt and wine country of Virginia epitomizes luxury delivered with a personal touch. The Forbes Five Star facility has 48 opulent guest rooms and a full complement of amenities, including an on-site vineyard and an in-house historian who leads fascinating tours of the once-private estate.
The main attraction for golfers, though, is “Full Cry,” the Pete Dye-designed course that opened in 2014 and has gathered accolade after accolade ever since. Full Cry is a unique Pete Dye course, offering multiple risk-and-reward options on nearly every hole, with very few in-your-face features to intimidate. There are five sets of tees that stretch the course from 4,809 to 7,134 yards, generally spacious fairways, and large, moderately contoured greens. Nearly every hole gives you the option of approaching with a low bump-and-run or flying a dart into the green.
While you won’t find any TPC-Sawgrass-style islands, you will encounter a sand-island green bolstered with railroad ties at the 179-yard 7th hole. The par 5s look like birdie opportunities on the scorecard, but each uses uphill terrain and prevailing winds to make them true three-shot challenges for most players. Dye’s judicious use of railroad ties on several holes is entirely in character for Full Cry. Train tracks run parallel to the fairway on the par-5 17th hole and, in a clever touch, you cross a bridge crafted from an old flatcar after you hit your tee shot.
Perhaps the most entertaining holes on the layout are the short par 4s. The 10th is a classic Cape hole with a cut-off-all-you-dare lagoon between you and the fairway. At only 343 yards, though, a safe play to the center of the fairway isn’t a bad choice. Then there’s the 286-yard 14th hole, where a dogleg around a thicket of trees and six bunkers make par a pretty good score; birdies are attainable, and even an eagle isn’t unheard of.
Considering the number of guest rooms, Keswick Hall offers a great selection of food and beverage options. Fossett’s, the award-winning main restaurant, features panoramic views of the estate’s landscape and serves produce from its own chef’s garden year-round. Villa Crawford, part of the original mansion, is a delightful casual option, while the Treble Wine Cellar provides an exclusive private-dining venue for 2 to 12 guests.
Omni Homestead Resort
Hot Springs, VA
Golf has been played at the Homestead for well over 100 years, but the two excellent mountain golf courses are just as challenging today as they were when they opened. The Old Course, completed in 1892, starts you on the oldest first tee in continuous use in America, and the Cascades Course, opened in 1923, may well be the finest traditional mountain course in the country. When you add in the fabled hospitality of a resort hotel that has hosted 23 US presidents, you’re in for a real treat.
The Cascades Course loops up through a wooded mountain ridge for the first nine holes, then finishes in a scenic valley, using the varied terrain and rushing streams to make every hole a unique challenge. The better player can use the slopes to their advantage, while the higher handicapper will find the course perfectly playable without being punitive. Narrow fairways and small greens reward accuracy rather than power off the tee, although, at 6,667 yards from the back tees and with stringent elevation changes, the long hitter will find plenty of work to do. The course was the masterwork of William S. Flynn, who also designed Shinnecock Hills, among many other premier tracks.
The Homestead Resort traces its founding to 1766. Visitors like Thomas Jefferson were drawn to the area by mineral waters from two major hot springs that flow onto the property and are still enjoyed by guests today. As majestic as the mountains surrounding it, the 483-room hotel provides every civilized comfort imaginable — and a few rowdy ones, like the two-acre Allegheny Springs water park, as well. The list of activities is endless, ranging from falconry to archery, carriage rides to Segway tours, canoeing to paintball. Fly fishing and shooting are there for traditional outdoorsmen and -women, while the Ridge Runner Zip Tour and Red Tail Racer delight thrill-seekers. Seven dining options on-site and several more in the nearby village mean you’ll never lack for fuel for your adventures.
Westchester has strong connections to golf at the Homestead. Sam Snead got his start as a professional at the Homestead, honing his game with the help of Nelson Long Sr., the head pro of the Old Course for 40 years and the father of Century Country Club’s head pro, Nelson Long Jr., who has held that position at the Purchase club for more than 40 years himself.
How could you go wrong with a golf course named Devil's Knob? You can’t, of course, but for proof, just visit the mountaintop track at Wintergreen Resort, one of two fine (and completely different) courses at the four-season playground. Wintergreen’s 11,000-acre expanse runs from the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains (where you’ll find Devil’s Knob) to the beautiful valley below, where you’ll discover Stoney Creek, a Rees Jones design that’s actually open all year, so you can ski in the morning (Wintergreen is the state’s largest ski resort, too) and play golf in the afternoon. How good is that?
Devil's Knob is billed as the highest golf course in Virginia, and at an elevation of 3,850 feet, that’s probably true. On a clear day, you can pause in your round to take in 50-mile views of the Shenandoah and Rockfish Valleys, which lends credence to the story. Designer Ellis Maples, a disciple of Donald Ross, draped the course over the mountain in a series of tight doglegs and dramatic elevation changes that will test — and delight — every level of golfer. The course measures 6,712 from the tips and plays to par 70, but remember that you’ll gain at least a club in distance due to the height.
Stoney Creek lets you view the mountains from a different vantage point, the floor of the Rockfish Valley. Three nines incorporate natural springs and native habitat as they wind through the landscape. Fairways are generous, and there aren’t any forced carries, but the greens are large and deceptively difficult, and there is water in play on two of the nines, so low scores are far from assured, as the blue-tee course slopes of about 135 (depending on the combination of nines you play) amply demonstrate.
Wintergreen offers a variety of accommodations, from guest rooms to condos and single-family homes. There’s something for every non-golfing member of the family to do, too, including Discovery Ridge, with a climbing tower, zip line and tubing plunge run; indoor, outdoor, and lake aquatics; mountain biking; fly fishing; hiking; archery; and more. There are four excellent restaurants as well, including the relaxed Copper Mine Bistro and the Edge, a family-friendly spot with spectacular views.
What to See and Do
The eye-opening home of perhaps America’s most fascinating president
Tours, tastings, and a delightful gourmet restaurant in a 40-year-old winery
Homemade Southern fare in a tavern that has welcomed travelers for more than 200 years
Garth Newell Music Center
Hot Springs, VA
A year-round music center presenting everything from Mozart to Foggy Mountain Breakdown