Virginia is for (Golfing) Canadians

(This article originally appeared in the July 2011 Print Issue of Flagstick Golf Magazine)

by Joe McLean

Based on the number of Canadian visitors, Virginia may as well change their slogan from “Virginia is for Lovers” to “Virginia is for Canadians” as more and more Canadians are taking the short trip south to Virginia to experience their great golf venues as well as take in the vast history of the State and sample world-class wines from over 160 wineries.

You can combine your love of golf with fine foods and wines all within a day’s drive from Ontario and Quebec.

How nice is that?

Flagstick Golf Magazine took advantage of a Fall Trip put on by the Virginia Tourism Corporation to explore the Southern end of the Shenandoah Valley and the Southwest region of rural Appalachia.

Olde Mill Resort (Photo: Joe McLean)

Arriving at the Roanoke Airport, writers from Ontario and Quebec were met by Virginia Tourism representatives and escorted to the Russell Breeden designed Ashley Plantation, the only 27-hole public access facility in the Roanoke Valley for nine holes of golf. Located just north of downtown Roanoke in Daleville, Virginia, Ashley Plantation is a bedroom community offering panoramic views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Our nine holes were played on the aptly named “Hills” nine in a Scottish mist. Apart from the picturesque views from the tees and greens, the par “6” – 5th hole was definitely an attention grabber. Measuring from 452 – 721 yards, this monster of a golf hole starts with a tee shot from an elevated tee and then a few more fairway shots depending on your ability as a golfer uphill to an undulating, elevated green. A look backwards at the conclusion of play on the hole is a must. The Meadows and Orchard nines will have to wait for another day to play, but if they are half the experience of the Hills nine, then they are well worth the visit.

Our host for the evening were the folks at the Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center, which is operated in partnership with Virginia Tech in downtown Roanoke. What a pleasant surprise to check in and receive a few of the Tudor-styled hotel’s hot signature chocolate chip cookies. Built in 1882, the Doubletree Hotel has been fully restored and apart from their fully appointed rooms offers ample meeting and convention space. Roanoke was originally called “Big Lick” and was the centerpiece of the region’s railroad development.

Our dinner destination was “Metro”, which is one of the area’s hottest restaurants and we were joined by Senator John Edwards who regaled us with his historical knowledge of the area. After a splendid assortment of local appetizers, my meal of Pumpkin Bisque soup, Chateaubriand and Truffle Scented Diver Scallops was satisfying and filling enough to allow me to skip the dessert menu and look forward to our walk back to the hotel.

After a delightful breakfast in the Hotel Roanoke’s Regency Room, it was time to load up our van for our trip up the Blue Ridge Parkway to tour the Chateau Morrisette and sample some local wines before continuing on to Primland Resort.

The 469 mile scenic Blue Ridge Parkway celebrated its 75th year of operation in 2010 and is considered one of America’s treasures. Take time while you are on this All-American Road through rural America to take in the spectacular and panoramic views offered of rivers, lakes, rolling farmland and flourishing valleys while traveling on a road that follows closely the highest ridges between the Shenandoah and the Great Smoky Mountains National Parks at altitudes of more than 6,000 feet.

“Chateau Morrisette is a winery that began as a hobby that soon got out of hand,” according to Mrs. Nancy Morrisette and wine lovers who have sampled their product are more than thankful. Located in a spectacular natural setting in rural Floyd County, Chateau Morrisette has grown to be one of the largest wineries in Virginia which as a State is ranked 10th in the country in commercial grape production and grape bearing average. The impressive 32,365 square foot wine production facility and spacious hospitality center was constructed from salvaged and recycled Douglas fir timber (135,000 board feet)  from the St. Marie River and is worth a visit alone. After a brief tour of the wine production area, it was our distinct pleasure to take part in a tasting of impressive Chateau Morrisette products.

As none of the writers on this familiarization tour of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains and the Roanoke Valley had previously visited Primland, we eagerly anticipated our visit to a resort and golf course that in the past couple of years had received accolades from a multitude of travel and golf publications.

We were not disappointed.

The Highland course, sitting at 2,850 feet above sea level, provides a “WOW” factor from one hole to the next and plays from 5348-7053 yards with a rating of 74.6 and slope of 145. Carved out of a mountain landscape over ridge tops and through valleys, golfers are treated to amazing views of the Dan River Gorge and The Pinnacles of Dan while they are attempting to concentrate on each shot on every hole. Course Architect Donald Steel has created a masterpiece which blends into the natural terrain with little disturbance to natural wetlands.

“There is remoteness about Primland, a sense of escape that is special. Golf courses have been built in every landscape imaginable but rarely on mountain peaks. Primland sits on top of the world, enjoying scenic views that stretch the vocabulary.” – Donald Steel, Course Architect

Primland is a must see destination. Mountain homes, cottage fairways or The Lodge provide a variety of stay and play packages. Whether you are visiting to play golf as a single or with a group or you are looking for that getaway of a lifetime with or without your children, you are sure to be accommodated at Primland where founder Didier Primat envisioned an ultimate retreat for world-class golf, refined dining and indoor and outdoor activities deep in the mountains of southwest Virginia. No visit to Primland would be complete without a visit to the Spa at Primland or the Observatory Tower featuring Celestron CGE Pro 1400. Without city lights, this telescope provides glimpses of stars, planets, nebulae and celestial objects well beyond our solar system.

In the opinion of this humble scribe, Didier Primat has accomplished his vision.

All too soon, it was time to leave the Lodge at Primland, its fine dining, luxurious accommodations and of course The Spa and my wonderful massage and conversations with my masseuse Sandy Lewis.

We were off to Olde Mill, a fully integrated mountain golf resort and club community moulded on 800 acres of gentle rolling hills and scenic valleys, located just minutes from the Blue Ridge Parkway in Southwest Virginia’s Carroll County. The Olde Mill clubhouse is perched atop a knoll offering visitors and golfers impressive views of many of the golf holes bordering and traversing a pristine 54 acre lake which comes into play on 9 of the 18 holes designed by Ellis Maples and upgraded recently by his son Dan. The true magnitude of the course and the designer’s vision can only be seen from an aerial shot. Individually many of the holes are outstanding but take in the overall picture and the Maples design becomes a masterpiece carved around gentle, rolling hills and through scenic valleys. Bring your best game and pick the tees best suited for your handicap when you step to the first tee. Take your time and take in the breath-taking views as you play each shot.

Equally impressive at Olde Mill is the functional clubhouse and restaurant / bar facility. Fully expecting traditional golf club fare, we were impressed by the full menu and even more by the portions of the exquisitely prepared meals which you tend to find only in higher end restaurants. Accompanied by traditional and original blues performed by musician Scott Perry, my grilled pork tenderloin melted in my mouth and was a treasure to consume. Scott is just one of the many musicians who perform along “The Crooked Road – Virginia’s Music Heritage Trail” featuring mountain ballads, country music and old time dance music running through ten counties, fourteen towns and three cities across south-western Virginia.

Good golf – good food and the company of great friends, what a fantastic way to end another beautiful day in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Dawn came all too soon after a deep overnight sleep in our Olde Mill condo accommodations on the last day of our visit to south-western Virginia and the Roanoke Valley, but another golf course awaited our arrival.

The tight, tree-lined fairways of the Hanging Rock Golf Club, designed by Russell Breeden, in Salem, Virginia also frame many picturesque views of the Blue Ridge and Allegany Mountains. The award winning championship course is a pleasure to play. Like most golf courses, your tee shot defines your play on every hole. Take your time while playing the course and you will find historic reminders of a battle that occurred at Hanging Rock near the end of the Civil War. Head Professional Chip Sullivan (who was the 2007 PGA National Champion) and his staff can provide you with a map detailing points of historical importance on the golf course and in the immediate area.

Home for our final night in the Roanoke and South-western area of Virginia was the Holiday Inn Roanoke – Valley View. After a good nights sleep, we were heading home.

This brief visit to the State of Virginia has just whet my appetite for a return visit to explore even more of what Virginia has to offer in the way of golf, history and other experiences. Since my visit, Virginia has announced the formation of the Virginia Golf Trail – a collaboration of the Commonwealth’s public and private golf courses, hotels, wineries, restaurants, historic, cultural and recreational amenities, The Virginia Golf Trail can only enhance Virginia’s reputation as a premiere golf destination.

Fast Facts

Virginia Tourism – www.virginia.org / 1-800-671-4195

The Virginia Golf Trail – www.VirginiaGolfTrail.com

Accommodations/Golf/More

Ashley Plantation Golf Course – www.ashleyplantation.com

Hotel Roanoke and Conference Center – www.hotelroanoke.com

Metro! – www.metroroanoke.com

Chateau Morrisette – www.thedogs.com

Primland – www.primland.com

Olde Mill –www.oldemill.net

Scott Perry – www.ohpapa.com

The Crooked Road – www.thecrookedroad.org

Hanging Rock Golf Course – www.hangingrockgolf.com

Roanoke Valley Golf – www.golfroanokevalley.com

Holiday Inn Roanoke – Valley View – www.holidayinn.com/roavalleyview