From antiques to golf, it's all about the sale in Fredericksburg

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - The antique shops come one after the other, crammed together on the closely constructed Old Town streets.

You can pick up a century-old end table and a chipped, talking Abraham Lincoln bobblehead doll in the same store. Several shops offer used and unused Civil War bullets (they look like sharp stones), but the used bullets are much better sellers.

Gruesome? In Fredericksburg it's all in the name of commerce. And history, of course.

Fredericksburg hits you over the head with its history. Middle-aged women in traditional 18th century garb, right up to the bonnet, walk the streets, promoting the nearby attractions and restaurants. Some of these town tourism employees are as aggressive as Ray Lewis. On this sunny afternoon, one 18th-century woman followed tourists from shop to shop, patiently waiting for the slightest opening to pounce in with the pitch. Around here, they call this being friendly. A little further north, it's referred to as stalking.

Is it any wonder that a town that sells you someone's old handkerchief for $15 and makes you feel like you've gotten a steal is now trying to sell golf? The only questions is: What took these historic entrepreneurs so long?

"I think Fredericksburg now sees the chance to position itself as a golf destination the way Williamsburg did years ago,'' said Chris Ferris, general manager at Mattaponi Springs Golf Club, a new upscale course opening in the area.

It's quite a transformation for an area that was largely regarded as golf wasteland little more than a decade ago.

"You used to have to drive to find any kind of decent round,'' said longtime local golfer Henry Patel. "To Richmond at least. Unless you wanted to hit drives on the Civil War battlefields. That's the only open land we had around here."

All that started to change when Lee's Hill Golfers' Club opened in 1994 on land where Robert E. Lee is supposed to have led his troops (who needs one more battlefield anyways?) Soon, Augustine Golf Club and The Gauntlet at Curtis Park followed. From no courses to three courses that were drawing raves in national golf magazines.

It turns out that if you build it, the competition will definitely come.

"It's 10 times better in this area than it used to be,'' said Blake Peck, a golfer from Alexandria who finds himself driving to the old wasteland these days to find quality rounds. "I never would have been making trips to Fredericksburg for golf in the mid 90s. Now we've actually got choices.''

The Somerset Golf Club and its quirky rising straight from the middle of a subdivision ways is right across Route 3 from Meadows Farms Golf Course and its quirky showmanship miniature golf like ways.

Meadows Farms is run by a guy who simply goes by the name Farmer Bill, a self-made promoter who sells a guide-to-success book with a picture of him and his wife in a black Rolls-Royce on the cover. Farmer Bill's course is equally brazen. It's 841-yard, par-6 hole is recognized by the Guinness Book World Records as the longest hole in the United States. But that's not enough to satisfy Farmer Bill, oh no. There's also waterfalls, greens on islands, tilted greens and other tricks galore.

"It's one of those course you have to play once,'' local golfer Leon Jennings said.

Meadows Farms' unconventional, lighthearted approach has given way to some serious golf developments. Cannon Ridge Golf Club -- the vision of former PGA Tour Commissioner Deane Beman -- opened up last year and there's plans for two other 18-hole courses on the same massive site. Mattaponi Springs, down 1-95 in a more remote location, is the latest to hit the scene, scheduled for a late October/early November startup.

"There's not many opportunities to be part of not only a brand-new course, but the birth of a brand-new golf area, especially in the U.S.,'' Bob Lohmann, the architect behind Mattaponi Springs. "That's one of the really exciting things about this project.''

Fredericksburg is taking this golf destination campaign seriously. Many of the courses are teaming up with local hotels to offer "Stay & Play" packages designed to let golfers hit a number of courses in one trip.

"I don't known if I've heard Fredericksburg called hot,'' local golfer JR Jernick said. "Guess anything's possible.''

Must plays

Augustine Golf Club

Augustine earned the most consistent praise from the local golfers we talked to and that has to count for something.

Mattaponi Springs

With its detail obsessed first-time owner, this newcomer in the boondocks seems assured of making every effort to deliver a memorable round. The isolation alone might be worth the trip.

Swan Point Yacht and Country Club

A little further north just across the Maryland border, this course is a water paradise with obstacles worthy of the Marina views.

Solid seconds

Meadows Farms Golf Course -- If only to see how ridiculous a 841-yard, par-6 is.

Cannon Ridge Golf Club - If you can stomach long waits at the tees, Beman's design is worth checking out.

Off the course

Whether you regard the stuff as hidden treasures or junk, browsing the antique shops packed into Old Town can make for an enjoyable afternoon. History buffs do not want to miss the nearby Civil War battlefields or the old architecture sprinkled throughout Old Town. For something a little more sporting, nearby Lake Anna offers fishing, sailing, water skiing, etc.

The younger adult crowd can be found at the bars overlooking the Rappahannock River.

Places to eat

There are 40 non-chain restaurants packed within the very walkable blocks of Old Town. You can get a brochure at Fredericksburg Visitor Center (706 Caroline St.) listing every one of them. The Kenmore Inn ( (540) 371-7622) offers high-end cuisine in a historic dinning room setting, Thursdays through Sunday. Smythe's Cottage ( (540) 373-1645) goes the more traditional Southern dish way in an early 19th-century cottage.

Places to stay

For chain motels and low-end hotels, the I-95 corridor provides a plethora of choices. To get the full experience and stay in Old Towne, there's essentially five Bed & Breakfasts to choose from. Fredericksburg Colonial Inn ( (540) 371-5666) is the closet to a hotel with its 32 rooms and often the cheapest.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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