Best of the Mid-Atlantic starts in Colonial Williamsburg
Let's face it, choosing the best of this area's incredible variety of courses is subjective. I can only tell you what I think, based on my observations, comments by fellow golfers and readers of the Web site, and input from the professional writers who contribute to MidAtlanticGolf.com. If you don't agree with what you read here, tell us about your favorites.
Best golf destination
Williamsburg, Va., is the best place in the region to go for a week or two of outstanding golf. A long weekend will leave you fulfilled, but pining for the courses you missed. You can play a different course (or two) every day. If you resist the urge to play 36, you can spend afternoons with the family doing really fun stuff in Busch Gardens, Historic Williamsburg and the Jamestown Colony.
The inimitable and beautifully restored Williamsburg Inn in the heart of the 'burg is a wonderful place to stay -- and is within walking distance of the historic downtown area, the golf clubhouse, and the famous Golden Horseshoe Gold and Green courses. On the outskirts of the town are more than two dozen laudable courses, a mix of public and resort tracks. Chief among the resorts are Kingsmill and Ford's Colony, each with three super courses. Topping the stand-alones are the Traditions signature stars -- Stonehouse and Royal New Kent. The latter -- a wild and wooly layout -- will whip you but good unless you play with a regular who can tell you where to aim.
Best golf resorts
1. The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
2. The Homestead, Hot Springs, Va.
3. Nemacolin Woodlands, Farmington, Pa.
4. Wintergreen, Wintergreen, Va.
5. Lansdowne Resort, Lansdowne, Va.
6. The Boar's Head Inn, Charlottesville, Va.
There's a reason I have six resorts on this list. For the most part they are very different from each other -- and practically flawless. The Greenbrier gets top billing. It is constantly under international scrutiny and yet continues to rank as one of the finest resorts in the world in many categories, including golf. It delivers more of everything to the upscale traveler - three diverse, historical valley courses; a fine John Jacobs golf school spiced with the late Sam Snead's pithy wisdom; and the ultimate in lodging, dining and other activities.
The Homestead is also luxurious and historic and a national and international favorite. (How lucky are we to have two of the world's best golf resorts in our area?) The Homestead has three venerable golf courses, notably The Cascades, one of the nation's top mountain layouts. And a Golf Advantage School. And a plethora of outdoor activities, including a great new outdoor swimming pool complex.
Nemacolin Woodlands, the pet project of 84 Lumber magnate Joe Hardy, is a luxury resort with a fantastic new golf clubhouse/hotel complex in the works. This new addition to the superb Pete Dye-designed Mystic Rocks layout is designed to enhance the experience for pro golfers at the annual 84 Lumber Classic golf tourney. But we duffers will benefit, as well. The resort already has two first class hotels and all the amenities of a world-class resort.
Wintergreen Resort, one of only two places in the region where you can play golf and ski on the same day, has recently renovated the mountaintop Devil's Knob. It's a wonderful track with great views and elevation changes -- and a perfect complement to the 27-hole Rees Jones-designed Stoney Creek complex down in the valley. Wintergreen's condos deliver the ultimate home-away-from-home experience, and a plethora of activities in an environmentally sensitive enclave.
Lansdowne Resort, in the Virginia suburbs near Dulles Airport, is a 305-room resort on 200 acres with a Robert Trent Jones, Jr. golf course. The course ranges over meadowland and through woods, with a 610-yard par 5 and a spectacular finishing hole.
The Boar's Head Inn is different from the others in that it is on the outskirts of one of Virginia's most charming cities -- Charlottesville. This historic resort has preserved its inimitable ambiance as an elegant retreat while keeping up with demands for modern amenities. Nothing is lacking here, least of all the Birdswood Course, which serves a dual purpose as the resort course and the training ground for University of Virginia golfers. No wonder they're good! The resort also has an enviable spa and sports/pool complex.
The Greenbrier gets the nod. Who can argue with a sports bar full of Sam Snead memorabilia and a fine restaurant, plus locker rooms and halls lined with images of the greatest golfers in the world who have played here?
The Homestead has a fine facility, too, with the Casino Club restaurant providing a super lunch menu and a view of the practice green, and 1766 Grille reigning as the ultimate fancy dinner spot.
Wintergreen's clubhouse at Devil's Knob atop the mountain has a notable restaurant monitored by a diligent and talented chef; the restaurant at Stoney Creek is also a great place for an after-round dinner.
Seafood is the specialty at the Restaurant at Bulle Rock, and the clubhouse's extensive wine collection has been recognized by the Wine Spectator.
Best par-3 holes
Hands down, the Golden Horseshoe Gold Course at Williamsburg has the most daunting and interesting par-3 holes in the region.
The par-3 holes at the new Olde Hickory are notable for their length and complexity and another "olde," Pennsyvania's Olde Homestead, has three memorable par-3 holes, including the fourth hole, a 178-yard test dropping 60 feet to the green.
Other notable holes in the area:
- Virginia's Lansdowne, Hole 13, 210 yards -- the elevated tee overlooks a stone wall and a creek fronting the green
- Maryland's Swan Point, Hole 11, 168 yards -- the two-tiered peninsula green is surrounded by marsh and is fronted by a horseshoe of sand which cannot be seen from the tee
- Virginia's Lee's Hill Hole 5, 160 yards -- water and a forward bunker protect this tricky, front-sloping green which has a marsh skirting its rear.
- Meadows Farms Waterfall Nine Hole 4, 174 yards -- the elevated tee faces a pond and a 30-foot waterfall cascading from the base of the green.
Best par-4 holes
- Augustine Hole 2, 456 yards -- dropping 50 feet from the tee, the fairway doglegs around a pretty lake past a grassy hollow to a generous but slippery green.
- Bristow Manor Hole 7, 455 yards -- this hole crosses the edge of a pond to a narrow landing area. A long second shot must stick on a slightly elevated green bunkered left, right and center.
- Hog's Neck Hole 16, 440 yards -- the uphill fairway pitches right, the undulating green slopes left, and a stream crosses the fairway 80 yards from the green.
- Bulle Rock Hole 18, 485 yards -- A lake hugs the entire left side of this long fairway, then wraps around behind the green so that you dare not overshoot the putting surface.
Best par-5 holes
- Queenstown Harbor River Course Hole 18, 585 yards -- on this dramatic dogleg it takes two carries over wetlands to reach the undulating green.
- Southview Hole 16, 530 yards -- this double dogleg bends right around a grassy hill, then curves left along a lake all the way to a well-bunkered green.
- The Ospreys Club at Belmont Bay Hole 17, 429 yards -- this short hole has a split-level fairway. Two hundred yards out, it plummets 100 feet down and right to run alongside the Occoquon River.
- Raspberry Falls Hole 18, 550 yards -- the tee shot passes over a waterfall. On the second shot it's necessary to hold short of a creek, and the approach must fly stacked-sod bunkers.
Best courses for women
Wintergreen's Devils's Knob (Virginia) is a perennial favorite of women, especially when they are playing with men. The mountain course is tight, placing a premium on accuracy rather than length. Out of bounds means outa sight.
The forward tees at the Raven at Snowshoe Mountain (West Virginia) are a mere 4,300 yards but not an easy track unless the woman is a straight hitter and has a strong short game. Longer hitters are tempted to play the 5,900-yard tees, an option that presents them with a couple of par-4 holes and par-5 holes virtually unreachable in regulation. Either way, this course promises a rewarding and scenic round that women will appreciate.
Best new course
The Olde Hickory Golf Club, centerpiece of the River Falls community in Woodbridge, Va. The design is the work of Gary Player's former right-hand man, Tim Freeland, who made a name for himself with this, his first solo design. It's a strategic test with forced carries, false green fronts and tiered greens.