Moo Over! Poplar Hill starts construction on a Virginia dairy farm

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

Fore! That's right, cows. Move along. Nothing for you to munch on here.

Rick Robbins is building on through a former cow pasture in one of the most ambitious and perhaps daring projects of his golf architectural career. Making use of a US Department of Agriculture program that provides public funds for the rural development of former farmlands, the Poplar Hill Golf Course in Farmville, Va. is set to come to life under Robbins' watchful eye.

Construction has just begun on the course/hotel/conference center/residential community which is being financed by a combination of public and private funds. As part of the deal, the Hampden-Sydney College golf team and other local high school golf teams will have regular use of the course. And you thought the cows didn't drive a hard bargain?

Of course, Robbins has been wowed by the land the cows used to roam, the canvas he will now craft by bulldozer. The architect behind such courses as Crows Creek in Myrtle Beach, The Tribute in Gaylord, Mich., and Waters Edge in Chicago has seldom seen a property more suited for a nifty 18.

"This is more than 1,000 acres of beautiful south-central Virginia rolling farm land," Robbins said. "It has enough movement to really make some great golf holes with nice up and down movement. There are lot of small streams and creeks that cross and border the property. That will give Poplar Hill a lot of great strategic and visual holes.

"It's almost ideal as a golf course property."

Where that property happens to be located is the great challenge of this project. Poplar Hill will not just be the first golf course in little Farmville, Va., (population 6,788). It will be the first golf course in the entire county. There is not a lot of there there in Prince Edward County. While it is only an hour from the state capital of Richmond, it is not along the lifeline I-95 corridor or any semi major highway for that matter.

It's mostly...well, old farmland. Think the cows ended up here by accident?

Still, it is full speed ahead with a $5.5 million course and between 1,000 to 1,200 condos/vacation villas. The Poplar Hill plan is make their own there. With that in mind, the emphasis is on doing everything first class, right down to the bent grass. Bet the cows are sad they left now!

"Very few courses in this region have made the commitment to higher scale quality playing surfaces that bent grass will provide here," Robbins said.

Poplar Hill is not the first Virginia course to get a name architect excited about creating a "golf destination" out of nothing. It fact that could become the new state motto. A big part of the multimillion dollar Celebrate Virginia advertising campaign centers around trying to turn the state into a more recognized golf vacation spot. Often that means creating golf where there was none.

Mattaponi Springs, which opened in late fall 2004 in the relatively isolated town of Ruther Glen, Va., is another recent example of this trend. Though unlike Poplar Hill, Mattaponi Springs is only 16 miles from I-95. Bob Lohmann, the architect at Mattaponi Springs, fell in love with the possibilities of the out-the-way site.

"Look at Cheboygan way up north in the Upper Peninsula and Sand Hills in Nebraska," Lohmann said, bringing up two highly successful famous courses in stark surroundings. "If you build something special, you can create a golf destination. People come a lot farther than this for a unique golf experience."

This is the kind of thinking Poplar Hill will test. For Robbins, the physical features of the setting are validation enough of the choice. Even before the official groundbreaking on Nov. 11, he saw great things ahead.

"Being a diary farm, there aren't many trees, but there are a lot of trees down in the low areas along the creeks where the golf course is, so that you aren't going hole after hole out in the wide open space."

Varied terrain, bent grass fairways, and plenty of wide open space all stretched out in front of Robbins like a prized opportunity.

Poplar Hill is scheduled to open in the spring of 2006. Maybe by then, the area won't only be known as a cow town.

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.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Dairy farm

    Gary Hearn wrote on: Jun 8, 2016

    Poplar Hill was not a dairy farm, but rather a cow/calf operation. In fact, there was already a 9 hole golf course there on the back side of the property that I think was used up until WW2. The remnants of the greens and bunkers were still there when the property was sold.


  • mattaponi springs

    william ascura wrote on: Feb 23, 2005

    played in mattaponi springs, very nice course, but the staff were horrible(need to attend a class,about "costumer relations", they ned to have a smile and greet their costumer.the worst part was of our visit was this..after our round(last presidents day), my friend went to their locker room to take off his underarmour thermal wear,then we proceeded top our car, the next thing we saw was one of their staff asking my friend if he could see the shirt that myfriend is holding.I mean what are they thinking were "shoplifters"?. we paid $75 each(300 total), and being treated like this, give us a break guys.the course was very good but your staff needs "redesigning".defintitely , Iwill share this experience with my friends in new Jersey, esp .with my club FGANJ, filipino golfers association in new new jersey.