Virginia courses you can play for a song -- well, almost
RICHMOND, Va. -- There isn't a state richer in American history than Virginia. One of the original 13 colonies, it was home to many of the nation's founding fathers, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. It was also the site of some of the bloodiest and most crucial battles of the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
Virginia is also famous for its hospitality. Visit Virginia, and you'll be treated like royalty (albeit royalty of a different sort than the English monarchy forced out by the Declaration of Independence). Resorts such as The Homestead, Wintergreen and the Tides Inn are famous for their southern hospitality as well as picturesque, challenging golf.
There are many worthy courses in the Old Dominion State, some of which offer great value for very little cash. Here are five Virginia courses where $55 or less will buy you a good round of golf.
Auburn Hills Golf Club
Auburn Hills was crafted out of an old dairy farm in the hills of Riner several years ago. What the course lacks in length (a modest 6,534 from the tips) it gains in shot placement. Sand traps litter the course, which has tree-lined holes as well as several wide open, links-style holes. The greens also make shot placement key. Firing an approach to the wrong side of Auburn Hills' large, undulating greens will give you a tough two-putt.
The location of Auburn Hills is a definite plus for two reasons. Riner is just 20 minutes from the famous Blue Ridge Parkway, which brings more than 10 million visitors to southwestern Virginia each year. Before Auburn Hills was built, there was very little quality public golf in this corner of the state. Since its completion, locals have taken a real shine to the new track, and don't mind sharing it with visitors.
The Osprey at Belmont
While the Osprey is one of the shortest championship courses in northern Virginia (playing only 5,567 from the tips), it's one of the most difficult layouts you will find. Trouble awaits on nearly every shot. Don't let the short yardage fool you into leaving your woods at home; plenty of opportunities await the big sticks ... as long as you are accurate.
The penal landscape at the Osprey includes ravines, ponds, heather, wetlands, woods and the Occoquan River. The course adds to its uniqueness by starting and finishing with par-3s. The Osprey is kept in great condition in the summer, with the large greens usually measuring about a 9 on the Stimpmeter. The Osprey is by far one of the most unique courses you will find in Virginia, and the greens fees are a steal.
The director of golf knows the course can be intimidating and confusing to first-time players, so detailed yardage books are provided, along with tips on where to place shots on each hole.
Meadows Farms Golf Club
Play Meadows Farms in Locust Grove and you will give the course its due for being daring. Several holes of note include an 841-yard par-6, a 165-yard par-3 resembling a baseball diamond with the green sitting in center field, and another par-3 where the green sits atop a miniature waterfall.
Whether the verdict on these holes is gimmicky or entertaining, the course can satisfy traditionalists and experimentalists alike. After all, how many courses give you the option to run the bases while waiting for the foursome ahead of you to clear the green? Twenty-seven holes (28 including a warm-up hole) are divided into three nines: the Longest Hole nine, the Waterfall nine and the Island Green nine, each named for the nine's signature hole.
The course is beautifully landscaped and has many colorful flower beds. This is to be expected, because the owner is also the man behind the Meadows Farms nursery chain.
General's Ridge Golf Club
When management changed Manassas Park Golf Course to General's Ridge, it gave the course a more authoritative, daunting name. Ironically, since the name change the course has been modified to make the layout easier.
Originally opened in 1996, General's Ridge was viewed as too tight, too hilly and too tough. Most first-timers to the course were frustrated by the narrow fairways, blind shots and steep uphill grades. Since its renovations, however, the course is much more pleasant but still possesses some of its original bite.
The length is only 6,291 yards, but the hilly terrain makes it tough. The slope rating is 141. The course was named after Confederate General Richard Ewell and his troops, who camped out for two winters in the area. Historians note that from the property's highest point you can see 25 miles in all directions - great for spotting Union forces. It also makes for a dramatic piece of land for golf.
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club
Shenandoah Valley Golf Club near Front Royal is a fine 27-hole layout that is home to the PGA's Kemper Open qualifiers. If you reserve way ahead, you can stay in the club's historic Fairway House, built in 1785. The balconies at the Fairway House offer panoramic views of the Valley.
Usually when a course has greens fees for under $30, you can expect maintenance, service or facilities to be lacking. At Shenandoah Valley this is definitely not the case. Not only is the experience memorable from tee to green, but also in the clubhouse, the restaurant and the lodging. The club strives to make each guest a "member for a day."
A variety of magnificent old trees line the hilly fairways and a full-time gardener tends flower boxes and beds decorating tees and greens. The Blue Nine was redesigned a decade ago by Rees Jones, who spiced the route with blind shots, thick rough and small greens.
The Red and White nines are the work of Lynwood Morrison, who made good use of rolling terrain and natural gullies.
Shenandoah is a good course to walk in the cool of the evening. You can always walk nine and then take a golf car for the second nine if the terrain proves too much for you. The club is an hour and a half from Washington, and a popular retreat for city businessmen looking to get away for a day or weekend.
Each of these five courses offer unique, affordable golf in the mountains of Virginia. Whether you play modern gems such as Auburn Hills and Meadows Farms, classics like Shenandoah Valley or the critically acclaimed Osprey Ridge and General's Ridge, you are sure to discover what makes Virginia one of the best golf destinations in the east.
August 14, 2003