Meadows Farms Golf Course: An ‘Unusually’ Cool Outing
LOCUST GROVE, VA -- I’ve talked often during my Virginia golf course reviews about layouts that offer a ‘different’ experience than your run-of-the-mill golf outing. These atypical golf courses accomplish distinction through location, design features or services that are either difficult or impossible to replicate. They also help prove a truism—‘it’s great to set yourself apart from the crowd’—but only if in good ways.
In other words, it’s cool to be different. But is it cool to be ‘unusual?’
It used to be. I remember growing up watching baseball in the 70’s—it seems back then the players felt freer to express an alternative personality—there was Mark ‘The Bird’ Fydrich, Bill ‘Spaceman’ Lee, Al ‘The Mad Hungarian’ Hrabosky and even Jim ‘Catfish’ Hunter. All these guys were eccentric—some might even call them weird. But they were memorable, and successful while marching to their own drummers, ‘unusual’ to say the least. They were true individuals within the broader context of the game of baseball.
Today, professional players continue to try and distance themselves from their colleagues—but through looks more than ‘mind-set.’ They’ve got thicker and more numerous gold chains, multiple earrings, shaved heads, goatees, cornrows or grotesque tattoos. To my eye, it all blends together—those guys aren’t different, they’re really just carbon copies of each other. And ‘cool’ is only in their heads—some of them actually look foolish.
To most athletes, expression’s a physical look—not an attitude. (Let’s leave Dennis Rodman out of this.)
That’s why it’s refreshing to come across something in our modern sports culture that’s truly different, ‘unusual,’ and cool at the same time—but doesn’t cross the taste line. Meadows Farms Golf Course in Locust Grove, VA, is such a place. It’s an ‘individual’ golf course within the broader context of the game.
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a golf traditionalist, and when I heard about this course located 18 miles west of Fredericksburg, I was hardly jumping at the prospect of going there. I like courses with 18 holes, reasonable bunkering, fair placement of hazards and puttable greens. I’m a big follower of the Rees Jones or Tom Clark schools of golf course architecture—you can see your targets, and face fair challenge--but still have to play well in order to shoot your target score.
At Meadows Farms, you’ll still get the aforementioned elements--but I’d venture to say there are features here that you won’t see anywhere else. Ever heard of an 841 yard par six? How about a baseball stadium hole with a green in centerfield? Perhaps a par three on top of a Niagara Falls-like waterfall (granted, on a lot smaller scale)?
Most golf architects strive for variety, but Bill ‘Farmer’ Meadows, owner and mastermind behind the course’s unique concept, demanded it. Bobby Lewis, Meadows’ Vice President of Golf Operations explains: “Farmer Bill Meadows thought most golf courses weren’t run very well. They were inefficient in course maintenance, lacked hospitality to their players and were too conservative in design. You’d go to a course and have a hard time remembering one hole from the last.”
“So he took what he’d learned from his other businesses and applied the lessons to building a golf course. He spent a year gathering truly different ideas in golf course architecture, then hired designer Bill Ward Jr. to implement them. I think the end result is 27 holes that will leave you saying ‘Wow!’ There’re 27 different experiences waiting for you out there, and we feel comfortable in saying you’ll see some things you won’t find at any other golf course.”
Understatement is cool, too. Lewis is right—I haven’t seen a facility quite like Meadows Farms. And another ‘Farmer’ philosophy is to keep the prices down, which he’s done very nicely. You’ll get the ‘distinctive’ Meadows experience without creating an ‘unusually’ large hole in your wallet.
The layout’s divided amongst three themed nines. There’s the Longest Hole nine, the Waterfall nine, and the Island Green nine. The Island Green nine was the front nine before the course expanded to 27 holes, and includes a ‘warm-up’ hole. Even the hole count is unusual at Meadows Farms—you get 28 for the price of 27.
And despite the themes and ‘dare to be different’ attitude found throughout the course, golf traditionalists won’t feel violated. There are plenty of good solid golf elements built into the design to make it a real game—not just a large-scale mini-golf course. The par threes are exceptional, there’re some good par fives, and some long and challenging par fours (not to mention the par six). It’s all here, and you’ll remember every yard of it.
Add in Meadows’ expertise in landscaping, and some holes would even rate as spectacular, like the sixteenth on the Longest Hole nine. The green’s surrounded by azaleas—must be stunning in spring. Augusta National, eat your heart out.
Lewis says that Farmer Meadows also wants players to succeed on his course, and they’ll do well because of large greens with some ‘unusual’ undulations, but only roll to medium speed. I found that to be true—the greens look more severe than they play. For example, the eighth hole on the Island nine has one of the funkiest ‘valleys’ running through it that I’ve ever seen—but even if you’re on the high side of the hole, the ball won’t run a mile past it.
As you’d expect, each nine’s themed hole highlights the experience. For the Island Green nine, it’s number two (which, in actuality, is the third hole you’ll play, including the warm-up hole). It plays 170 yards from the back tees, and the box is slightly elevated. There’s a friendly looking bunker in front of the green, and if you hit it straight, this hole’s not difficult.
The fifth hole is another memorable par three, probably even more beautiful than the ‘island’ green. It’s short, just 142 yards from the back tees, with the tee ball heading straight downhill to a green surrounded by water on three sides. The back of the green’s a hillside with some terrific landscaping work.
The ‘Island’ nine’s ninth hole is a bear. 479 yards from the back (par four), the tee ball plays slightly downhill—and you should get some good roll if you strike it well. But the challenge is all on the second shot—you’ll have a long-iron or fairway wood over a creek to a huge but elevated green that looks like it’s on a ledge (and is also guarded by three huge bunkers). Almost smarter to play as a par five.
On the ‘Longest Hole’ nine, if you play from the back tees, it’s over 3,900 yards and par 37. Quite an endurance test, and the first three holes are as long as you’ll find anywhere (longer, in fact). The tenth is a 427 yard par four which challenges you to get enough distance off the tee to reach the fairway plateau, where you’ll be able to see the green.
Eleven measures 478 yards (also par four), with only a mildly elevated tee box helping you with distance. Don’t go left, or you’ll be in one of 18 ‘church pew’ bunkers the hole shares with the Island nine’s eighth hole. If you go right, you’re in the woods. The fairway’s wide, though. No matter where you end up, you’ll still have a long second shot.
Twelve is the ‘Longest Hole in the US,’ according to the Guinness Book of World Records. 841 yards and a par six, you’ll face several challenges in addition to the length. The hole’s got trouble all down the right side (woods) of its ninety degree dogleg right, and two lakes to contend with. I think the best play is a solid drive, then a 185 yard layup over the first lake; then a 200 yard shot to a flat area before the second lake. Finish it with a short iron over water, uphill to the green. Whew!
As I said before, I also really like ‘Longest’s’ sixteenth hole, a 400 yard par four with a downhill tee ball and a lake fronting the green. It’s a nice hole to play, but the landscaping behind the green completes it.
We didn’t play the ‘Waterfall’ nine, but saw a couple of the holes—the Waterfall hole, which is number four, plays 174 yards to a green perched on top of a 60 foot waterfall. Leave one down below, and a world record length ball retriever will be needed. Also interesting looking is the baseball hole (number eight), a 165 yard par three playing to a green in centerfield—surrounded by a fence, scoreboard, warning track and a flag pole with Old Glory flying proudly. Somehow, I don’t think you get anything but a penalty for hitting one out of the park, though.
Trying to sum up is more difficult for Meadows Farms than for many places. I’ve done my best to put it in words, but the property mostly just defies description, because there’s truly nothing like it. I doubt they’ll hold any major championships on it, and pure golf traditionalists probably won’t like it. But if you’re looking for a solid golf value that brings true distinction without glitz, this is the place. Just don’t get spiked by your partners when trying to steal second base.