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A Legacy of Excellence: Primland Resort is a Hidden Jewel in the Virginia Hills

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Recently, the attention of the golf world was focused on North Carolina as the PGA Championship was being held at Quail Hollow in Charlotte. I was there for three days and while the golf and the hospitality were great, the heat and humidity left me feeling like I had spent three days in a car wash.

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Fortunately, relief was on the way in the form of a trip to Primland Resort, located in Meadows of Dan, Virginia. Typically it is about a 2.5-hour drive from Charlotte to Primland, but I had some special help in shortening the trip. Mercedes-Benz, a partner of the PGA of America, was kind enough to provide transportation in the form of a 2017 Mercedes-AMG C43 Cabriolet. Outfitted with a 3.6-liter AMG BitTurbo that cranks out 362 horsepower, the C43 goes from 0-60 mph in 4.6 seconds and from Charlotte to Primland in not a lot more than that. Fully loaded with leather interior, state-of-the-art stereo, 9-speed transmission and enough room for clubs, my suitcase and a beautiful hitchhiker (didn’t happen), the C43 was the perfect combination of power and finesse. To avoid the law dogs I won’t say exactly what my top speed was on the way to Primland, but suffice it to say that if it was a golf score I would have been worse than a double bogey golfer. To quote the great humanist philosopher Ferris Bueller, “If you have the means, I highly recommend it.”

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So the C43 put me in just the right mood to visit one of the most exclusive golf destinations in the country, a description that fits Primland despite its comparatively low profile. The vision of Primland’s founder, energy magnate Didier Primat, was to create a place of “immense beauty” for his guests that features refined dining, world-class golf and other exceptional outdoor experiences. Didier Primat died unexpectedly in 2008 at the age of 64, but he had instilled the commitment in his eight children, and they have continued the pursuit of resort perfection.

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Spread over 12,000 mountain acres, Primland is sprawling and somehow intimate at the same time. Accommodations at the resort range from the simple to the sumptuous. Rooms and suites in the Lodge make you feel like you’re in one of those 5-star European chalets where stars and royalty go to avoid paparazzi. Natural wood and stone floors combine with high tech and a Continental attention to detail (huge bathrooms, automated window shades, down pillows, extra large robes) give you that special feeling that only the best places seem to generate. Guests can choose from the comfort of the Lodge, choose one of the cottages that are perfect for groups, or opt for the simplicity and seclusion of the rustic cabins known as “Treehouses.” The views, as you would expect from a treehouse, are amazing.

Tree House, Cooper's Hawk

A “Treehouse.”

The acclaimed Highland Golf Course is as spectacular as the rest of the resort. Featuring breathtaking views of the peaks and valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the course was designed and opened in 2008 by renowned architect Donald Steel (his portfolio includes work at Enniscrone, Royal County Down and The Old Course at St Andrews). The Highland course does indeed give the feel of a Scottish highlands links, with plenty of undulation in the fairways and a variety of humps and moguls guarding entry to the greens like buried sentries. Playing as apar-72 (150 slope/75.1 rating) at just over 7,000 yards from the tips, the course is both beauty and beast, especially if the wind kicks up.

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The course offers demanding tee shots that have either deep forest or steep falloffs into the valleys below ready to swallow errant attempts. The greens are massive, allowing for a wide range of interesting pin placements. Featuring bent grass from tee to green, the track is immaculately maintained, a testament to the work of Head Pro Brian Alley and Superintendent Brian Kearns. “This is a course that has that certain something; you never get tired of looking at it or playing it,” Alley says.

The Lodge Pinnacles Suite

The Lodge Pinnacles Suite.

PGA Tour stars Fred Couples and Jay Haas agree, as they are on the host professional staff at Primland and are frequently on property. The critics also agree, with Golf Magazine rating the track as No. 2 among Courses You Can Play in Virginia. Golf Digest has it as No. 31 among Public Courses in America. I had the opportunity to play a round on The Highland course with Haas, who was there hosting an outing and celebrating his wife Jan’s birthday. Haas demonstrated exactly what is need to score well; always be thinking one shot ahead and take advantage of scoring opportunities when they are presented. I hit the ball about the same distance as Haas and had a great ball striking day, but a few wayward wedges and over-ambitious approaches cost me. I shot an 82 and Haas put up a 66 like he was taking candy from a baby.

Primland Aerial

Off the course, Primland offers a full menu of options to enjoy the natural beauty that surrounds you. There is an outdoor center that features sporting clays, ATV treks, hiking, biking, fly fishing, and more. If you want to do something the property doesn’t offer, the eager and experienced staff will likely be able to accommodate you. If you are more of an indoor cat, the world-class spa is available to massage your cares away. There is also a private theater where you can screen your favorite movies.

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The Observatory.

A unique feature of Primland is the Observatory, a domed silo that has been modified to house a powerful telescope that gives spectacular views of the planets and stars. The Observatory is available by appointment, and it shouldn’t be missed.

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Elements.

As for the dining experiences, they are also stellar. If you want to get fancy, try Elements, where the farm to table menu and wine selection are both outstanding. If you want to stay casual, try the 19th Pub (note: they make a PERFECT martini).

19th Pub (1)

The 19th Pub.

Founder Didier Primat loved the outdoors and was a committed to providing a place where people could come and experience it. Whether you are playing golf, riding horses, shooting clays or watching shooting stars, it’s impossible to spend time at Primland without acquiring Didier’s affection for this special patch of land. It’s a little out of the way, but definitely worth the trip.

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Scott

    Sep 5, 2017 at 10:34 am

    They cater to high-end clients so is overpriced for what you get. More affordable and IMO better option close by is Olde Mill.

    • Rwj

      Sep 5, 2017 at 7:37 pm

      Olde Mill is excellent. Didn’t want to let others on the “spot”

  2. Progolfer

    Sep 5, 2017 at 1:13 am

    That Mercedes plug was over the top. Disgusting.

  3. MCHamner

    Sep 4, 2017 at 10:31 pm

    And coming from someone who was in the woods and long grass plenty while there, ticks are not a worry and neither are mosquitoes due to the elevation.

    • Chris K

      Sep 5, 2017 at 11:54 am

      Fine for you but most courses suffer from mosquitoes and ticks. Caution must be exercised.

      • MCHamner

        Sep 6, 2017 at 9:02 pm

        yea but the comment was towards the post below talking about having to do all those precautionary things before playing this particular course. When you dont have to at this particular one. A negative comment like that should not be made towards a course you havent played.

  4. david

    Sep 4, 2017 at 6:30 pm

    amen

  5. Ronald M

    Sep 4, 2017 at 2:09 pm

    Here’s the problem with a golf course carved out of the wilderness. With global warming and rising temperatures certain insect-borne diseases become more prevalent. The risk lurking in a golf course like Primland is Lyme Disease due to deer ticks and West Nile Virus due to mosquitoes.

    Insect repellant applied often and tucked in pant legs is a must on such pristine but lethal golf course. No golf shorts whatsoever and never hit OB and then go searching for your ProV1x unless you want to tempt grim fate.

    • Bill

      Sep 4, 2017 at 5:23 pm

      My local golf club has taken out most of the deep rough and bushes lining the fairways and greens for this reason. One of our members contracted Lyme disease from another golf course and it was not pretty. Our course immediately cut down the rough as a precautionary measure. I always spray with DEET and wear long pants. Golf can be dangerous to your health.

  6. Rwj

    Sep 3, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    Aside from the Mercedes junk…I love this course. It’s beautiful and difficult. Little overpriced @ $220 a round but nice.

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Courses

You’ve never played anything like Sweetens Cove

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What do you say about a 3,300-yard, nine-hole course in rural Tennessee with a prefabricated shed for a clubhouse, a port-a-john for a locker room, and a practice green the size of a coffee table? For starters, it’s the most enjoyable golf experience I’ve had in years.

Sweetens Cove isn’t the kind of course where you can say, “Well, it’s like a little bit of this course and that one put together.” It will never be called “a classic so-and-so design.” I’ve played everything from munis to tour stops all the way to the Old Course, and I can promise you it’s not like anything else you’ve ever played.

Picture a world-class, challenging, and ridiculously fun golf course. Now strip off the 15,000-square-foot clubhouse, the pro shop, the driving range, the short game area, and even the superfluous nine holes you can’t remember anyway. Now, go ahead and shave another 300 yards off the tips. That may sound sacrilegious, but once you’ve distilled the experience into only what is necessary, you’re left with something that takes you back to when you first fell in love with golf. Maybe even something that takes you back to the birth of golf itself.

A view of the sixth green at Sweetens Cove looking back toward the tee box. Photo Credit: Rob Collins

Rob Collins is the man behind the course’s creation. When he started the project, it was May 2011 and golf was in a full recession. Courses were closing their doors, companies were struggling to make ends meet, and Rob was betting everything he had on his brand new company (King Collins Golf Course Design, a partnership with Tad King) and their first project of turning a forgettable muni called Sequatchie Valley G&CC into something memorable.

I was inspired by my favorite courses in Great Britain and Ireland along with Pinehurst No. 2 and Tobacco Road, to name a few domestic courses that provided inspiration,” Rob said.  “Additionally, the 1932 version of Augusta National was a huge inspiration for the architecture. The overall goal was to create a great strategic course that places a premium on approach and recovery shots. Hazards, angles, and green contours all work in concert with one another, laying the foundation for a course where there are no weak or indifferent shots during one’s round.” 

Happily, Rob and Tad’s endeavor fared much better than many of their contemporaries’ projects in the wake of the 2008 recession, though it did have many twists and turns along the way. Chief among them was in 2013, roughly a year after construction was completed, when the ownership group disbanded and left the course for dead.

I was desperate to do anything that I could to get the course open,” Rob said.  “The course was my baby, and I believed that what we had created out there was architecturally significant and deserved to see the light of day. As it turned out, my client [the original ownership] approached me and asked if I would like to take the course over on a long-term lease. I said yes to that proposition and set about trying to find a partner for the venture. I was introduced to Ari Techner through the former superintendent at Lookout Mountain, Mark Stovall. Ari and I hit it off and partnered in a venture to take over operations of the course.  Since that time, our partnership has expanded and includes Patrick Boyd as General Manager as well as a few others.” 

Once securing new ownership, Sweetens Cove took off on a consistent upward trajectory that even has it ranked above some major championship venues in certain publications.

The pot bunker to the left of Sweetens Cove’s fifth green, appropriately nicknamed “The Devil’s A**hole.” Photo credit: Kevin Livingood

Admittedly, arriving at Sweetens Cove for the first time can be a disorienting experience for the recovering country clubber. Meandering through a town of 3,000 people in the East Tennessee foothills, you find a wooden sign marking the entrance that guides you to a gravel parking lot with no marked spaces. Stumbling out of the car, you find a curious hunter green shed for a clubhouse that might lead you to question all the buzz you’ve seen on social media. The walk from your car to the clubhouse, though, provides the perfect perch to gaze out on the King Collins creation… and you start to realize that maybe there’s really something to this place.

When you embark on your journey, you encounter absolutely no resemblance to the mechanical, formulaic assembly of a typical, rubber-stamped golf course design. Instead, you’ll find massive waste areas, perfectly placed pot bunkers, and a movement to the land that captures the imagination. The greens are equally receptive to flop shots and bump-and-runs, but they demand a precise execution of either choice.

The bermudagrass fairways are relatively firm and generously-sized, but uneven lies are a common occurrence. Should you find yourself outside those fairways, prepare to take your medicine. Waiting for you there are those waste areas, as well as tall fescue and even clover and thistle in some areas. While some may scoff at such a notion, this is a microcosm of Sweetens Cove’s ethos. It’s a palace for the golfing purist: a minimalist, essential experience that harkens back to when golf geniuses like Old Tom Morris knew exactly where (and where not) to focus their energy. If something adds to the golfing experience, Sweetens Cove has it in spades. If it doesn’t add to the golfing experience, the folks at Sweetens Cove don’t bother.

Sweetens Cove course layout designed by Tom Young at Ballpark Blueprints. Image property of Ballpark Blueprints, Ltd.

The opening hole (pictured to the far left of the above image) is a par-5 of 563 yards. It’s a three-shot hole for most mortals, but your best chance of getting home in two is to start by carrying the bunker on the left about 270 yards off the tee. Be very careful about how you approach the green. It’s guarded by a gnarly pot bunker bordered by vertical railroad ties. The green on this hole is a foreshadowing of what’s to come on the next eight with bounding ridges and multiple potential pin locations that each provide a totally different perspective.

The greenside bunker at Sweetens Cove’s first hole, nicknamed “The Mitre” after its resemblance to the Pope’s hat. Photo credit: Kevin Livingood

The second hole is a par-4 of 375 yards, and the star of the show is the nastiest little pot bunker. It’s placed squarely in the middle of the fairway about 260 yards from the tee. If you miss it, you’re likely fine, but if you don’t… well, good luck. The smart play is hybrid off the tee to stay short of the bunker, leaving yourself a short iron into the green.

No. 3 is a par-5 of 582 yards. Feel free to let fly with the driver off the tee, but beware how you approach the green. The green is perched high above the fairway and guarded by a massive tree in front and a waste area to the left. If the pin is located on the left side of the green, you’re in for a surprise when you walk up to the flag. The ideal landing area isn’t much larger than a couple hundred square feet.

No. 4, King, is the only hole with a name. It’s a 169-yard par-3 according to the card, but the green is 90 yards long. The shot can play anywhere from 120-200 yards depending on pin location and the direction of the swirling winds. And did I mention the tee shot is blind from the tips?

View of the fourth hole, King, from the tee box. Photo credit: Rob Collins

No. 5 is a 293-yard par-4. For longer hitters, it’s reachable from the tee with the right wind, but be careful where you miss. Short right of the green is all waste area that is relatively escapable, though your second shot will likely be to a blind pin. Short left is another nasty pot bunker.

No. 6 is a massive 456-yard par-4 with a sweeping dogleg left that tempts you to hit a hard draw. What you are likely to find out after the fact is that a good portion of the fairway slopes to the left and into a water hazard that runs the length of the hole. This will be one of the hardest holes on the course for most golfers. The only way to miss this green and still be in play is to be short and/or right of it, but getting up and down from there will definitely test your nerves, skill, and imagination.

No. 7 is a 328-yard par-4. It’s all about what club you select off the tee. Driver straight at the flag (which must carry a bunker on the right) is aggressive but likely safe. A driver left will leave you with that dreaded 60-yard bunker shot, and driver right could be behind a tree. Be smart and hit a hybrid. If you miss the green left or right, you may waste a shot or two going back and forth due to the steep drop off on either side.

No. 8 was my personal nemesis. It’s a 387-yard par-4 that, in retrospect, places an emphasis on an accurately planned tee shot (notice a theme here?). By that I mean at the tee, you need to evaluate where the pin is and pick the club and line that will give you the best angle — while keeping in mind the location of the bunkers and trees that could impact your intended path.

The eighth green at Sweetens Cove. Photo credit: Rob Collins

No. 9 is an uphill, 148-yard par-3 with a massive waste area in front, another bunker beyond, and a back-right to front-left sloping green. Matt Cardis’ photo below from his @golfinyourstate Instagram account is taken from the No. 9 tee box.

A course with virtually no excess is a challenging proposition. Everything has to be in exactly the right place, as there’s nothing to divert your attention away from anything that doesn’t meet expectations. Sweetens Cove is definitely up to the task, forcing you to constantly zoom in and out mentally to evaluate the macro and micro of every single shot. There are no less than three shots that can be played from any given situation on the course, but you had better commit to the strategy you’ve chosen and execute or you will pay the price.

The entire journey is spent on the razor-thin edge between heroism and disappointment. Sure, there are elements of this designer and that designer; of links golf and American golf, but Sweetens Cove is truly a golf course without a parallel. It’s a place that serves as a refreshing counter-culture to the vast majority of 21st-century golf courses and, frankly, to the American lifestyle in general. In a world with so much excess, Sweetens Cove will remind you that if all you had left was just a fantastic golf course, all would still be very much right with the world.

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The Winds of Change At Shinnecock Hills

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Two-hundred and seventy-six. That’s the number of strokes it took for Retief Goosen to secure his second U.S. Open Title in 2004, but the number of strokes is the last thing anyone would remember from that year’s toughest test in golf. Take this article from ESPN’s David Kraft and Peter Lawrence-Riddell summing up the final round of Goosen’s triumph:

“The seventh green at Shinnecock Hills was so hard to play for the first two groups Sunday morning that USGA officials decided to water it between every pairing for the final round of the U.S. Open.”

Just as with the 1974 “Massacre at Winged Foot,” the 2004 U.S. Open will forever be remembered as the day the USGA dropped the ball. The USGA claimed that the seventh had been “inadvertently rolled” on Saturday. Walter Driver, chairman of the USGA Championship Committee at the time, told reporters on Saturday, “I found out after play was completed today that, for some reason, a different person on the grounds staff rolled that green today despite the orders that we had given not to roll the green.” Even a typically mild-mannered Jerry Kelly had harsh words, according to the same ESPN piece, “They lied [Saturday],” said Jerry Kelly, who finished with an 81 after shooting 71 Saturday. “Talked to the superintendent. Superintendent said, ‘Hey, I’m not getting in the middle of this. They told me to roll it.’”

Whether the grounds crew was told to roll the seventh green or not, it gave up three triple bogies in the first two groups, so the USGA watered it between each group for the rest of the day. As the 2018 U.S. Open returns to Shinnecock for the first time since that fateful day, the USGA looks to redeem itself this year. With some subtle changes, maybe they can.

In 2004, Shinnecock played 6,996 yards at par 70. In the past 14 years, there have been no major renovations to the course, but once the decision was made to bring the Open back to one of the founding clubs of the USGA, the American Governing body was determined to ensure Shinnecock was presented with its best foot forward. According to a Golfweek report from October of 2017, the following changes have been made to accommodate not only the tournament but the redemption of a reputation:

  • There are 17 new back tees that will stretch the course from the previous 6,996 yards to a total length of 7,445 yards.
  • The par-4 14th hole has been extended 76 yards and will now play 519 yards. The par-5 16th will now play 616 yards.
  • While the fairways will still be more generous than most U.S. Opens, they have been narrowed by Shinnecock’s standard. They will play between 28-32 yards on average.
  • The greens have not been recontoured, but on the greens with the “most severe contouring,” an extended collar of rough has been added between the edge of the greens and the greenside bunkers.

With the course is still expected to play at a par of 70, it will likely be a tougher test than 2017’s expose at Erin Hills, even if there is little wind. In 2004, all eyes were on the par-3 seventh on Sunday. From the time the first minute of Live From The U.S. Open airs on TV, all eyes will be on the same hole: 189 yards with a raised green that runs away from the players and to the right… but so much more.

As there always is with the U.S. Open, the course will be a character in the story more so than any other championship. Hale Irwin won his first of three majors (all U.S. Opens) at the “Massacre at Winged” with a score of seven over par, and 32 years after that championship Peter McCleery of ESPN was still writing about it. And with Shinnecock hosting the U.S. Open the year after Brooks Koepka swept the field with a 16-under par victory at a helpless Erin Hills, who knows what will happen as the horses are released from the gates on Sunday of this year’s U.S. Open?

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Courses

Turf Dreams: The Metropolitan Golf Club

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It was a new early morning, and we headed out to face another great golfing adventure. This time we were visiting the Metropolitan Golf Club. Right after we parked our car, we walked through the beautiful clubhouse that highlights the rich history of the course, which only adds to the build-up.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Over the years, the Metropolitan Golf Club has hosted seven Australian Opens, as well as the Australian PGA Championship, the Australian Masters, and the Victorian Open, to name a few. It’s widely recognized as one of the finest championship courses in all of Australia.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

Designed by engineer member J.B. MacKenzie, the farmland was transformed by the establishment of magnificent plantations of Australian native trees and shrubs, which is one of the things that struck us about this course along with its incredible turf and beautifully shaped bunkers.

The maintenance team is doing an excellent job here for sure, cutting the greens precisely to the bunker edge with hand-mowers to create flawless results. The fairways are also a true dream. They’re pure couch grass, and their pairing with fast bentgrass greens is a winning concept.

My favorite hole is the one pictured above. Just look at those shapes. I want to play it over and over again.

(C) Jacob Sjöman. jacob@sjomanart.com

If you’ve ever complained about bad lies on a fairway, you will most definitely remain silent on this course… because I won’t believe you! As you can imagine, the members are very proud of their club and speak highly of it to all who visit. And rightfully so!

If you would like to play the Metropolitan Golf Club, get in touch through its website to apply. If you’re not headed to Australia in the near future, you can see the course in action during the World Cup of Golf in November 2018.

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