Donald Steel's Primland celebrates nature in Virginia
Primland’s Highland Course in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia is a place so quietly spectacular, it needs no embellishment. On rare occasions this kind of land is paired with a golf architect who understands how to build a course to complement its environment.
“Some courses are almost built to a formula rather than to suit the land,” says Donald Steel, the renowned British architect who was given the task of designing Highland. Although he had 12,000 acres to play with, Steel decided the best place to do it was along the top of the mountain accessed by a steep climb up a rough logging road.
“When I learned the land on top had been farmed, I knew we already had a good base in place for a golf course,” said Steel. “It was wildly exciting. How many architects have a chance to work with land like this?”
Working from a topographical map, Steel routed the course to the outer extremes of the ridge, revealing views of Dan River Gorge and the twin Pinnacles of Dan. “The only hole we had to blast through was the first hole,” says Steel.
The first few holes are cut through trees and valleys while holes #8 and #9 wind up through the valley. The back nine is more open with trees framing the holes. “There is good variety here,” says Steel.
Primland is vast, pristine. Its main lodge and golf course are a seven mile drive from the north gate to the top where in whatever direction you look, you see mountains, ravines and valleys. And except for the lodge, fairway cottages, a few mountain cottages and utility buildings, there are no other structures, no real estate developments.
“Even when people are given very good land, they sometime feel they have to turn it upside down and put it back together again. But why mess around with something God created,” says Steel, who has been a golf course architect since 1965. Forming his own firm in 1987, he has built more than 70 new courses in 20 countries including four in the U.S. — The Carnegie Abbey Club, Newport, RI, Cherokee Plantation, S.C., The Vineyard Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and Primland.
“Not the least of golf’s powerful attributes is that it affords access to some of the most beautiful place on earth,” he says. Certainly Primland is such a place.
Steel is the only architect to have had a hand in the design of every course played in the British Open Championship. A member of the Royal and Ancient since 1962, he also provided the master plan for the modern St. Andrews.
Designed as a sporting retreat, Primland is much more than a golf resort with great fishing, hunting, hiking, disc golf, horseback riding, kayaking, mountain biking, sporting clays, ATV tours, tree climbing, geo-catching and tennis. There is an impressive spa where the spirit of the local Native Americans is evoked in the treatments and products used while an on-site astronomer offers high tech stargazing.
With about 60 guest bedrooms between the Lodge, the Fairway Cottages, a handful of Mountain Homes, and tree houses, that adds up to 200 acres for each guest.
Walking into the luxuriously spacious bathroom in Woodpecker East, a gracefully-sculptured white tub big enough for two holds center stage in front of expansive windows that look out to the farthest mountain peaks. A push of a button, and the shades quietly lower.
You may be up in your treehouse or a fairway cottage in your own private world, but with the use of your own golf cart, you can get just about anywhere you want to go. Efficient shuttle service is also provided.
It’s kind of like going to summer camp where adults can have as much fun as the kids but instead of sleeping on a canvas cot, you’re snoozing on a thick luxurious mattress made up with Frette linens and goosedown duvets. Instead of showering under a spigot, your bathroom has a huge glass-enclosed shower and perhaps a deep soaking tub for two.
And instead of grilling burgers over an open fire, you dine on artfully prepared cuisine made from locally-produced ingredients like wild game and vegetables. And…. you can roast marshmallows around the fire pit on the patio.
Fly into Greensboro, Roanoke or Charlotte.
(Below Donald Steel (l.) and Head Pro Brian Alley.
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