The late Didier Primat – French billionaire and family member of the Schlumberger oil field services company – was the driving force behind the up market Primland Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, having previously purchased thousands of acres of land during the late 1970s. Daytime sporting activities at the resort include shooting, fishing, horse riding and swimming but for those who fancy trying something totally different to unwind in the evening, there's an observatory dome attached to the new Lodge that allows residents to indulge in some nocturnal star gazing.
Martin Ebert – previously with Donald Steel's design company and now in partnership with Tom Mackenzie – laid out the fairways here along the tops of ridges and through valleys with holes offering sensational views of the Dan River Gorge, the Pinnacles of Dan and the North Carolina Piedmont. In order to achieve an optimum routing, rock was blasted on the par five holes at the 1st and 17th – now that's what you call an architect moving mountains to get what he wants!
The Highland Course offers big budget mountain resort golf for a very affordable green fee and, for golfers who choose to play off the back markers, the layout provides a real test of golf as indicated by a strong slope rating of 145. Four of the five par three holes require a heroic tee shot to be played across a gully from tee to green but the severity of this challenge is counterbalanced at other holes where sympathetic green sites allow a running approach to be played.
Martin Ebert, course architect, wrote the following article exclusively for us:
I carried out all of the design work for Primland while working for Donald Steel & Company although I think that there have been some changes to the short game area and practice ground when the Lodge was constructed after the course was opened. This was one of the most special projects which I have ever been involved with. The location, the site, the brief, the budget and the result were all as ideal as you can imagine. It got even better with the Golf Digest Best Public New Course award in 2007.
Over 12,000 acres of the Blue Ridge Mountains were available for the creation of a course but that proved to be a real challenge such were the dramatic undulations of the site. In the end a stunning area was selected at the top of the mountains, on a series of ridges providing just enough room for 18 holes. The mountain top location has resulted in truly breathtaking views down into steep sided valleys many hundreds of feet below.
Hole 10 is one of the more difficult par fours but there are other candidates for hardest hole on the course. The 7th is tough even though it is downhill, the 13th is very demanding in terms of length and accuracy and the 18th requires a drive where only a perfect strike will do.
The 10th plays along the contour and required a large cut and fill to create a level enough fairway with the main danger being losing balls down the bank to the right of the hole. However, we like to think that the finished result looks natural in the landscape. If the drive finds the fairway and avoids the sand on the right side, an inviting shot awaits with the green framed by a diagonal line of bunkers running into the approach from the right and a small pot bunker set in at the left front of the green.
Contenders for signature hole at Primland would have to be the first and last holes. The second shot at the 1st has the Pinnacles of Dan in the background and introduces the golfers to the amazing views they will enjoy throughout their round. The 18th has the most terrifying tee shot with the steepest hillside imaginable to the right and the most amazing views.
The course was constructed to the highest standards with bent grass used on greens and fairways. The greens were designed to be large with plenty of undulation and the shaping of green surrounds had to be concentrated upon to attain a random, old-fashioned look.
Marcus Terry was the shaper. I felt that it was essential to have someone who knew my style to be shaping the greens, surrounds, approaches and bunkers and Marcus did not disappoint. The US contractor, Landscapes Unlimited, was excellent too but they said that they could not have done with a bulldozer what Marcus achieved with an excavator. It was a meeting of two philosophies and shaping methods.
Primland Resort is located in a remote area of southwestern Virginia where peace, beauty and solitude abound. As we drove the meandering 2900 foot climb up Mountain Top Road to our cottage, I could literally felt the pressures of the daily grind receding. There is definitely something therapeutic about getting ‘away from it all’. Surrounded by unspoiled wilderness with an abundance of wildlife, it was evident why these 14,000 acres of wooded countryside would appeal to golfers, hikers, hunters, fisherman and ATVers alike.
The conditioning of this course is second to none and the huge greens are fast and true. Every hole here would be a ‘signature hole’ at many other golf courses. Renowned British golf course architect Donald Steel has done an amazing job of allowing the natural terrain to dictate the layout. The course starts off par 5, par 3, par 5, par 3 and then traverses through a forested plateau, around cliff-sides and across cavernous valleys. Steel attested to the fact that “This is my first course that I had to make easier versus harder”. Over dinner I got to learn more about his vision. “There is a remoteness about Primland, a sense of escape that is special. Golf courses have been built in every landscape imaginable but only rarely on mountain peaks” said Steele who admitted that this is his first mountain design. “Primland sits on top of the world, enjoying scenic views that stretch the vocabulary” and I couldn’t agree more! Mr. Steel claims that “it is difficult to compare a links-style design to a parkland or mountain course versus an ocean course. The architect still has to design a layout that is indigenous to the terrain”.
From my experience, I like all styles of courses that fit into their natural environment but I must confess that the peace and tranquility of being secluded in the mountains is like no other. This is a “not-to-be-missed” experience. For a complete story visit http://golftravelandleisure.com/2014/08/05/golf-in-primland-virginia/