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.
I think the 2nd would have to be my favourite par three on the course due to its downhill nature and the views to the valley to the right. However, the (shortest) 4th has great views to its right and the 8th is a great downhill hole to a green protected by streams. The 12th is tough and the 14th was only just possible, playing across a huge drop, but it made the whole of the back nine work as the 13th ends up in a corner of the site and this was the only way out.
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.
Driving to Primland is very much like going to another world. From the northeast on the appropriately named Busted Rock Road, you climb and climb through a dense forest for what seems like hours (it’s really only about 15 minutes) until you go around a curve and you’re on top of the massive lodge and clubhouse building.
The course itself is spectacular yet nicely understated – the greens are enormous, which the short flagsticks and smallish greenside bunkering accentuate, but the fairways aren’t quite as generous in some places due in part to the limited level ground the architect had to work with. The routing takes advantage of some absolutely spectacular views in all directions of the canyon carved by the Dan River and associated rock formations.
Notable holes include: #3, a reachable par five with a dangerous semi-blind tee shot, #7, a long, downhill par four, #8, a majestic downhill par three, #13, a long, uphill par five with a massive three-tiered green complex, #15, a short, tight par four with another huge green falling off a cliff to the right. The finishing three holes are all worthy of mention as well – two difficult long par fours bisected by a par five, with the home hole featuring some of the best views of the valley on the course.
Primland is pricey and difficult to get to, but it’s an absolutely beautiful golf course in a unique setting, and thus well worth visiting.
Played July 6, 2013
We played Primland in the summer of 2017. The remoteness and serenity on this course were memorable. The views right behind green #1 set the tone for the round looking out into the gorge. It was apparent right from the get go that this place was special. Steele did a fantastic job of not overdoing it and using some of the natural terrain the mountains had to offer. I'm sure quite a bit of land was still moved but it didn't at all feel artificial and there wasn't any overbunkering or unecessary quirkiness added. The conidtioning was SUPERB and I mean top notch, one of the best conditioned golf courses that I've ever played. Without question the best in regards to being public access. It's a bit of a trek to get up the mountain but a wonderful experience and if you are in need of peace and quiet in your life, this is your play. Some of the cabins they had on the course were in very remote locations. I would have loved to have stayed the night on the property having seen it. The clubhouse was cool as well, this place is a no brainer. Don't hesitate to book a trip.
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/