Perched amongst the trees at the foothills of Virginia's Allegheny Mountains lies the Homestead. It bills itself as America’s premier mountain resort and a haven for the sports enthusiast, so it seems wholly appropriate that the legendary William S. Flynn, who was a keen athlete in his youth, designed the Cascades, the Homestead's flagship course.
The mountain setting is truly delightful and the Cascades course looks totally natural with its ponds, streams and slopes. But the reality of the matter is that the Cascades required a great deal of manufacturing and Flynn used tons of dynamite to blast his fairways through the limestone. This was pioneering course architecture in the Roaring Twenties and eventually in 1923, after more than 12 months in the making, the Cascades opened for play.
If you use the naturally sloping terrain you can take advantage of the extra roll, so you may find that your score on the Cascades will improve the second or third time round. The Cascades certainly has magnetic appeal to golfers of all standards who return to this fabulous resort year after year to try and master the stern but totally unique Cascades. Sam Snead was born in Ashwood, near Hot Springs and he learnt his golf at the Homestead. We suspect few people will ever play the Cascades course better than Slammin' Sammy.
Robert Trent Jones renovated the Cascades course in 1961 but to maintain the integrity of Flynn's original 1923 blueprint, the course was closed over winter in 2005 for an extensive face-lift that concentrated on restoring the bunkers. In 2017, the course was enhanced further following a tree removal programme, which exposed creeks running along several fairways, thus improving strategy and shot selection.
Controversy! I understand the Cascades course has been renovated multiple times since I played it to remove some trees and redo some greens, but even back then it was ranked well inside the top 100 courses in the United States by Golf Digest. I did not feel as though the course lived up to that reputation.
There’s a saying “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression” applies, in this case, to golf courses. The first few holes here at Cascades – particularly holes #2 through #6, excepting the magnificent “humpback” par five #5 – are simply too narrow and bland for my tastes. The rough was brutally penal for many fairways being so firm and difficult to hold. Case in point: #2, a long par four where the fairway slopes hard from left-to-right. My driver landed nicely in the left center of the fairway, and I watched as it trickled all the way into the rough on the right side. There were a few other fairways (#3, #7) where it felt like the same thing could have happened as well.
On the outward side, I liked the aforementioned #5 as well as #8, a par three with a tiny green seemingly falling off into oblivion, and #9, a big and brawny par four with all sorts of slopes and a small, bunkered green, but the rest of the front nine just did not do it for me.
The inward nine gets a lot better as the course gets down into the flatter portion of the creek valley – #12 and #13 are back-to-back excellent long par fours, and #16 and #17 are risk-reward par fives that are extremely fun to play (though by that point I was so flustered I made back to back double bogeys). #18 is an interesting finishing hole, a long par three over a pond with a bit of a false front to the heavily bunkered green.
Maybe the late 1990s were just a bad time for golf courses. I actually played Cascades on the same trip I played Pinehurst #2, which I was also unimpressed with in its 1999 state, and my 4-ball review of that course drew some criticism on this site. But with Cascades, I don’t think the subsequent changes have been quite as drastic as Pinehurst #2’s, so I think that this review probably holds more water to the course’s current state. As I postulated on my review of Golden Horseshoe’s Gold Course, I believe that it as well as Primland – the other two of the three consensus best public courses in Virginia – are better golf courses than Cascades. Cascades is a good golf course in a beautiful area – and attached to a spectacular mountain resort – but I don’t believe it’s worthy of its unquestioned place on Top 100 lists.
Absolutely amazing from start to finish no imperfections to be seen and a wonderfully laid out mountain course! Worth the drive!
Easily one of the most underrated golf courses I’ve ever played. Designed by the renowned William Flynn, who’s also known for the #1 ranked golf course in New York - Shinnecock Hills, the Cascades has classic course elements like pothole bunkering coupled with bent grass turf from tee to green. It’s also walking friendly and boasts a strong caddie program. The course measures only 6,667 which is very short and probably the most crucial element contributing to its low ranking, but keep in mind the Cascades is only a par 70 and the rating is 72.8 meaning a pro would shoot almost 3 strokes over par on average.
Flynn does an outstanding job with routing and green presentation. The golf course starts with several blind tee shots, but nothing too severe that would push a first time player into unrecoverable trouble from an errant drive. The first few par 4’s are very short, but Flynn protects the holes with small targeted greens that tend to run between 11 – 13 on the Stimpmeter. I found myself with several 3 putts until finally getting a handle on the speed.
The course’s back nine is the crown jewel encompassing three par 3’s, two par fives and is probably the best collective nine holes I’ve played anywhere. Around the club house you’ll find holes 14 through 18 routed into and away from the historic building’s back patio until the final 18th places you at the entrance. Having played Mike Strantz’s Bulls Bay previously, the routing reminded me of Bull’s final stretch making me wonder if Mike derived inspiration from Flynn’s Cascades.
My final thought is that this golf course could be back in the top 100 if it received a few aesthetic makeovers. Many of the more classic layouts, such as the Cascades, have upgraded their bunkering with a more jagged edge design and made use of native grass placements to create a more dramatic eye popping style. I’d be very curious to see what Tom Doak or Coore & Crenshaw would do here. Either way, the course is immaculately conditioned and the classic Flynn design is special. With the Cascades being a resort open to the public, I urge all golf players and enthusiasts to take advantage.
It’s amazing that Cascades stays on the Top 100 at only 6,679 yards with a rating of 73 and slope of 137. The first few holes are very plain. On the third tee we looked at each other and wondered how the course rated Top 100 status. We never asked ourselves that again, because the course just kept getting better and better. Tee-shot accuracy is essential. In addition to the overall elevation changes, there are many fairways with severe left and right elevation changes as well; a drive landing in the wrong spot could easily cause your ball to roll all the way across the fairway into the rough on the other side. You could spend a lot of time looking for a golf ball that you were sure was right under your feet. Cascades has five wonderful par 3s (including the closing hole, which is unusual) and only three pas 5s, but the par 5s are fantastic – especially 16 and 17, which have a creek running through them and spectacular mountain ridges on either side. The greens were in great condition for so early in the season. Larry Berle