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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.
With plenty to do here, golf still seems to be the main attraction, and rightfully so. The Homestead is home to two high-caliber golf courses: The Old Course and The Cascades. Collectively, both courses have been around for over 200 years, yet have stood the test of time. Names such as Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones, William Flynn, and Rees Jones have built and rebuilt them. They have been updated and restored over the years including lengthening and adapting to keep up with changes in golf equipment technology.
One of the most famous golfers to ever play on the PGA Tour, Sam Snead, lived in or near Hot Springs for his entire life, and for several decades was the Homestead's golf pro. The Sam Snead Tavern – adjacent to The Homestead – contains memorabilia from his career. Rumor has it that Sneed landed the head pro job after he gave one of the member’s wives a lesson and she told the owners it was the best golf lesson she had ever had. He was offered the job the next day!
The Old Course was the resort’s first course and was established in 1892 when the first 6 holes were opened for play. That first hole is still in use today, making it the oldest first tee in continuous use in the nation. In 1919 things were going so well at the resort that they decided a second course was needed. A nearby farm that was owned by New York stockbroker Jacob Rubino was the chosen site for this new course. Several architects visited the site including A.W. Tillinghast, and all said the land was not suitable for golf. After studying the area, golf course architect William S. Flynn – known for his ability to take seemingly unplayable terrain and turn it into a memorable golf layout – felt that if the adjoining parcel of land could be purchased, plans to move forward with an 18-hole championship golf course could proceed. The land was purchased and on September 12, 1923, construction began on The Cascades.
Thanks to the routing skills of William Flynn, the Cascades is annually ranked as one of the top courses in the country. Because of the routing, a full variety of shot-making is required, and Flynn’s courses will test a player’s accuracy, carry, and length.
The Cascades is a unique layout for a couple of reasons. First, there are no houses on the course. Second, a mountain stream winds its way throughout the layout, bringing water into play on a few holes. Third, the course finishes 3-5-5-3. Enough said!
Course knowledge goes a long way in scoring well on the Cascades too. For example, golfers with course knowledge of The Cascades know that on the 274-yard par 4 3rd hole, the club to hit off the tee is NOT driver! Those of us with little or no course knowledge will try and force a driver between the trees on either side of the fairway. The green is perched upon a shelf, hence the name “Shelf.” Any approach shot that does not make it up the hill onto the putting surface may well roll back down.
The last four holes can make or break a great round. Number 15, “Vanity Fair” plays over 200 yards from any of the three Men’s Tees and doesn’t have a lot of trouble, other than its length.
Number 16, “The Hemlocks,” is a dogleg right par 5 that plays 488 yards from the White Tees and is one of the most photographed holes on the course. It’s not the longest par 5 but the dammed – or damned, if you hit into it - creek that runs in front of the green will have you thinking about going for it in two.
Number 17, “Cress Lakes,” is a dogleg left par 5 that plays 481 yards with that same creek running all the way down the right. Play your tee shot down the right side and leave yourself a clear shot into the green which is reachable with a good drive.
Number 18 is fittingly named “Taps.” It’s a 165-yard par 5 that plays slightly uphill to a large, well-undulated green. Par is a great way to end your round.
Whether you’re looking for a relaxing golf getaway with your spouse, or you’re the person in charge of planning golf trips, there are several reasons to consider The Omni Homestead Resort. First, obviously, is the tremendous golf courses and the opportunity to play on courses that have hosted a number of professional and national tournaments and championships. It’s not often you’ll find two courses of this caliber that both end with a par 3! Best of all, you don’t have to be an elite golfer to enjoy the courses. And, when things aren’t going well on the course, just look around and take in everything you see. I played in the spring and with tall trees everywhere, I can only imagine how beautiful it is in the fall.
The William Flynn Cascades course has certainly withstood the test of time, but I am surprised that it is still so highly rated. Not especially long, keep in mind it is a par 70.
The first hole is a welcoming uphill par four. Stay left of the fairway bunker off the tee. The 2nd is a long par four with another fairway bunker right. The fairway runs out about 120 yards out. The short third is a great birdie oppty. The hole leans right and is probably driveable, just not by me. Think about laying up to your favorite yardage. The long downhill 4th is considered the signature hole. The uphill climb from the 3rd green is rewarded with a scenic view. Take one less club and don’t hook it into the left bunker. The 5th is the longest hole on the course with a split fairway. I suggest playing it as a 3 shotter. The further right you are on the left fairway the easier your second and third shots will be. Deservedly the number one handicap hole. The 6th leans right but favor the left side. The hole is not that long and the more yardage you chew up off the tee will give you a higher loft to attack the pin that may be hiding behind the bunker on the left. The 7th is straight away, but the drive is out of a chute with two fairway bunkers right as well as front left and right. The 8th is the shortest par three. The front ends with a long downhill par four with one of the more generous landing areas.
The back starts with an uphill par four where the fairway runs out about 100 yards from the green. I loved the mid-length par 3 11th. It was an insta-birdie. I must have yanked my iron as I was 3” left of the hole. I then went into PBFU mode on 12. A hook into the creek left followed up with a lousy iron that left me in one of the cross bunkers about 100 yards out. Which I promptly yanked into the greenside bunker left. Good thing I sank the 6 footer to save triple. I also loved the long left leaning 13th. I found my inner resolve and did not over cook my drive and was fortunate enough to miss the sequential bunkers that work up the left side starting about 100 yards out. While I would have been happy with a par, chip in birds are nice. The 14th is long straightaway par four with a green protected by three bunkers. The 15th is the longest par three and sadly for me the pin was right. The hole felt like a dogleg right to an unreformed hooker. The 16th is almost the definition of a risk/reward hole. Dogleg right with three bunkers on the inside elbow and one on the outside. There is a pond right in front of the green. Choose wisely. My advice is play it as a 3 shotter and pick your yardage. The 17th is an opposite hand pat five with a lot less trouble and perfect for hookers like me. The last hole is a beauty. I know many people do not like finishing on a par three, but I certainly liked this one. Downhill with a slight water carry to a green framed with bunkers front right and left.
I enjoy the Cascades.
Solid mountain course with sloping terrain and mountain streams. Has some wonderful holes especially on the back nine. i think it's overrated on the national ranking lists, but it is a fun layout and very enjoyable.
I firmly agree with Mr. Berle's comments but rate the course a little better. You start off with three rather pedestrian par 4 holes but starting at the downhill par 3 4th hole you are in for a treat through the remainder of your round. There has been significant tree removal since my last trip there in the early 2000s opening up the vistas and bringing the rambling creeks into play. This course has a beautiful set of par 3s most notably the short 8th with its infinity green. The course features strategic bunkering throughout. Conditions on the day I played were superb (9/72020) but recent rains prevented the course from playing firm and fast as stated by others. The first 3 holes just leave you a little dissatisfied which is a shame since the rest of the course is so strong. Coupled with the historic wonderful resort, it should be on your short list.
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