MEADOWS OF DAN, Va. -- Have you ever discovered some really awesome place -- a restaurant, bar, maybe a park or a hiking trail -- that you've unwitting passed over and over again until someone told you about it? No doubt you have. And no doubt you know there's a cycle you go through when you learn about said place.
First you can't believe you hadn't heard of it.
Then you go try it out, and it's as great as was billed.
Next, you're dumbfounded how you lived your life without this place.
Then you're disappointed in yourself that you didn't discover this place on your own and much, much sooner.
It all ends with you vowing to make this great thing more a part of your life. Whether you do or not is up to you, but that great place is going to be there, waiting for your when you're ready.
Primland Resort in southwestern Virginia is that kind of place.
I've driven past Primland -- or at least the general region where the 12,000 acres site amid the Blue Ridge Mountains -- about a dozen times. My family and I have made annual treks to Tennessee a part of our summers for years now, going to see my in-laws in the middle of the state. We drive past Blacksburg, home to Virginia Tech. We see signs for Roanoake, and then we go through Bristols in Virginia and Tennessee on the back stretch of a 10-hour drive.
Never once did I stop to pull off and meander my way through Floyd, one of Virginia's great small towns, and then back through some smaller towns and hollers to Primland. Honestly, I didn't know the place even existed until I was invited. I haven't played mountain-top golf in a while, and the resort looked gorgeous, so I hopped in my SUV and made my way down Interstate 81. When I got to Primland, my gas tank was on E. Maybe below E. You see, I trusted Google Maps to get me to Primland and just assumed, city slicker I am, that there would be a gas station in the final 40 miles. Google Maps didn't take me past one. When I got to the North Gate, then, I was in a bit of a panic, but the very nice woman who welcomed me told me just where to go when I was done my overnight stay. It helped me relax for the 6-mile, incredibly picturesque drive up to the Primland lodge.
Arriving at the lodge, Primland didn't seem like a busy place.
There are only 50-some guest rooms on the property. The lodge has 30 or so, and there are various homes on the property to use. There's also a trio of cliff-hanging luxury treehouses that would make both the kid and adult in you giddy. The lodge, opened in 2009, is huge and spacious, but there aren't scores of people running around all day long. It's mostly a place for couples, families and the occasional guys or girls getaway weekend. After I checked in and made my way to my top-floor room in the lodge, I stopped in my tracks, fawning over the mountain view through floor-to-ceiling glass in the lodge. I could've sat there all day, drink in hand, very content. But that 18th hole I saw in that view was calling me. It was time to play.
I got dressed and made my way to the attached silo, which, on the first floor, is home to the pro shop. On all the higher floors, it's for Primland's dedicated observatory, where guests can go to the top at night, enjoy a beverage and snack and watch ourselves move in the universe. We still had a good 4 hours of daylight left, so myself and head pro Brian Alley hit the 2006 Donald Steel design.
As you'd expect, there aren't muni levels of people on the tee sheet at Primland. They're resort guests, and a busy day in November is having maybe 60 people during the day. On a pristine day like we had, that was a good problem to have.
The Highland Course, as its called, has a friendly beginning. It kicks off with a dogleg-right, downhill par 5, where the secret sauce is hitting a cut over the bare corner and toward a gorgeous rock formation just yards off the fairway. The ball rolls downhill into position to take on a chance at an eagle, but not before stopping to gaze through the cutout in the forest to look at the Dan River, which weaves through the mountain range.
After a mid-iron par 3 at the second, the 480-yard par-5 third is reachable with a pair of well-struck irons. The massive slope to catch a tee shot can give most any player an opportunity to get home in two with a good tee shot.
The fourth hole is a 130-yard par 3 playing slightly uphill to one of the more fun green complexes on the course. It's smaller than the other modern-size putting surfaces throughout, but a short hole should demand that kind of accuracy.
The par-4 fifth is a 320-yard par 4 going back downhill from the treehouses, with a landing area leaving a surprisingly demanding approach shot that cannot come up short or you'll feel like you're playing pinball when the ball comes back to your feet.
The sixth is the third par 5 to get things going. It goes uphill and to the right a smidge, and it's reachable, too, with a good drive.
By now, you've hopefully realized a few things. The Bentgrass greens are quick and true. The flagsticks are generally shorter than you'd normally find. The Audubon sanctuary rating of the course makes you feel a part of the bigger environment around you.
After six holes, you're probably feeling better than you normally would on most other courses. I sure did. Steel lulled me into a false sense of security, and then Brian told me the seventh hole was the hardest hole in the world.
Looking at the tee shot, it's hard to argue with him. It's a 470-yard, mildly downhill hole with a huge bunker complex on the right side as the hole turns left. On the left, there's no bailout as the mountain terrain takes over and takes your ball with it. The two ways to play are to hit a long iron or fairway wood shy of the bunker and hope you have a long-iron game that day, or you bust a driver with a tight little draw off the bunkers and let that sucker run forever. Brian tried the former; I tried the latter. Fortunately, I pulled it off. But the approach shot to a green sloping back-to-front (and with competing slopes on the two prominent tiers) didn't make that long drive feel all that much better. A safe par felt really great.
I got a little surprise on the tee at the short ninth hole. Beverage and crackers in hand from the cart girl, I turned, looked down and saw a snake head. I recoiled. So did the snake. Then I saw it was so tiny, maybe 14 inches long. But Brian warned me. That was a baby rattlesnake, and they apparently don't have the same venom control of their parents. I was fortunate to notice. But wildlife -- emphasis on wild -- is a reality at Primland. There are snakes, including copperheads and rattlers, bears and other critters you won't normally see where you live.
Driving back to the clubhouse after the front nine -- it's carts only at Primland for some obvious reasons -- Brian and I decided to go for it and try to finish the round. We had been scheduled for nine and were pushing for all 18. I'm glad we did. The weather was perfect. Just cool enough with a mountain breeze.
We stopped for a minute to check out Primland's strong practice facility for those who need some work pre- and post-round, with multiple practice greens and a full-length range where the player hits toward distant mountaintops.