It's 8:30 on a Saturday morning, and Jay Haas is in his element.
Haas is on the driving range at Primland, Auberge Resorts Collection, and he's going over the fundamentals of the grip -- a foundational piece of the golf swing. The man's CV commands attention: Haas holds the record for the most cuts made in a PGA Tour career, and it's unlikely to be touched within most of his audience's lifetimes.
The former Presidents Cup captain has what he calls a "two-knuckle" grip -- meaning you can see two knuckles looking down at the grip. It's a neutral position from which he is smoothly pounding ball after ball. Interspersed between shots, Haas is entertaining variations of the same question from a crowd of about 40 people participating in the Haas Skills Challenge.
Three or four different ways, mere mortal golfers are asking specifically what Haas does to hit a cut or a draw. Does he change his grip, his path, both, none?
Haas is a patient man, working through his swing philosophy that he can gently cut the ball with a weaker bottom hand on his grip and pull of a modest draw by changing his hand position in the opposite, stronger direction.
This is just the start of a full morning and afternoon for Haas, who is going to then go over to the resort's short-game area and walk through wedge-play fundamentals before getting into the full swing back at the range. Later on, he'll play a few holes with each participant in what amounts to a crash course.
A crash course, though, implies intensity, pressure and feeling uncomfortable. That's antithetical to Haas and Primland. If there's a place to be overwhelmed with how to fix your golf game, this is the place.
Primland sits atop a piece of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Roanoke, Va., as part of a 12,000-acre parcel that makes up the resort holdings. The 20-minute, 25 mph speed-limit drive that I make from the resort's North gate is a winding teaser. There are forest cutouts to showcase the surrounding Blue Ridge and the breadth just off the two-lane road. Guests pass by the horse stables and disc golf, as well as the various cottages, some available for guests. The payoff is at the top of the peak, with the main hotel.
The hotel is very much a European vision of a ski lodge, with gorgeous exposed wood almost everywhere -- except for where complementing slate covers. The resort hotel has just 33 rooms, all with their own unique dimensions, nooks and crannies. The décor is decidedly luxurious and unlike almost any hotel in America. Built before home-automation entered the lexicon, most everything in the room can be controlled via wall switch -- particularly lighting. Big, comfortable beds are a respite, while the bathrooms have retractable privacy walls that can give a tub-sitting guest an outstanding, relaxing view of the mountain-side.
Primland also has other outstanding accommodations, including real-life treehouses that were imported from Europe, disassembled and reassembled to offer Blue Ridge views guests can practically touch. Cottages and condo-style units are golf-course adjacent, offering plenty of space for larger parties, while still largely out of view for golfers.
For golfers, the Donald Steel-designed Highland Course, which opened in 2006, is a much of a pleasant shock to the system as the rest of the resort.
Routed brilliantly around the surrounding mountainous landscape, the course features three par 5s in the first six holes. The opener plays out to a small rock outcropping before turning downhill and hard right toward the green, with a cutout to reveal the Pinnacles of Dan -- sharply shaped small peaks that share the name of Meadows of Dan, the town in which Primland is located. Playing the course with Haas the day prior to the clinic, he's quick to point out that hitting the green is a bad idea. With quick, firm putting surfaces, the Highland Course challenges the golfer to place the ball outside of their comfort zone.
As we get to the green, Haas is pointing out the short flagsticks, complete with an on-brand wood finish. Haas, who has been an ambassador for the resort going back to 2010, doesn't hold that title in name only. He has lots of fun facts about the resort, its history and features. He explains that the short sticks are an homage to the Scottish roots of Donald Steel.
He takes time on the par-3 fourth hole to point out the treehouses, explaining the ownership's skepticism about their success. It's easy to see, though, why they're tremendously popular.
Naturally, a course routed around the edge of a mountain top is going to feel somewhat tight. Between the obvious edges and the tall trees through which the course moves, Steel easily switches between wowing and intimidating.
Haas is not intimidating. He's accommodating, encouraging and gregarious. He tells stories that span his life in golf, from time with his uncle Bob Goalby, to getting worked into a pasting by Sam Snead before a PGA Championship practice round, to becoming the No. 1 at Wake Forest and finding his footing with Curtis Strange. He talks about his family golf center in Greenville, S.C., where he has made his home for decades. He's a happy grandfather -- still hoping for more grandkids -- who seems to still derive joy from the game.
Completely unprompted, Haas is videoing swings from our group. He's not obligated whatsoever to help us, but he likes it. He wants to see people, lifelong golfers or new to the sport, have more fun by getting more out of their games. It's hard to overhaul a game in an afternoon, but he cheers on each shot that shows improvement.
I have long struggled to hit a cut. It goes back to the grip, and mine is stronger than average. Haas took the time to walk me through how I can more comfortably work the ball left-to-right. I've used the tip with success several times since. The point Haas makes in the clinic echoes: With good fundamentals, a golfer can pull off most any shot they need.
Haas is happy to share that message. As part of his deal with the resort, he comes up four days per year to do clinics and outings of various kinds. However, he's happy to connect with golfers even when he's at the resort for fun, when he's there with his wife or his kids and grandkids. Haas said he's still somewhat unsure how the relationship came about in the first place, but it's pretty clear that Haas' M.O. lines up with the resort.
After a long day of golf, our foursome split up, and it was time for dinner. I wasn't really in the mood for a dressy dinner, even though the resort's Elements restaurant has a tremendous menu. The 19th Hole, with a (decidedly upscale) sports-bar atmosphere, was more my speed. The accommodating staff let us order from Elements to eat there. The prime rib was cooked wonderfully, with kale and hen of the woods mushrooms that were amazing.
The delightful contrast of Primland is that it's an incredible luxury resort staffed by people who salt of the earth. Director of Golf Brian Alley and Head PGA Professional Jeff Yost were welcoming and made sure to check in on us to ensure we had everything we needed. Sadie and Ashleigh took care of our party at The 19th Hole, with lots of laughs shared. I talked some baseball with Jeremy, one of the bar managers, and we commiserated our tragic fandoms. Sometimes upscale places have an uncomfortable air about them, and Primland is refreshingly not one of those destinations. The guest can make it what they want it to be.
If you know, you know about Primland. There's a reason the resort welcomes so many repeat guests. From the accommodations, to the golf, to the sunsets, to seeing the night's sky in the observatory, to the food, to the wide variety of things to do, Primland represents a special experience that will draw you back again.