Along with an über-zealous search for the perfect swing, avid golfers are on a never-ending quest for the ideal vacation. A golfer’s Holy Grail is not just a spike-tightening collection of fairways and greens, no sir. What makes the experience truly worthy is all that hedonistic other stuff—like exquisite dining, posh accommodations, can’t-miss recreation, Nikon-prompting landscapes and tempting side trips.
Which pretty much describes my unwavering affection for Wintergreen Resort, the four-season destination situated among central Virginia’s rambling Blue Ridge Mountains. When unforgettable memories are crucial to a golf vacation, this 11,000-acre playground located about 25 minutes southwest of Charlottesville has the goods.
In truth, I had known very little about Wintergreen Resort prior to a summer visit in 2007. I knew—from being a die-hard ski bum—that it offers one of the very few Alpine mountains in the South. Skiing is indeed a mainstay at Wintergreen: Its high elevation affords a November-to-March winter season with an impressive terrain of 25 slopes and trails systematically groomed for experts as well as beginners.
But what caught me by surprise were the après-winter services and amenities, led by a singular 45-hole golf facility bearing the design credentials of Rees Jones and Ellis Maples. Jones, who is perhaps best known as America’s “Open Doctor” due to his brilliant reworks of numerous major championship layouts, fashioned the 27-hole Stoney Creek Golf Course. And Maples, who was mentored by renowned architect Donald Ross and eventually orchestrated more than 70 routings, crafted the 18-hole Devils Knob layout.
With that as a teasing enticement, consider the following three-day itinerary:
Fly into Charlottesville, pick up a GPS-enabled rental car and make your way south toward the historic, unspoiled splendor of Nelson County. Buoyed by heart-thumping views of the Blue Ridge Mountains to the west and the James River to the east, the 35-mile route to Wintergreen offers a striking array of national landmarks, scenic overlooks, vineyards and cultural hotspots.
You’re near your final destination when on Route 151 you spy the Wintergreen’s tell-tale entrance marker, Stoney Creek Golf Course. Before ascending the resort’s precipitous mountain roadway, however, take a quick tour of the Wintergreen Winery in nearby Nellysford, one of eight vintners in the area. This particular winery corks an exquisite assortment of Cabernets, Rieslings and dessert wines, plus an acutely satisfying Chardonnay—the 2005 Black Rock Reserve—that earned a gold medal at last year’s Atlantic Seaboard Vinifera Wine Competition.
After checking into one of the resort’s premier-level rental homes—each appointed with most every luxury notion including spacious living rooms, kitchens and exterior decks—make an immediate beeline to the $4.5 million Wintergarden Spa and Wintergarden Aquatic/Fitness Center. Opened in December 2006, the stand-alone facility comprises 15 treatment rooms, salon, a complete line of premium Kertin Florian products, strength and conditioning training, yoga, indoor swimming and picture-window panoramas of the Shenandoah Valley.
The spa and fitness center are limited to guests 16 years and older, but parents needn’t stress: Wintergreen has an impressive menu of kids programs and specialty camps, anchored by the Out of Bounds recreational arena and the Dome, a $200,000 tented facility that’s decked out with killer Wii video stations, plasma TVs, table games and more.
Relaxed, rejuvenated and undoubtedly famished, it’s time to dine at the surf and turf-styled Devils Grill, one of four restaurants on property. Start with the curried butternut squash soup and follow with the grilled sea scallops, both spa cuisine favorites that are as delicious as they are healthy.
After a calorie burning warm-up at the resort’s award-winning clay and indoor tennis facility, grab a quick brunch breakfast at the casual Copper Mine restaurant before heading 2,500 feet downhill to the Stoney Creek Golf Club. Check out the immaculate Wintergreen Golf Academy and its new short game learning area, then get ready for a unforgettable afternoon on Wintergreen’s triple nine-hole routings.
Jones steeped the Monocan (3,500 yards from back tees), Shamokin (3,526 yards) and Tuckahoe (3,800 yards) nines in a tradition-bent, strategic design concept that works in concert with the Rockfish Valley’s unbridled topography. Oak, hickory, elm and towering pines line fairways and create splendid greensite amphitheaters, while pebbly creeks and swooping elevation changes ratchet-up the natural drama.
Among the more notable changes at the resort is the revamped Tuckahoe nine. The 12-month, $1 million renovation includes greens rebuilt to the architect’s original specifications, a tee-to-pin reseeding with new heat- and cold-tolerant grasses, and pushing the championship tees back nearly 300 yards.
“The additional yardage makes the course more challenging for better players,” explains Director of Golf Operations Sean Taylor, “but on the flip side we shortened the forward tees by 100 yards and built nine new junior tees. Now, youngsters can compete on a more equal footing with adults on all three nines.”
Another exciting golf test awaits up-mountain at Devils Knob. Nested among craggy rock outcroppings and thick deciduous forests that become riots of reds and yellows come autumn, the 6,700-yard routing is the highest-elevation golf course in Virginia: 3,828 feet above sea level. Translation: stunning panoramas and longer tee shots, plus summertime temperatures as much as 20 degrees cooler than in the lower valley.
And if the golf fails to satiate, there’s always horseback riding; bicycling; 30 miles of marked hiking paths, some joining the famous Appalachian Trail; canoeing and fishing on Lake Monocan; 40,000 square feet of meeting space; and an appealing variety of ownership opportunities for visitors who want to make their stay more enduring.
Wintergreen Winery is a sample of the region’s outstanding vintners, but this chip-and-sip tour merits grape expectations on the road back to Charlottesville. The illustrious Monticello Wine Trail is home to nearly two dozen boutique viticulturists, including Jefferson Vineyards (located on acreage once tilled by Thomas Jefferson), Kluge Estate (famed for its rosé and sparkling wines), Barboursville Vineyards (which produces an exquisite Nebbiolo vintage), Veritas Vineyard (for its gold-medal-winning Petit Verdot) and Blenheim Vineyards (a righteously organic labor of love for celebrated musician Dave Matthews).
The ideal vacation? Could be Wintergreen Resort has all the right stuff—it sure did for me. For additional information go online to www.wintergreenresort.com or call 800-266-2444. [TAP]