Meadows of Dan, VA – It’s hard to stand on the first tee at The Highland Course At Primland, amidst the mighty Blue Ridge Mountains, and not take your eye off the ball. You will be forgiven in the course of the next 18 holes if one of your chip shots disappear into the wild blue yonder, such are the scenic distractions that make this course top-flight in more ways than one.
Designed by Donald Steel, considered by many to be the pre-eminent links golf course architect in the world, The Highland Course At Primland stands out in his portfolio of properties for its variety of mountain-top challenges.
“There is a remoteness about Primland, a sense of escape, that is special. Golf courses have been built in every landscape imaginable but only rarely on mountain peaks,” says Steel of his handiwork.
“Primland sits on top of the world, enjoying scenic views that stretch the vocabulary and with a design of the course that is very different,” he adds.
“Surprisingly the highest point had once been fertile farmland although outcrops of rock were present in places. The result of our efforts was the forging of invigorating variety throughout the 18 holes, closely cut areas around greens, use of bent and fescue grasses to give fast surfaces everywhere, challenging driving and bunkers that really are bunkers,” he said.
Setting aside the beautiful environment, there are no vast carries and not a single lake. Not many modern courses in the U.S. can claim that but The Highland Course has been built on traditional values, that golf course architecture is an art rather than a formula.
Here is a hole-by-hole description by Donald himself:
Two things stand out straightaway. You drive well at The Highland Course or perish; and stunning views offer comfort, if you don’t. The 1st owes its existence to rock blasting necessary to achieve access for the fairway. Evidence remains but the other main feature is the downhill second shot (or third or fourth!) to an angled green with a spectacular backdrop.
Four of the course’s five par threes comprise negotiating valleys with the tee shots. It is indicative of their all or nothing nature but they are wonderfully invigorating and satisfying when you hit the shot to match.
A drive onto or over the ridge is the first requirement of a hole that can be tackled boldly or in stages. For the better players, distance is not a problem. A touch of daring will result in reaching the green in two but, for the remainder, discretion and judgment are sounder allies. You need to be sure of carrying the creek to justify the risk. There are many ways of making par.
An elevated perch provides the perfect platform for an inviting tee shot that falls within everyone’s compass. Control is the watchword, control with the accuracy to match. There is nothing to beat a short, short hole with an interesting green. This is among the best.
Golf is a better game played downhill than up. High tees arouse temptation. The fairway looks impossible to miss. However, theory and practice rarely go hand in hand. A smooth swing should set up the prospect of a pleasing four but don’t be too ambitious with the drive.
An ideal par 5, calling for more than just a fine drive which, nevertheless, is the key. For those who cannot get home in two – the vast majority- a well positioned second shot is essential in order to leave a pitch that is not too demanding.
A hole that has everything. Stunning views, an air of freedom, an inviting drive and a green that makes an attractive target but it gives nothing away. Fours have to be earned. Fairway bunkers from the tee will ensnare the longer hitters who stray only a touch while other drives must be well positioned if ambitions are not to be limited.
Beware, looks can be deceiving and looks can kill. Consult your yardages. Enough club is essential. All the trouble is in front of the green- oh yes, and on the left and right! The only safe place to be is the green. Take aim, get set, fire. As an aide memoire, remember an old musketry rule, “Lights up, sights up, lights down, sights down”. Roughly translated, it means, in bright sunshine, the green looks closer. In dim light, it looks further away.
A comfortable length par 4 set in the confines of an ample valley. What you see is what you get except for a green that is wider than it is deep.
A striking contrast to the front nine is readily apparent on the 10th. The fact that it is a tough par 4 is not what strikes the difference. There is more of an open feel. Carrying the cross bunkers in front of the green holds the secret of success. In order to do so with comfort, a long drive is a pre-requisite. Without the luxury, don’t get greedy. Cut your losses.
A classic dogleg with decision making on the tee for everyone. Only the longest should favour the tight line down the left. The right hand route can broaden the angle and help negotiate the trees that form the dogleg.
One of the features of The Highland Course is the closely cut areas around greens and on the approaches, allowing almost every club in the bag to be used. Has something in common with a course in England where the hardest part is said to be the second shots on the short holes. The green on the 12th is reachable but nothing less than the best will do.
Make sure your metal woods are in full, working order on the course’s longest hole. There is nothing hidden from the tee but don’t spare the drive. However, the second shot is more likely to decide your fate. It mustn’t get entangled with the tall pine or its shadow on the final approach to the green but a substantial part of the intrigue lies in the vast size of a busily contoured putting surface behind which you should linger awhile to absorb some stunning scenery.
Concentrate on the task in hand. No prizes for being short but not much future in overshooting the green either. Choose the right club and hit the right club. Easy!
No room to bail out here. The fairway is a must. From a good drive, the green may appear deceptively close. Think again although the green is large and full of subtle interest.
Plot your line from the tee and don’t waver from it. There is reward for the perfect drive but margins are slender around the dogleg. There is a slope down to a well guarded green.
A mountain had to be moved to create an acceptable ascent to the green after a challenging drive has been negotiated. The original height level of the hill can be seen to the right. The green becomes visible from a stoutly hit second shot on a rigorous par 5.
A rousing finishing hole, lined on the right by a last reminder of the breathtaking scenery. The drive must be well hit and carefully angled in order to make the plateau on the fairway. From there, it is downhill to the large green, a suitable ending to a momentous experience.
This course design has been a highlight of my career since its location, while strikingly obvious in hindsight, did not jump out at me after the first several site visits and tours of the 12,000 acre estate.
But once I strode over the plateau, with views which reminded me of the highlands of Scotland, I knew this would test the mettle of golfers who want to play courses that would challenge the professionals.
For further information contact Sandy Gardiner The Gardiner Consultancy (631) 465 2070