Appeared in September/October 2001 LINKS
At The Virginian, folks like to stick with the plan—even when it means leaving a bundle of real-estate cash blowing in the Appalachian wind. They certainly talked the good talk back in 1993, when this upscale golf community with a Tom Fazio-designed golf course first opened. Land parcels that might have made ideal perches for million-dollar homes were taken off the real-estate plats on the back nine.
But that was then. What about now? Things have indeed changed over nearly a decade at The Virginian—and all for the better. There’s now a 33,000-square-foot clubhouse with all the usual amenities as well as an unusual one—an indoor driving range. Much of the building’s millwork comes from oak and walnut trees that once stood on the site. There’s a swim and racquet club with lighted clay tennis courts and a junior-Olympic pool.
And best of all, they’ve not caved on the idea of keeping that back nine open, airy and natural. The berm surrounding the 13th green remains graced only with native grasses and wildflowers—no bricks, mortar or drywall to be found here. Except for the necessary evils of cart paths, there’s nothing man-made separating holes 14, 16, 17 and 18, which meander roughly parallel to one another in a meadow beneath the clubhouse. The divisions between holes are all God-given: fescue, hillocks and the occasional tree.
The Virginian was conceived in the early 1990s as a haven for Bristol’s golf aficionados and an option for the retirement and second-home buyer who would otherwise shop in the mountains of western North Carolina. They found a site just a chip shot from Interstate 81, hired Fazio to craft the golf course.
In eight years, The Virginian has been site to both the Virginia and Tennessee state amateurs (Bristol’s main street is the state line), as well as the 2003 U.S. Senior Amateur Championship.
Located at a 2,000-foot elevation in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, the Virginian enjoys a varied topography, though certainly not to the extreme. The course plays shorter than its 7,135 yards because 10 holes play downhill to some degree. Many fairways are concave and tend to ricochet balls toward the center. There are few water hazards—only four to speak of, and one of them is a stream running from an ancient well on the eighth hole.
Among the Virginian’s many highlights are the downhill par-3 8th, which plays to a green bordered by a pond and a naturally occurring artesian well. The short par-4 7th and 12th holes both play less than 350 yards, while the 420-yard 16th skirts a sink hole and requires a demanding approach to a narrow green.
To maintain their golf games, Virginian members surely have one of the finest of practice facilities. There’s expansive hitting turf at both ends, as well as two large practice greens and a three-hole practice course—once again, acreage that could have gone toward homesites but instead adds to the big picture.