“Don’t lick it. Don’t sniff it. Don’t play with it. Just do it,” my waitress at Primland’s 19th Pub says with a drawl just before I knock back a shot of 100 proof Virginia Lightning moonshine. The clear corn whiskey is potent stuff, wiping clean all flavour memories of the juicy pimento cheese-topped Kobe beef burger and the pig candy (slices of bacon lightly coated in cayenne pepper, paprika, brown sugar and maple syrup) that preceded it. The drink sparks a fire in my belly, revving me up for the back nine. “Make sure you hydrate out there,” she adds motheringly as I leave.
The Highland Course, Primland’s Donald Steel-designed mountaintop marvel, traces the contours of a southern finger of the Blue Ridge Mountains with a gaggle of greens snuggling up precariously close to steep gawk-and-drop overlooks that plummet thousands of feet into the Dan River gorge below. The high altitude scenic test earned the No. 13 spot in Golf Digest’s 2011 rundown of the top 100 public courses in America.
When the late French-Swiss Billionaire Didier Primat decided to add a golf course to what was primarily a hunting resort, conventional wisdom called for it to be laid out on the flatter lowlands near the southern gate of the sprawling 12,000-acre property. Thankfully for golfers, Didier bought into Steel’s loftier vision and a sophisticated pump system was devised to transport irrigation water through the mountain from the Dan River below in order to make the sky high course a reality.
With blacksnakes and timber rattlers slithering in the tall grass, it’s best to keep lost ball hunts to a minimum. Jettisoning a full dozen in a round is not uncommon.
“You must be in the fairway. There’s a little bit of margin for bluegrass rough, but after that it’s tall fescue, pretty much waist high throughout the season and I don’t care if you’re a Tour Pro, you can’t score from there,” explains head pro Brian Alley. “Once you enter the fescue, you might find it and you might not but normally when you do you wish you didn’t because you can’t get it out,” he adds.
Picking a favourite hole on this track is an effort in futility because they’re all gems in their own right but if you put me on the spot I’d earmark the 612-yard Par 5 13th. The course’s longest hole not only requires stringing together three great shots to hit the green in regulation, but also once you’re on the dance floor your long distance putting prowess will likely be tested. There are 60 yards of heavily contoured green from the front to the back on this doozy.
After Shooting Low, Try Shooting High
For a golfer, choosing your weapon of choice takes on new meaning when instead of looking for your 150-yard club you’re picking out a shotgun.
“Pull,” I bark to my instructor Sammy while looking down the barrel of a 12-gauge Beretta at the bead of the front sight. I track the path of my orange clay target and … bam … pull the trigger. The gun recoils into my right shoulder and as I watch the disc get blown to bits I feel the relief of someone who has hit the fairway off the first tee.
After chocking it up to beginner’s luck I go on to hit my next 12 targets while progressing through six of the sporting clay course’s 14 stations. The gun is heavy, it’s hot out, and eventually my perfect game streak is broken but I managed to hit 80 per cent of the targets, which is a pretty smoking batting average, especially for a first-timer.
When I broach the idea of a golf/clay combo tourney with Brian later, he tells me they’re already considering putting on a tandem event. “It’s not that difficult to find sportsmen who like to do both.”
Then Shoot the Moon
Every evening Primland guests with a penchant for astronomy can take a Tour of the Universe. The first half of the program sets up on the golf course’s driving range. After taking a gander at Lyra, Virgo, Cygnus, the big dipper and other shimmering constellations, the Starmaster trains his scope on bigger game. We take turns getting a close-up view of the craters of the moon followed up by a real treat — an eyeful of Saturn.
“It’s like I’m watching The Jetsons,” pipes up an awestruck woman after seeing the ringed planet through the eyepiece. And this was just to whet our interstellar appetites. We then ascended the stairs of the five-storey converted grain silo attached to the lodge to continue our stargazing voyage with the aid of a high powered Celestron CGE Pro 1400 telescope at the top of a domed observatory.
Nathan, the star jockey manning the scope, its accompanying computers and rotating roof, looks a lot like the X-Men’s majordomo Professor Xavier sitting inside Cerebro, only instead of tracking mutants he’s tailing celestial bodies.
A pair of HD screens display the images the scope picks up allowing the small crowd of guests to ooh and aww in unison at nebulae and other galactic phenomena. “I think I have strep throat,” quips a clown in the peanut gallery after one star strewn image pops up on the screen bearing an uncanny resemblance to the bacterial infection.
Primland really may be the only place on Earth where hardcore golfers, hunters and space geeks hangout at the same bar.