Pretend you drove onto an escalator … or that you’re the front car of a slow-moving roller-coaster. The gate opens and you’re pulled onto the tracks — immediately beginning a steep and steady climb. Up, up, up you go … to the apex of western Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, to a luxurious resort with golf on the cliffs, dining on an infinity patio, lodging that includes treehouses, and a sublime spa to (literally) top it all off. It’s breathtaking and exhilarating, but you know how these things work. What goes up must eventually come down … and, when you do, don’t be surprised if you’re screaming.
It’s a shame the place is so way out there — so remote. On the other hand, the serenity and isolation of that “curse” is surely even more of a blessing. And a curse — again — when you lock your keys in the trunk. (Face-palm emoji.)
Speaking from experience, Primland Resort in Meadows of Dan, Virginia is an easy 150-mile drive north from Pinehurst, North Carolina — just an hour north of Greensboro and Winston-Salem. It’s a luxurious Blue Ridge mountaintop golf retreat unlike few I’ve ever seen, and I don’t know why anyone would ever play here without staying here. You’re literally missing out on half of the experience.
Primland’s beautiful, brown-wood lodge rests on a cool, castle-like base concealing an underground parking garage, towering atop the cliffs and offering stunning panoramic views in every direction (including straight up) with a silo observatory tower, two restaurants, a spa, fitness center, theater, golf shop and immaculately clean, bright, spacious suites. “This place is absolutely amazing,” I murmured in awe to the concierge inside the front doors.
“You should have stayed here,” she smiled back.
“I wish.” I laughed.
“We had plenty of room,” she twisted the knife. “Here and in the cabins.”
I kicked myself for making assumptions, and not double-checking. And when I saw those “cabins” — the Pinnacle and Fairway Cottages, three incredible Tree Houses, and a dozen luxurious mountain homes for 2 to 22 people — I kicked myself even harder. (The porch view from the 3BR “Quail” was particularly astonishing.) “We could’ve stayed in a tree house, Dad?” Dylan glared at me — a long-time bucket list item for both of us.
I swallowed hard. “I was told by a guy who should know … ” It was a weak defense, and I knew it. Always, ALWAYS, double-check for cancellations!
“Next time,” she said.
“Yes,” I nodded. There’s no doubt when I come back I’m bringing my wife, and we’re staying in one of those tree houses.
Fairways to Heaven
Primland Resort is technically 10 miles from the small town Meadows of Dan, but that’s just to the front gate. It takes another fifteen minutes to get from the front gate to the summit — where the golf and lodging actually are — and all the way up that driveway you’re thinking, “There’s no way they built a golf course way up here.”
Oh, but they did, and I can count on three fingers the number of golf courses I’ve seen with views like this. I brought my son and a good friend along on this October visit, a guy who’d told me long ago that The Highland Course at Primland was #1 on his long list of East Coast (public) courses to play. “Does it live up to your expectations?” I asked.
“Literally,” Ben replied. “I’ve never been higher on a golf course.”
However you translate Ben’s reply, he was thrilled (and could now change his name from “Ben” to “Been There”).
The Air Up There
We were way up there … up in the clouds where the coldest cold of morning met the day’s first light — where the breeze and sun battled for comfort control, and a short-lived frost delay gave way to a remarkably perfect foray.
Primland Resort has a formal-dress, fine-dining, farm-to-table restaurant called “elements” serving breakfast and dinner, a casual “19th Pub” serving lunch and dinner, the Woodland Grill at the Outdoor Activities Center, and the Stables Saloon on the 2nd floor of actual stables — where the disc golf course begins and ends — but what got our attention that morning was the salivating smell of smoked meat emanating from the Southern Blue Ridge Barbeque building near the first tee. If you’re counting, that’s more than two dining options, (some are seasonal) and if you’re counting on covering all those menus in one visit, then you’d better be staying a while!
Primland’s founder, Didier Primat, built this place to stand out — to be a one-of-a-kind resort in Virginia (a modest goal). All those lodging options … all those food and beverage options … an assortment of activities (disc golf, putting course, ATV rides, sport shooting, water sports, horse and human trails, and more) … plus a world-class spa, stargazing-observatory and the new Schlumberger wine cellar (with sommelier Karl Kazaks). All of that alone — without golf — would have achieved the goal of a world-class retreat. But adding golf in 2006 (a “Top 30 You Can Play in America” course, according to Golf Digest) made Primland a one-of-a-kind resort on the entire east coast (a modest reality).
From Stellar to Interstellar
I’ve wondered — since and during our visit — if Mr. Primat had any regrets with the naming of the golf course. “Highland” doesn’t punch you in the mind like this particular naming adjective should. It doesn’t emphasize the elevation enough, or do nearly sufficient justice to the dramatic setting. There are “Highland” courses all across the country (and I’ve played several) but NONE of them are anything like what legendary architect Donald Steel built here. What should they have called it? The Skylight Club? The Observatory? Drama Club? How about “Interstellar Golf Club?” You’re among the stars up here — that shouldn’t be understated or remotely taken for granted.
I can easily see why most consider The Highland Course one of the 100 best public courses in America. If there was a flat ten feet of outdoor space at Primland, I didn’t find it. Elevation changes and blind shots — both uphill and down — are as common and constant as tree-lined fairways and forced carries on par 3’s. The panoramic views front, back and sideways off so many of the tee boxes and greens will keep your camera busy, but even then I’d encourage you to stay off your phone as much as possible. Really soak it all in.
If there’s a promise I can make to you about the Primland Golf Experience it’s that there are very few places on earth like it. When your rollercoaster ride is over you’re going to wish you could go back out. You’ll resent that (no matter how much you appreciated it) you didn’t appreciate those four hours enough. When you leave Primland Resort, you essentially fall back to earth — back to everything you went up there to get away from. So, when you’re up there, (among the stars) appreciate it … absorb it and — most importantly of all — don’t lock your keys in your trunk.
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NOTE: Special thanks to the kind and humorous Patrick County Sheriff who helped me get my keys back so Dylan and I could start our 1,150-mile drive home without a broken window.