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|The parkland-style Keswick Club course rolls over the land below Keswick Hall and the clubhouse. (Courtesy of The Keswick Club)|
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - Set on 600 acres just east of Charlottesville, Keswick Hall at Monticello and the adjacent Keswick Club are comfortably situated in Virginia Hunt Country. A sense of privilege prevails from the moment you check into the smallish, narrow pro shop in the clubhouse. There isn't room for a whole lot of merchandise, but what they do have is pure class.
Looking more at home in a living room than a pro shop, traditional pieces of mahogany furniture work as display units for high-end merchandise from brands like Bobby Jones, Fairway & Greene, Polo Ralph Lauren, Foot-Joy, crystal and EP Pro.
French doors open onto an expansive patio from the wood-clad bar, where wide-board floors of worn oak and tartan drapes echo the clubby old world ambiance.
Spreading out below is the rolling, parkland-style golf course designed 70 years ago by Scottish immigrant Fred Finley, who had established a solid reputation for building top-notch courses in Virginia.
It was redesigned in 1992 by Arnold Palmer Golf Course Design, making it one of his Signature Courses, a good combo of classical and modern course architecture.
When he first came here, Palmer noted Finley's course had "good bones." Because of this, he was able to keep the majority of the original design while adding bunkers, contouring changes to the land, bringing greens up to United States Golf Association standards, and installing a new tee-to-green irrigation system.
Lending a sophisticated flair to the layout, red brick paths wind up and down the hills, a bow to the large homes in the area, which too are mostly brick.
Streams cut through lush green fairways starting on the first hole, where you can get an idea of what's to come. This 509-yard par-5 hole plays from an elevated tee to a fairway that slopes right to left and is crossed by a creek - which comes into play on the second shot, where you're hitting to a small undulating green protected by bunkers.
There are several ponds, the largest on the sixth hole, where water runs along the entire right side from tee to green. At par 3 and 163 yards, you need a precision shot here to stay dry and safe.
Then everything hits you at one on hole nine, the premiere handicap test. A brutal 468 yard par 4, it's considered one of the top par 4s in Virginia. You hit downhill with a long pond on the left, followed by a risky shot over water up to an elevated two-tiered green. You need to make sure you get on the upper tier if the pin is in back or land short if the pin is in front.
Set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the elevated greens, uphill and downhill fairways and doglegs at the Keswick Club course create different dilemmas on every hole. Bermuda grass fairways are bordered by ancient oaks and other hardwood trees. Each hole feels different, while each is fair off the tee.
"Keswick has some of the best playing surfaces anywhere," said Bubba Pulley, pro shop assistant who had a hole in one recently on the sixth hole. But bentgrass greens are fast, slippery, many tiered and many tend to be on the small side. A good rule to follow here: you must hit the green or the outcome could be treacherous.
All in all, it's a fun golf course to play, with five tee boxes playing 6,519 yards from the tips, 4,732 yards from the forwards.
Keswick Club is private, but if you stay in the adjacent 48-room, Tuscan-inspired Keswick Hall at Monticello, you have playing privileges. If you're looking for a romantic getaway along with your golf, this is the right place.
The hotel lives more like a country house estate, and was in fact once a private estate named "Villa Crawford" (circa 1912). Converted to a private club in 1930, it was purchased by Sir Bernard Ashley in 1990, who expanded the building and added the Keswick Club.
All 48 rooms are unique and many feature themes such as aviation, fishing, maps, the circus and music. Canopied four-poster beds, over-sized bathrooms (some with claw-footed tubs) and Laura Ashley fabrics set the mood.
A golf package includes accommodations at Keswick Hall, daily Continental breakfast, unlimited golf for two including a cart, one hour golf lesson, a sleeve of logo balls, and other perks for $315 per room, per night. Club rentals are King Cobras.
Additional facilities on the grounds include a spa, tennis, gym and three swimming pools. Fishing, biking, croquet and, of course, Thomas Jefferson's inimitable Monticello are all close by.
October 5, 2009
Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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