Saturday, October 01, 2011

Homestead (Cascades) Golf Course

The Cascades Golf Course (ranked #94 in the world) is part of the Homestead resort located in the Allegheny Mountains in southwest Virginia. I'm not quite sure how I let a public course in the same time zone I live in be one of the last courses played to complete my quest. Probably because the course is hard to get to, located three hours east of Charleston, WV, three hours west of Richmond, VA and four hours southwest of Washington, D.C.

Once you get off the interstate highway and onto local roads the real flavor of this part of Virginia comes to the fore. It is an unusual sight, for a Yankee at least, to pass a Robert E. Lee High School on the road up to the Homestead.

During the early part of the 20th century the Homestead was the place to see and be seen. J.P. Morgan was a frequent guest and had a financial stake in the resort. Between 1914 and 1929 it was a magnet for American Presidents, particularly those whose first and last names start with the same letter. During this period Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover and Woodrow Wilson all stayed at The Homestead. Not to be left out, Ronald Reagan also visited the resort in the '70s. More than half of all American Presidents have visited the Homestead, so it is long on history for sure and shows it off nicely, particularly in the Presidents Lounge.

Homestead has three golf courses: The Old Course (1892), The Lower Cascades (1963) and The Cascades (1923). It is The Cascades course that is ranked in the top 100. The course was designed by William Flynn, who also designed Cherry Hills, Shinnecock Hills (with others) and The Country Club at Brookline. Sam Snead was an assistant pro at the Homestead at age 19 and also served as head pro for many, many years. In many ways, the Homestead is a golfing shrine to Sam Snead, who was one of the greatest golfers of all time, having won 7 majors and 82 tournaments overall. For the avid golf fan, this alone is reason to visit this peaceful mountain resort.

The Cascades course is short, tree lined, narrow, hilly and has small greens. If you play well off uneven lies, then The Cascades is for you. The entire course can neatly be summarized by describing the second hole, which is indicative of the style of golf on the Cascades course. Named "The Dip," you hit your tee shot through a chute of trees up a large hill which slopes from left to right.

Your second shot is to a small green set in a hollow partially hidden behind a hill. While this hole is a long one, at 432 yards, the course plays 6,667 yards from the tips to a par of 70. Short does not equate to easy, as the course has a slope rating of 137.

2nd back

The second hole at Cascades, "The Dip"

The third hole, "Shelf," is a 289 yard uphill par four that plays through a chute of trees to a small, elevated green.

The third hole's elevated green, "Shelf"

The fourth hole, "Carry On," is a testing 210 yard par three that plays down the mountain to a small green. My round at the Cascades was marred by a continual attack of gnats. I haven't been attacked this badly by the American version of midges since my round at Royal Dornoch about five years ago. It's tough to hit a ball with 100 gnats flying around your head; or to putt while one flies into your ear or eye; but these are minor inconveniences to suffer, being in such a beautiful setting.


The downhill par three third hole

The ninth hole, "The Take Off," is a wicked-hard 448 yard par four that features a tee shot hit down to a valley, followed by a second shot that plays blind to a small green set at the bottom of a hill. The front of the green has a little swale in it, making bump and run shots to the green tricky to judge. You can get some sense of how dense the trees are on the Cascades by looking at the trees behind this green and the next.

The par four ninth green

The tenth was my personal favorite hole called "Slippery Hollow," and you have no sense of how treacherous the hole is while standing on the tee. The smart play is to hit as far left as possible because a well struck drive on this 377 yard hole will bound all the way down the hill if you hit it on the correct line. The entire landing area shoots balls from the left to the right and if you are anywhere right of center you will have a hanging lie like you've never seen before in your life.

The green on the 10th hole, "Slippery Hollow"

Although a short hole, like a lot of what makes The Cascades course a challenge, it tests your ability to hit a precise shot to a small green off an uneven (often severely sloping) lie. I hit what I thought was a good drive down the middle but the ball ended up kicking down to the right. The lie I had was as severe as any I've ever experienced, with the ball sharply below my feet and sloping away from me.

The eleventh, "Lucky Strike," is a testing par three of 207 yards. It has a baby green size for such a long hole.

The par three 11th green

The course has a non-traditional finish, ending with pars of 3-5-5-3. The seventeenth, "Hemlocks," is a 522 yard dogleg left with a stream bordering the right side of the fairway and short right of the green. You can also get a sense of the majestic mountains in this part of Virginia looking at this picture. Since the Homestead is at an elevation of about 2,000 feet it also tends not to get the oppressive heat and humidity other parts of the South get in the summer.

The par three seventeenth with the beautiful mountain backdrop

The Cascades course is located about a 10 minute drive from the main resort. The old clubhouse predates the course and was the home of the Rubino family. It is quaint and picturesque and serves a fabulous trout sandwich for lunch. The Cascades is like an American version of the Gleneagles resort in Scotland. It features a ton of outdoor activites including falconry, fishing, shooting, tennis, archery, horseback riding, etc. Homestead is quite family friendly. When I was there the kids were swarming almost as badly as the gnats.

The Cascades course elegant clubhouse, whose picture adorns the scorecard

I suspect it is ranked in the top out of respect to Sam Snead more than anything else. The Homestead is a very nice, well run resort with charming Southern hospitality. Their formal dining room requires a jacket and has a charming gentility you expect in the South. I would like to return again and play in the autumn with the leaves turning colors; it must be fabulous.

My Journey Draws Near Its End

When the earthquake hit Japan and the meltdown struck the Fukujima reactor, I had to re-route my flight from New Zealand away from Japan, back directly to the U.S. Because of the late change, I had to suffer the indignity of riding in the back of the bus and sat next to a woman on the long flight back to LAX. It's never a good sign when the first thing the person next to you says (in broken English) is, "I'm sorry I'm so fat". She did the whole routine, including the seat belt extender, and lopped over onto me for the next 12 hours. No doubt this is just some kind of karmic payback for all the unkind things I have written about heavy people on airplanes over the years. As fate would have it, she's an operatic performer. A Samoan soprano, in fact. She was accompanying me back to the States to see me through until the end of my quest.

As I teed it up at The Cascades, I got a text message from her informing me that the opera has begun and they are in the first act, and she's getting ready to sing. Only two more courses left to play!

Post Script

I also played the Old Course while at the Homestead. This delightful course plays 6,227 yards from the tips but has some really fun and interesting holes. I especially liked the par five fourth hole, which features a blind tee shot and two islands of fairway separated by rough. It slopes right to left from tee to green and has a small elevated green. If you think 473 yards isn't a demanding length for a par five, play this beauty and think again. The course has a mixed, but great pedigree. It was designed or changed by Donald Ross, William Flynn and Rees Jones and has dramatic vistas of the mountain valley. I recommend playing it if you go to the Homestead.