Formidable Footprints

Mountain Roads Point to Primland’s Plentiful Paradise

written by CARL DANBURY | photos courtesy of PRIMLAND

The traditional Virginia gentleman enjoys the outdoors. I should know, I went to high school with several and it was these memories of them that brought me to Primland. Whether it’s shooting sporting clays, grouse, pheasant or turkeys, deer or wild boar, it truly doesn’t matter. Some enjoy fishing, some enjoy golf, some enjoy hiking or biking, but whatever the pursuit, the outdoorsman rules on off days.

Located near Meadows of Dan, Virginia, not too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway, Primland Resort provides all the elements to attract fair outdoorswomen as well, but it is quite simply a nature-lover’s playground. Primland is only 22 miles from Mayberry (Mt. Airy, North Carolina), two hours from Charlotte and about three hours from Raleigh. The resort is popular with Carolinians (40 percent of guests), Virginians (20 percent) and this Northsider.

ROOTED IN HISTORY

The 220-mile trek from The Swag in North Carolina to Primland took about four hours not including a few purposeful and lengthy stops along the way. I arrived on a day of damp disappointment. It was rainy, foggy and clammy. When you’ve heard how incredibly beautiful the 12,000-acre property is prior to your visit, but are trudging painfully from Mount Airy to Primland Resort’s south gate in a shroud of misty fog, and then make an even slower trek from the entry to the Lodge in pea-soup conditions, anyone’s mood can be dampened. Upon arrival, however, the hospitable greeting by the valet was as welcome as a hot cup of tea, as was the glorious Main Lodge that awaited.

Primland was once part of a 70,000-acre tract deeded by then Governor Lord Brooke to William Austin in 1747. Approximately 50 years later, the land was awarded to Revolutionary War hero and father of Confederate general Robert E. Lee, Harry “Light Horse” Lee. During the course of the next two centuries, much of the land changed hands and tracts were sold off in smaller parcels. Industry first arrived in 1910 in the shape of the Rosslyn Lumber Company, which purchased much of the land for their timber operations. In 1937, Samuel Spruce acquired the land and used the Eli Thomas Lumber Co., which had a sawmill in nearby Stuart, for processing.

Behind what is now the Highland Course’s 18th hole, was once a slide that went down the mountain, along with a wooden chute that enabled logs to be sent downhill all the way to the Dan River below, and then to the sawmill. Virgin timber was plentiful and the area was heavily forested with American chestnut.

Eventually, French businessman Didier Primat, whose fortune was gained as a stockholder in the Schlumberger oil field services company, began acquiring timber land in the U.S., according to Primland Vice President Steve Helms. Primat eventually purchased large tracts of land in Taswell County, Virginia, Terrell County, North Carolina on the Alligator River, and the land that would become Primland in 1977.

“Where one of the mountain homes we rent now stands, the Bobcat house, there was a one-room schoolhouse there and 80 kids were registered,” Helms said. “There where a lot of squatters back in the day on this land.” In 1925, moonshiner Sandy Slate, who was shot by revenue agents, was buried on the property, according to Helms. But by the 1940s, everyone had started moving out of the area. Factory, textiles and furniture jobs moved to the bigger cities nearby.

Primland Vice President Steve Helms

Helms’ own history is also tied to this land. He was born and raised in Meadows of Dan and still resides on his 100-acre family farm. He attended Meadows of Dan Elementary School, graduated from Patrick County High School in nearby Stuart (originally incorporated at Taylorsville, but renamed in 1884 in honor of Confederate Major General JEB Stuart). Helms then attended Longwood College in Farmville, where he received a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

After graduating from college, Helms became involved with Primat’s original timber operations. By 1981, the newly named Primlumber had developed Primwood Kinlin, which soon became the largest distributed wood bundled product in the marketplace. In 1986, the name Primland was selected as the umbrella name for all the property’s affiliated companies; that included a huge preserve for outdoors enthusiasts, offering a variety of activities from hunting and fishing to sporting clays and horseback riding.

It would be another 20 years until Primland opened its breathtaking 18-hole championship golf course designed by Donald Steel. The Lodge opened in 2009 and was followed by The Spa in 2010.

THE GREAT INDOORS

After checking in, I was directed to the Oriole Pinnacle Cottage. The ground-floor suite’s would-be inspiring views of Dan River Gorge, The Lodge and Highland Course were temporarily placed on hold. Instead, the creature comforts in my suite, such as the flat-screen television and sumptuous sofas were enough to provide a bit of solace before heading back to the lodge for dinner and drinks in the 19th Pub.

Upon entering The Lodge, I began a bit of snooping around. Beneath the entrance level is a parking garage, as well as The Spa, an indoor pool, fitness center, locker rooms, golf shop and my personal favorite, The Games Room equipped with a regulation pool table, table tennis and three digital HDTVs. Back to the main floor, the two-story glass encased wine room, caught my attention as I waited for my dinner companion.

The 19th Pub is a lively spot for either lunch or dinner, with access to the outdoor dining patio. A nice collection of spirits and moonshine cocktails are offered during happy hour, as well as craft beers and wine. Intriguing appetizers include Byrd Mill (of Ashland, Virginia) corn bread and the house specialty, Pig Candy, made from maple syrup, cayenne pepper and bacon.

In true farm-to-table tradition, the menus for both the 19th Pub, and elements, the fine dining restaurant at The Lodge, source a bounty of Virginia Highlands foodstuffs from local, organic and sustainable farms to create innovative and exciting cuisine.

Two of my favorite dishes during my stay were at elements: local petite greens Caesar salad and the slowcooked Virginia Farm Egg, served with Byrd Mill grits, and bits of country ham, asparagus and mushrooms. For the main course, try the North Carolina trout, marble potatoes, port wine jam, leeks and wild laurel butter paired with a Nerello Mascalese from Sicily, Italy – a seemingly odd pairing that worked magnificently.

If you are in the mood for a bit more exploration, you can enjoy a nine-course tasting menu created by Executive Chef Ernest Bledsoe during dinner service in The Lodge kitchen with sommelier Karl Kazaks’ wine pairings.

While the first evening wouldn’t allow it, the unique nighttime attraction for many at Primland is the telescope in the Observatory where, on clear nights, guests can see galaxies 27 million light years away. The Celestron CGE Pro 1400 telescope has a 44-millimeter eyepiece with a 70-times zoom lens, allowing for ultimate stargazing opportunities.

CLEAR SKIES AND PAR-FIVES

The new day brought better weather and the ability to see things a lot more clearly. First, I enjoyed a few hours of sporting clays at one of the nation’s premier clay shooting facilities. Progressing through the mile-long course with 14 stations and several years of personal shooting rust, I was presented with a variety of targets that simulate the flight path of game birds.

My guide for the morning was local gentleman, Marcus Heath. An expert shooter who also guides turkey hunts on property, Heath patiently encouraged me, offered simple to understand pointers and seemed pleased with my progression, particularly so when I pulled off a double or two. Marcus also led me on a shortened version of Primland’s 150-minute tour of the property via recreational terrain vehicles (RTVs).

There are many sights to see along the way, but the Virginia countryside was enough for me. I skipped the tomahawk toss and the archery instruction, as the skies were clearing and the golf course was beckoning me.

Course architect Donald Steel designed the Highland’s holes. He has designed roughly 85 courses around the world and redesigned another 500 or so more, 20 of them major projects by his estimation. Steel’s minimalist style compares favorably to those of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw. A unique routing that included five Par-5s and five Par-3s was built on what Steel said was the most difficult site he’s ever encountered.

“We were determined we would die in our attempt to build the course,” Steel told golfchannel.com’s Brandon Tucker. “The land was so rugged. Steel built massive greens at Primland, even though he prefers a naturalist’s approach. “The views are the thing that people talk about. 

If you cover up the views, it doesn’t reach its full potential.”

He also told golfconversations.com in October 2012, that the mountaintop site was the last thing on his mind until he was told it had once been used for farming, and he was given a topographical map.

“Our salvation was a topographical map with all the contours and that gave us an idea where the valleys and the plateaus and the slopes were. Piece by piece, we put together a coherent layout. There was a lot of earth moving involved. As you know, I’m more of a minimalist, but up there you had to be a maximalist. Otherwise, you couldn’t have built the golf course,” Steel said in the 2012 interview.

Once the golf course had been completed, Primat decided to build The Lodge, a 72,000-foot structure perched on one of the highest ridges with 26 guest rooms featuring nine different floor plans with a mixture of kings and double queen suites – all with exceptional views. The ultimate accommodation is The Pinnacles Suite, which has 1,800 square feet of space and is located directly below the silo-designed Observatory, providing stunning views of the stars. Lodge amenities include a spa, an indoor pool, fitness center, recreation area, a ballroom, golf shop, locker rooms, a fully outfitted boardroom, meeting facilities, a theater and indoor parking.

In addition to The Lodge, three Fairway Cottages and four Pinnacle Cottages, Primland also maintains 11 mountain homes for guests who want more privacy and more space to spread their wings.

Speaking of wings, three intimate, ledge-perched Tree Houses —the Barn Owl, Golden Eagle and Coopers Hawk — have been built around the solid branches of treetops, each giving way to sweeping views of the majestic Kibler Valley and the North Carolina Piedmont from the comfort of huge private decks. Pets and children are not allowed, but comfort most definitely is. With relaxation front of mind, the Tree Houses feature a large studio with king bed, 400-thread-count Frette sheets, lush duvets, elegantly stitched quilts and a bathroom with soaking tub. They also include a four-wheel drive vehicle for when guests are ready to get back to exploring Primland’s great outdoors.

Indoors or out, experiencing all that Primland has to offer was an exercise in retracing my roots right back to the Virginia gentlemen that first taught me how to hunt grouse. A plentiful paradise here, indeed. primland.com 

Primland Racing Experience: Aug. 13 to 15

Spend three days with nine-time Le Mans winner and motor racing legend, Tom Kristensen, as well as elite endurance competitor, Harold Primat at this exclusive event. Hug every hairpin turn on the famed Virginia International Raceway as the pros whip you around the full course in an extraordinary racing machine, absorbing every white-knuckle second of G-force thrills. Then, enjoy two nights in one of the Tree Houses, Fairway Cottages or spacious Mountain Homes. Additional highlights of this special event include an exquisite reception and dinner, an awards ceremony followed by a Southern Soulful buffet with live music and a golf tournament on the acclaimed Highland Course. This is a rare experience, not to be missed. For reservations, contact Rebecca Moore at 276-222-3837 or rmoore@primland.com.