The Blue Ridge Mountains will soon shine bright in the Fall colors of orange and yellow. It’s one of the more beautiful times of year to be in the Blue Ridge – the eastern part of the Appalachian Mountains – that is home to two national parks (Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains) and geologic and human history that goes back countless years.
Wintergreen Resort’s history only goes back to 1969 – when a 10,000-acre tract of land known as The Big Survey – was purchased by a group of investors – but it’s impact on the Shenandoah and Rockfish valleys has been immeasurable. The 11,000-acre property is one the East’s great resort communities, complete with two golf courses (Devil’s Knob and Stoney Creek), a ski area that features eight slopes and three chairlifts, a terrific spa, tennis courts, Adventure Center and five restaurants.
Located only 90 minutes from Richmond and less than three hours from Washington., D.C., Wintergreen is a resort for all seasons, with the fast -approaching Fall season a great time for golf before the Winter season welcomes in the annual pilgrimage of ski fanatics and snow lovers.
Although it’s primarily a membership community, Wintergreen Resort does offer packages for stays at its condos and homes (some up to six bedrooms), as well as the Mountain Inn.
The resort’s two golf courses each are immensely playable tracks for guests and members, but they couldn’t be more different. At 3,850 feet, Devil’s Knob, designed in by Ellis Maples, is the highest course in Virginia.
Maples cut his golf course architect’s teeth as a protégé of the legendary Donald Ross in the sandhills of Pinehurst, N.C., but he proved to be a master of mountain course design, with Devil’s Knob – along with Grandfather Golf & CC in Linville, N.C. – as his masterpieces.
But whereas the Championship Course at Grandfather Golf & CC plays up and down the western slope of Grandfather Mountain, much of Devil’s Knob is built on rock formations. Maples’ design is so subtle, however, that most players don’t even realize they are on top of a mountain until they glance around at views of the Shenandoah and Rockfish valleys. Among the best examples is the view from behind the 14th tee along a short trail that opens (on a clear day) to a 50-mile vista of the Shenandoah Valley.
Maples must have liked to fade the ball off the tee, as most of the doglegs on the par-70, 6,712-yard course favors players who can hit the ball left to right. Among the most dramatic is the 520-yard (from the tips) par-five, fourth hole that requires a sweeping left-to-right drive for even a chance to reach the green in two.
Devil’s Knob concludes with a 430-yard (from the tips) par-four that requires another left-to-right tee shot that sets up an approach shot to a narrow green. Located just a few yards beneath the patio of the Devil’s Grill restaurant, the 18th is an outstanding finishing hole on one of the country’s great mountain courses.
A few miles away from Devil’s Knob, Stoney Creek Golf Course sits on the floor of the Rockfish Valley. It’s a 27-hole layout – designed by Rees Jones – that is a good contrast to Devil’s Knob.
At first glance, Stoney Creek, with its wide fairways, isn’t as difficult as Devil’s Knob, but Jones has seamlessly mixes elevation changes, his signature mounding, and large, contoured greens into a challenge for players of all skill levels.
The three nines, by the way, are named the Monocan, Shamokin and Tuckahoe, each observing the region’s Native American legacy. Monocan is the Algonquian word signifying a digging stick, or spade, possibly for those who worked the fruitful soil; Shamokin is linked to a meeting place for Virginia’s Saponi and Tutelo nations; Tuckahoe was the name of an abundant freshwater root that was roasted to provide a valuable food source.
The original 18 holes, which are now the Monocan and Shamokin nines, were built in 1988. The final nine – the Tuckahoe – opened in 1998.
On the drive back to Wintergreen from Stoney Creek, check out the Wild Wolf Brewing Company, one of Virginia’s fastest growing breweries. Located in Nellysford, Mary Wolfe and her son Danny offer a selection of hand crafted beers, such as Alpha Ale and Blonde Hunny, from a renovated 100-year-old school house.
Wild Wolf Brewing Company is just one of several craft breweries, distilleries and wineries in the Rockfish Valley. They make for excellent day or overnight trips for guests and members at Wintergreen Resort, which is bounded on two sides by the George Washington National Forest. Its Mountain Village is located on two mountains – Devils Knob and Black Rock Mountain.
The story goes that Devil’s Knob most likely got its name from a nearby narrow, precipitous mountain pass known as Devil’s Gate. The tight pass existed before the Blue Ridge Parkway was built and called “Devil’s Gate,’’ for the risk it imposed to travels and early settlers.
The moniker, “Devil’s Knob,’’ sounds less dangerous, which it is thanks to the paved highways, but it’s still a great stretch of mountain driving with the occasional lookout point for views of the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.
And there is no better place to end that drive than at Wintergreen Resort.