By: Bill Kamenjar
The “boardwalk” fits well into the overall picture of Virginia Beach; other than the fact that it no longer consists of any splintery planks of wood.
Even so, Virginia Beach’s popular boardwalk does the trick as a strolling zone. It sure beats trudging down miles of sand anyway. At three miles in length, the durable 28-foot-wide strip of concrete is a huge attraction to those visiting this particularly rich historical part of the state and the nation.
The boardwalk (which actually began as a wooden structure when the original five blocks were built in 1888) offers easy access to hotels, restaurants, shops, carnival rides, museums and a fishing pier. But one of its strongest virtues is its link to recreation. It is a haven for walkers, bikers and other outdoor activists. And let’s not forget golf. Although it doesn’t directly brush up against any fairways or tees, it does point golfers in the direction of a fine array of green-grass adventures. Many big-league courses routed by big-name designers are located within easy driving distance from the timeless Virginia Beach centerpiece.
Within minutes of the boardwalk’s perch along the Atlantic Ocean, you can play the game among rose petals at the Signature at West Neck. You can swipe your ball across the wind-swept fairways at Red Wing Lake. You can travel inland to naturally lowland golf at Hell’s Point or artificially highland golf at Heron Ridge. Or you can venture a little farther out to wonderful riverside venues like Nansemond River and Riverfront or make a “day on the Chesapeake Bay” of it and head out to Bay Creek on Virginia’s Eastern Shore.
There’s truly no place like Virginia Beach when it comes to a diversity of coastal golf. With more than two dozen, top-notch selections from which to choose, your next golf adventure should be to Virginia’s beach – where intricate seas of green can be found embedded among its already historic seas of blue.
Tees and Tides
In the early days of the nation, many travelers headed back and forth from the Atlantic Ocean and the surrounding tidal villages to the area now known as Richmond via boat along the James River. Today you’ll find it much quicker and easier to jump behind the wheel of your personal vehicle and roar past the state capital into the region along Interstate 64. This maneuver gives you immediate access to courses in Virginia Beach and surrounding Hampton Roads, where the James, Elizabeth and Nansemond Rivers come together before emptying into the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic.
Southeastern Virginia’s reputation for high-end golf grew dramatically at the turn of the most recent century in the wake of a golf course building boom and a still on-going renovation process. Virginia Beach and its surrounding communities (Norfolk, Suffolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Eastern Shore, Hampton and Newport News) became hotbeds for modern designers like Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Doak, Rees Jones, Lester George, Tom Clark, Fred Couples, Tom Steele, Michael Hurdzan and Curtis Strange. They joined a list of classic architects that included Robert Trent Jones Sr., George Cobb, Russell Breeden, Ed Ault, and even Donald Ross.
The “Tidewater” region has always been ideal tapestry for a wide variety of artistic challenges. Many golf course developers allowed for direct waterfront access to rivers, bays, creeks or inlets while several courses have been routed through mature hardwood and pine forests and/or across meandering tidal areas and marshes.
Golf nearest the boardwalk includes Cobbs’ Red Wing Lake, which was renovated by Kevin Tucker in 2007 to bring it up to modern standards. It is conveniently situated just a few miles down the road. Others that require just a little more effort to get to once you’ve settled into your beachfront accommodations include Palmer’s Signature at Westlake, and of course Rees Jones’ famed design called Hell’s Point – named for the creek that cuts through it and characterized by the swamps that surround it.
Golf on the banks of the Nansemond River includes the Doak-designed Riverfront Golf Club, an old-style course that winds its way through riverfront acreage, tidal marshes, huge oaks and pines and vast rolling farmland. The Steele-designed Nansemond River Golf Club, meanwhile, sits on a Civil War battlefield site. It was there that soldiers squared off at Fort Huge.
For those who haven’t been to Virginia Beach for a while, the “new” Virginia Beach National, now owned by the city, is actually the former TPC of Virginia Beach as crafted by famed architect Pete Dye. Despite its national PGA Tour origins, it was grounded with local roots. While being built back in the 1990s, Virginia native Strange (a two-time U.S. Open champion) served as the PGA Tour’s playing consultant on the project and current PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem (who also grew up near Virginia Beach) kept a watchful eye on the progress as well. Dye and Strange were brought together as a natural team, and the two meshed well. But it may have been the influence of the “local boys” who gave the now locally owned Virginia Beach National its ultimate “big and brawny” identity.
Back to the Boardwalk
Closer to Virginia Beach proper, you will find a rare Couples’ design. With a name like Heron Ridge, you’d think there wouldn’t have been any need to move dirt to build it. But at the Virginia Beach mainstay, Couples along with Gene Bates had some 600,000 cubic yards of dirt moved to give the property roll and definition.
While the modern, upscale designs often garner the bulk of the attention, golf’s bread and butter designs are still found at the municipal levels. Outstanding, recently upgraded and affordable venues in the Tidewater reaches include Bide-A-Wee and The Links at City Park in Portsmouth, Ocean View in Norfolk, The Woodlands and The Hamptons in Hampton, and Newport News Golf Club in Newport News.
All of these courses, and plenty more, are truly what make a visit to Virginia Beach and Southeastern Virginia to play golf a wise decision – and always a good walk unspoiled.
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