The initial scene at Salisbury Country Club was an apt symbol for the comfortable round to come.

Most golfers would prefer to walk 18 holes of golf and take a straight line to their approach shot to the green. The erratic pattern of a golf cart serving two people makes it more challenging to concentrate on your next shot. Walking toward your ball with the target green in the distance is better preparation for an approach shot than zigzagging across the fairway between your and your riding partner’s ball. But not all of us have the stamina to walk 18 holes, and golf is a social game, maybe the most social of all games; sharing a cart with a friend you haven’t seen in a while is, at least for me, more important than a good walk that helps shave a stroke or two off your final score.

And that is the way it was for me with three good friends -- Andy, Bob and Brad -- on my recent one-week golf trip through Virginia and the Carolinas. After my first round on Monday at Shenvalee Resort with my new friend Jefferson Burgess, I made the 90-minute drive to Richmond and the home of my friend of over a decade, Andy, and his wife Anna, who kindly hosted me for the night in their beautiful home. Andy is a former professor and chair of the Statistics Department at the University of Richmond. We had first connected when he visited my website and emailed me with a few questions about golf real estate and private golf club membership. We later met face to face for the first time in his office at the University of Richmond when my wife and I were making college tours with my daughter 14 years ago.

Salisbury approach over water and sandThe private Salisbury Country Club combines water and sand into a pretty -- and challenging -- layout.

Andy and I have stayed connected since then and when we get together for golf and a meal, which we have done at least a half dozen times since first meeting, we re-bond with serious conversations about golf and our families. After a terrific meal at a local Mediterranean restaurant called Pegasus and a good night’s sleep, Andy and I headed to Richmond’s Salisbury Country Club, where he is a member. Salisbury is a welcoming club with 27 holes of golf; I can vouch personally for 18 of them as being expertly tended, with welcoming fairways, bright white bunkers and large, manicured greens. As I strode toward the pro shop with Andy, I noted the three white Adirondack chairs pointing toward the heart of the golf course, a beautiful contrast with the green fairways beyond and about as relaxing a pre-round tableau as you would want.

Would that my golf game during our round was as “relaxed” as that. After shooting my age for the first time the day before, I must have still been in celebration mode. Salisbury’s modern layout and open fairways were made for the best part of my game, my tee shots, but I was all over the place. My approach shots and putting was not much better. There are days when no matter what adjustments you make, everything is wrong. And this was one of those days. On such days, it is good to have a friend in the cart with you. Andy, who was generous in his commiserations, made my bad golf irrelevant, something good friends do well.

Tanglewood approach over bunkersMany of the approach shots at Tanglewood Championship are befitting of a golf course that hosted the PGA Championship.

I first met Bob when he was hired to build an executive business program for the global corporation where I worked. He was at the time a professor of business at the University of Virginia and later was named dean of the university’s Darden School of Business, one of the best in the nation. I participated in that executive program he helped develop and we became good friends, never at a loss for conversations about both business and family. Bob lives in Chapel Hill, NC, and met me at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, NC, just south of Winston-Salem. We played the Robert Trent Jones, Sr., Championship Course where, in 1974, Lee Trevino beat Jack Nicklaus by one stroke. (Older golf fans might remember the final round in which Trevino waved a white towel from the fairway after Nicklaus made a putt less than a couple hundred yards ahead.)

Crail bunker green and North SeaEvery year, typically in May, my friend Bob and I meet for a week of golf at the Crail Golfing Society. Every one of its 36 holes has at least a peek of the North Sea.

For the last few years, Bob has met me in Crail, Scotland for a week of golf in May. I am an overseas member of the 36-hole Crail Golfing Society, and my annual dues provides me with a total of 16 rounds on the two outstanding layouts, each with views of the North Sea from every hole, and guest fees that are ridiculously reasonable. I admire Bob’s adventurousness; every morning around 5:30, he leaves the bed and breakfast we rent for the week and explores the nearby coastline, returning almost two hours later with stories about his walk and a half dozen or more golf balls he has retrieved from the rocky beaches adjacent to the Crail Balcomie and Craighead golf courses. We never run out of topics to talk about, on and off the course, and we plan another reunion at Crail next May.

Brad and I initially bonded on the Internet over our mutual love for golf and our desires to write about it. Brad maintains a website called “Shooting Your Age,” and when I invited him to stay and play at Pawleys Plantation in South Carolina, where my wife and I own a condo on a Jack Nicklaus golf course, we started discussing some of the peculiarities and challenges senior golfers face. In 2020, after I published my book Glorious Back Nine: How to Find Your Dream Golf Home, Brad and I started talking seriously about putting our experiences and opinions about senior golf into book form. That resulted in Playing Through Your Golden Years: A Senior’s Golfing Guide. We survived the editing process after some spirited discussions. I admired how serious and aggressive he was in getting some important senior golfers to share their insights with him; he even landed a quote from former PGA professional Ken Green praising our book’s relevance for senior golfers.

Stoney Pointe hole on lakeOnly one hole at Stoney Point abuts Lake Greenwood, but it is a beauty.

Brad and I overcame some mediocre golf we played at two excellent South Carolina courses, The Links at Stoney Point in Greenwood and Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg, and we had a good time discussing our favorite pastime and the real estate adjacent to the golf courses we played. (Brad and his wife Alice are contemplating a move from Charlotte, NC, to a golf community in the Carolinas in the next couple of years.)

The Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg, SC, is something of an unsung gem in the state. Challenging and in beautiful condition, my playing partner for the day asked the pro for membership information after our round.The Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg, SC, is something of an unsung gem in the state. Challenging and in beautiful condition, my playing partner for the day asked the pro for membership information after our round.

I learned a couple of key things during my weeklong golf trip. First, my 75-year-old body is not made to play golf on five consecutive days, or even two for that matter. I posted a 75 on Monday and an 82 on Wednesday, and the other three rounds were well into the 90s, roughly eight to 10 strokes higher than my handicap. If I make such a golfing trip again, I will schedule off days before and after my rounds. There are plenty of sightseeing opportunities in Virginia and the Carolinas. Most of all, though, I learned that when you choose the right golfing companions, it does not matter how you play. That -- and a good 19th hole -- will help you put those bad strokes behind you.

I just returned home from a one-week swing through Virginia and the Carolinas that started with golf clubs in the car trunk and expectations wide open. I played five different courses in a twosome with three different friends – one new one, two longtime. With a golf handicap of 12, I should be disappointed that I failed to break 90 twice, but I have become realistic about my physical limitations. At 75, my back muscles are not built for five rounds in five days. They need a day or two to rejuvenate. By the end of the week, I was ready for an ice pack and heating pad – and filled with memories of terrific conversations, some good shots, and the accomplishment of a golfing goal.

My new friend, Jefferson Burgess, who grew up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley, is a character, and I mean that in the best sense of the word. I will be writing about Jefferson and his endeavors later in this space but, suffice to say, he is on a mission that lies on that thin line between genius and madness. (He is the first to admit that.) His mission, among other things, is to get the word out about the quality of golf and the general attractions of the Shenandoah Valley. He has started with a glossy print publication called BoBirdie – in a digital age, many will look on that as the “madness” part – which takes a lifestyle approach to the game and all that surrounds it (dining, local history and, in short, everything that makes the Shenandoah lifestyle unique). BoBirdie is a mashup of bogey and birdie, and Jefferson’s first issue, which I picked up at one of the Virginia Welcome Centers on Interstate 81, is an entertaining read whether you know much about the Shenandoah Valley or not. He has a solid communication strategy to make as many people as possible understand the Valley’s attractiveness, for golf and every other aspect of living. I will leave it at that for now…

Shenvalee3The greens were in excellent shape on the Shenvalee Resort's Creek and Miller nines. The surrounding mountains added to the stress-free nature of the round.

…except to say that I pulled the wool over my new friend’s eyes about the quality of my golf game. During our round at Shenvalee Resort in New Market, I was in a zone I haven’t felt for almost a decade -- not overswinging and hitting most shots flush. I was able to hit the ball straight enough to avoid shots from trees and rough and the other hazards Shenvalee presents. I shot a 75, the first time I have shot my age and something I thought might have to wait until next year at the earliest. Jefferson was a calming influence and a one-man enthusiastic gallery after each of my better shots. I credit his supportive attitude but also a new lob wedge and a 40-year-old putter I had put in the bag before leaving Connecticut for the trip. The new wedge had stopping power on the greens at Shenvalee, something my game hadn’t seen in 15 years or so. I also used a Ray Cook putter which I rescued from a dusty corner of the basement; it replaced a $350 See-More putter I bought 18 months ago and found to be just too bottom heavy. (Beautiful club but absolutely none of the “feel” I recall from previous putters.) I am feeling it again with my Ray Cook which cost nothing but a new $25 grip.

Shenvalee2Trees are the dominant "hazards" on the Shenvalee layout.

Shenvalee (pronounced shen-vuhlee, accent on the last two syllables) is an old-fashioned resort course that features 27 holes. The older nine, which we did not play, is short and with postage stamp greens. As I drove into the resort as the sun was going down, I passed one of those greens and thought “Uh oh” – smallest I have seen this side of a pitch and putt course. But the 18 we played – the Creek and the Miller Courses – featured reasonably sized greens and a sometimes classic, sometimes quirky layout. From the tips, the combo of the two nines plays to 6,400 yards; but given my paltry 190-yard average drive these days, I opted for the white tees at a total 5,600 yards and a modest 116 slope rating.

On most holes, you can see green and flagstick from the tee box, but a few of the holes feature blind tee shots. One memorable tee shot that took only seconds for Jefferson to explain to me, and a minute or two for me to digest, is a dogleg right par 4 with a large tree at the inner elbow of the bend and a severely tilted fairway to the left that just didn’t look as if it would hold any shot. Once I was mostly convinced where to aim with my 3-metal, I proceeded to push the shot into the tree and, luckily, bounded left into the fairway, about 180 yards from the green on a relatively short hole. I was happy to make bogey. Another hole, #4 on the Miller course, is either a par 3 or par 4, depending on where you choose to play from; it plays straight up a steep hill, around 160 yards for the par 3 layout or under 300 for the par 4. I preferred the par 4.

Extreme summer heat, Jefferson indicated, had burned out parts of the fairways at Shenvalee, but the course superintendent had done an excellent job on the greens, which were of medium speed and not too difficult to read. It had rained hard the night before, but the course drained well. This being a valley layout, it is ringed on two sides by mountains, and the distant backdrops are what you might find on many Vermont and New Hampshire layouts. The scenic views, a fun and mostly stress-free round and the good company of a new friend was exactly the right way to start my weeklong trip.

On the Sunday evening I pulled into the resort, foursomes were coming off the course as the sun went down. Many of the rooms in the 1960s style single-story motel buildings were clearly populated by buddy foursomes attracted by the fine golf course and cheap prices. The resort could use a refresh although my room was clean and functional. New Market is an historic town, site of a Civil War battle between Union forces and students from Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, about 40 miles south.

Twenty miles down the interstate, the college town of Harrisonburg – nickname “Rocktown” – is my new favorite town, with outstanding restaurants, including the Magpie Diner, a great place for brunch, Jimmy Madison’s, a barbecue and tavern combination, and Broad Porch café, whose coffee was so good I stopped there to bring back a couple of bags of beans to Connecticut at the end of my weeklong trip. Servers in Harrisonburg’s shops and restaurants appear to be almost exclusively college students, giving the town a youthful vibe. But plenty of their customers are baby boomers which implies that the Shenandoah Valley has been discovered by at least some of my contemporaries.

I could not find any current homes listed for sale at Shenvalee, but there is one lot, just under an acre, listed for $104,500. It backs up to the golf course and enjoys valley and mountain views. If interested, please contact me

Coming Soon: More on my trip, including photos of Tanglewood Park’s Championship Course in Clemmons, NC, site of the 1974 PGA Championship where Lee Trevino defeated Jack Nicklaus by one stroke.