Golf Course Review: Keswick anchors high end in Charlottesville area

House on the hill:  Keswick Hall dominates the landscape at Keswick Estate, as do the sand bunkers at the Arnold Palmer-designed course.

    Keswick Estate tends to its image with more care and self-consciousness than any other golfing community in the Charlottesville, VA, area.  It offers no condos or patio lots; the price points on its lots and large houses ensure that no riff raff will sully the community’s image or resale values.  The owners, British firm Orient-Express, welcome well-heeled guests in the 48-room Keswick Hall, a circa-1912 yellow stucco mansion that was purchased and tripled in size by Sir Bernard Ashley in 1990, who sold land and mansion to Orient-Express in 1999.
    One of the first things Cary Brent did in 2002 when Orient-Express hired him as director of estate development at Keswick was to double the price of the fledgling community’s lots.  It made him a popular guy among those who had paid modest prices for their properties.  It also helped remake the property’s image and reflected the Orient-Express plan to go slow in selling properties.  Brent says Orient-Express did not want to sell out the lots in just one or two years, preferring to take some time to upgrade the community’s reputation (and its selling prices).  The strategy appears to have worked; only a handful have sold in each of the last four years, but prices have increased significantly.  Today, with homes priced at $1.5 million and above, Keswick is at the highest end of Charlottesville’s golf community market.
    “People who live here [at Keswick],” Brent says matter of factly, “can live anywhere in the world.”
    Why then Keswick?  For one thing, privacy counts most in the community, which is home to a number of current and former CEOs, investors and entrepreneurs.  A manned security gate controls access to the community and resort house.  Membership in the golf club is capped at 450, but the roster is well short of that today and may never reach maximum, although the course has a few members from the surrounding community.  The club generates only 10,000 rounds a year, and an average round clocks in at just 3½ hours.  The Initiation fee for full golf is relatively low at $27,000, with dues a modest $365 per month.  Membership, which includes use of the five tennis courts and three swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), is not mandatory for homeowners.
    At 600 acres, with two-acre minimums for lots, Keswick is small as well as exclusive.  Thanks to local zoning regulations that have designated the town as “agricultural,” Keswick won’t have to bother with encroaching real estate development.  Despite its location in the middle of Virginia horse country, Keswick is just a 15-minute drive to Charlottesville and all it has to offer.  Grocery shopping and a hospital are even closer.
    We found the golf course a pleasant routing but overwrought in a few places.  We can’t say we are the biggest fans of Arnold Palmer courses, and Keswick did not cause us to reevaluate.  Palmer has reworked the Fred Findlay design by adding some huge traps, distracting from the natural contours and elevations that give the course its true character in the first place. Findlay has an established reputation as a fine early 20th Century architect – we will review his Farmington Golf Club in the next day or two -- and we can’t imagine his original layout needing such a dramatic makeover.  Arnie’s golf game was always aggressive, and sometimes his golf course designs reflect that, as it does at Keswick.  100_2122.JPG
    That said, the course was in fine condition, and the less overly expressed holes provided challenging shot-making opportunities.  The practice range includes a small, canopied shelter for those who like to practice in the rain.  The range isn’t large or fancy, but it doesn’t have to be since the course doesn’t generate much traffic.
    Every city area seems to have one upscale golf community, and in Charlottesville, that distinction goes to Keswick.  Although its golf course is not the most celebrated in the area, Keswick’s sophisticated air is undeniable.  Its homes are big and better spaced than in most communities.  From its perch on the hill, Keswick Hall defines the character of the community –- refined, solid and self-assured.  For more info, contact Cary Brent at 434-923-4320 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Web site:

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