Golf with Old Friends, a New One and Shooting My Age

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.

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