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Monday, 23 April 2007 07:43

Williamsburg pitches business

    After a week of playing some nice golf courses in Williamsburg, VA, and scoping out a range of excellent communities, we predict the area will be a hot destination for those who want to live the golf lifestyle (hot except for the sweater weather a few months a year).  The area's charms would seem to be a magnet for corporate headquarters but, except for aerospace giant Northrup-Grumman, an Anheuser Busch brewery, Busch Gardens, a number of military bases, and some smaller ventures, we were surprised at the lack of big employers in the area.

    Apparently that is not for want of trying.  Today's Wall Street Journal carries a quarter-page ad touting the City of Williamsburg as a place to "innovate" and "imagine."  We can imagine that more businesses would mean more crowded roads, but we were impressed by how good and plentiful the roads in the area are, as if anticipating future growth.  Forbes.com ranked the state of Virginia #1 for business last year, and we have to believe that Williamsburg is a potentially number-one place for business in Virginia.  For those looking to ease into retirement with, perhaps, a part-time job in a vibrant community that is on the move, Williamsburg will be a place to look in the coming years.

 

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Merchant Square in the heart of Williamsburg features quaint shops and a number of restauraunts.

 

    For all but the most adolescent-minded of buddy golfers, Williamsburg is a better choice for both a golfing week and, perhaps, a permanent living situation, than is Myrtle Beach.  
    There are just so many courses you can play in one week; having 115 of them at your disposal on The Grand Strand is superfluous.  After a week in Williamsburg, I'd say that the area's top 10 golf courses are as good as the top 10 in Myrtle Beach, which I have played over time.  And the atmosphere at the golf clubs in the Williamsburg area seemed more refined.  Williamsburg has no strip joints and no bars per se (just bars in restaurants), so if you are on a cut-loose golf vacation, head for Myrtle Beach or Orlando.  But for the pure golf crowd focused on the golf, excellent lodging, some cultural activities post round and a good meal each evening, Williamsburg is a viable alternative.
    Getting around Williamsburg seemed a lot easier than negotiating Highway 17 in Myrtle Beach.  Williamsburg is finally growing as other southeastern golf destinations have grown, but the town already has good roads in place, including I-64 and US 60.  Only at peak commuter times did I encounter any hiccups in traffic flow, mostly the result of traffic-signal congestion.

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Although Pete Dye softened his original design at Kingsmill's River Course, he still made the greens a challenge to get to.

 

      Williamsburg offers virtually every combination of golf course community, with prices to match a range of budgets.  The resort community of Kingsmill provides two outstanding golf courses (The River and The Woods courses) and a good one in The Plantation course.  Its nine-hole par three course runs along the James River with stunning views.  Services at the golf course were excellent, for both guests and members, friendly and prompt and providing the feel of a private club.  The lack of a resort hotel building - guests stay in condos - enhances the notion of private club.  Because Kingsmill has been a tournament venue for more than 25 years, and is currently home of the LPGA Michelob Ultra open, the golfing amenities are excellent.  Housing in Kingsmill, which is owned and run by Anheuser Busch, whose brewery and Busch Gardens are on adjacent properties, runs the gamut, from townhouses and condos to estate-sized homes, at prices that range from $350,000 to more than $4 million.  Golf club initiation fees are $25,000 per couple, refundable at 75% of total (non-equity initiation is $10,000).  One important note:  Each day, Kingsmill designates one of its courses for member-play only, a daring and smart move.

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Guests at the Marriott Hotel, one of the busiest in the chain, can almost roll out of bed and play one of the three courses at Ford's Colony.

 

    The huge Ford's Colony, which is more than 20 years old, finesses its status as a resort.  Its residential areas are segregated from the tourist's rentals and the Marriott Hotel that provides many of the golf packages that help populate and fund maintainence of the 54 holes of golf.  Although the main entrances to the 4,00+ acre community are not gated, a key code is required for access to the interior entrances to the property's various neighborhoods.  As at Kingsmill, Ford's Colony offers the entire range of house options, at prices that begin at $300,000 for a town home.  Single-family homes with water or golf course views begin around $650,000. The three courses at Ford's Colony don't provide the drama or river views of Kingsmill, but a mid-teens handicap player will find much to like in the Dan Maples designs.  Blue Heron was pretty easy without being boring, probably the best definition of a resort course.  Golf initiation fees at Ford's Colony are $30,000 if you purchase a home through the on-site real estate office, $60,000 otherwise.  We met one person during the week who had purchased a home in Ford's Colony via an outside real estate agent and resented the $30,000 "penalty" for having done so.  He opted to join the Two Rivers Club at Governor's Land instead, for an initiation fee of $30,000 (equity).

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The 16th at the Two Rivers course at Governor's Land provides the first glimpse of the James and Chickahominy Rivers, beyond the green.

 

    What Governor's Land lacks in quantity (of golf) it makes up for in quality.  It is the only strictly private golf community in Williamsburg. Its 18-hole Two Rivers Golf Club by Tom Fazio, opened in 1992, is lined with homes mostly designed in the Williamsburg tradition -- large, attractive and well back from the course, hidden for the most part behind mounds.  The Fazio layout features a number of doglegs with the designer's customary big fairway bunkers, well-protected and undulating greens and, of course, buried cart paths.  The two rivers at Two Rivers are the Chickahominy and James which merge just behind the clubhouse, forming a three-mile wide body of water that gives the effect almost of playing at ocean side (the wind blows too).  Although the final three holes play along the river, the water does not come into play unless you overcook severely your approach on the finishing hole.

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Narrow landing areas are only a few of the many challenges at the Arthur Hills layout for Colonial Heritage.

 

    Colonial Heritage is a six-year old, age-restricted community whose challenging (tough, really) Arthur Hills course opened for public play in October.   You must be 55 or older to live in the community and are required to abide by certain restrictions (e.g. limits on length of visits by children and grandchildren).  Like most such communities, the gated Colonial Heritage is loaded with amenities like an indoor pool, a vast clubhouse (we were impressed by the two pool tables), concierge-type services, and reasonably priced houses, albeit on small lots set close together.  I felt a little masochistic in my admiration for the difficult golf course, and I was confused as well:  I don't know many players in their 60s and older who will be able to negotiate the forced carries over ravines that Hills has incorporated into his inventive design.  It is small wonder the course counts only 44 members thus far, in spite of the modest initiation fees of $3,150 (per couple) for community residents (members also pay just $10 per cart rental, the best rate we have found anywhere).  For those of us up for a severe challenge, Colonial Heritage is a must stop, in nice shape and with helpful folks in and around the golf shop.     

    Not everyone wants a home inside the gates of an amenities-loaded golf community, especially if membership in a private club is not a priority.  In Williamsburg, the choices for daily-fee play are abundant.  Williamsburg National is a 36-hole complex by The Nicklaus Design Group that emerged next to The Greens Springs timeshare resort (Does anyone buy timeshares anymore?).  I drove through the surrounding communities - there are at least a half dozen that touch the courses at some point - and the choices were plentiful and less expensive than in the area's gated communities.  Other excellent daily fee courses, including the heralded Mike Strantz layout at Stonehouse, are all within a half hour.

    Finally, my only golfing disappoint with my week in Williamsburg was that I did not get to play either of the two renowned courses at The Golden Horseshoe complex, the only one in the area that is without adjacent housing.  Many regard The Gold Course as the best layout in Williamsburg, something I hope to confirm on a drive south later this summer spring.

    We will publish a much more estensive overview of Williamsburg and its golfing communities in an upcoming issue of HomeOnTheCourse, our bi-monthly newsletter. 

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The fairway at #7 at Colonial Heritage is built above a ravine, necessitating a carry of at least 200 yards on your drive and then a medium to long iron over the ravine to the green.

 

    The Arthur Hills course at Colonial Heritage in Williamsburg is a stern test of golf, almost too stern at times for any but the most accomplished golfer.  This was at least the fourth Hills course I've played, and each one of them has left me feeling totally satisfied in a slightly masochistic way.  The architecture cognascenti don't necessarily agree, but Hills is a vastly underrated designer in my less than humble opinion.    

    The Colonial Heritage layout is tougher than Hills' respected Palmetto Course at The Landings at Skidaway Island, which I played last year.  Colonial Heritage, which opened for public as well as member play last October, is set right in the middle of a large, age-restricted community of the same name; you must be at least 55 to live inside the gates.  But anyone in the area can play the course for relatively modest greens fees.  On the first sunny day in a week, we teed off at 8:45 a.m. and didn't see any other groups during our round.  And given that the golf club has just 44 current members, one logical conclustion is that the Hills course has gained a reputation as being difficult.  Despite its five sets of tees, many men past 60 and women will not have the length to carry the wide ravines that front a few of the greens; and the casual public course player might feel abused by the "reward" of a blind shot after a good drive.  Even for those who can hit a six iron 160 yards, it is not easy to get close enough to front pin positions; anything past the pin yields nasty downhill putts on fast greens from behind the hole (or difficult chip shots from U.S. Open length rough).  The pins on the day we played were in reasonably accessible areas, but it would not be fun to go at them on a morning the greens keeper is in a bad mood.    

    I was matched with Tom Abbott, a resident of Ford's Colony and former member at the Two Rivers course at the Governor's Club.  Tom and his wife are contemplating a move to a golf community in West Virginia; local real estate agents have been telling him his home in Ford's Colony has appreciated as much as 30% in the three years they have lived there.  Tom and I agreed that the price appreciation is the result of two things; a good housing market in Williamsburg and the increase in construction materials that has pushed costs from an average $150 per square foot up to around $180 or more.  

    Tom had played the course a few times earlier and came out to push himself and his game to the limit.  He played well, but with a handicap of 12, he chose the silver tees (6,000 yards) to fully enjoy the game.  I played from the green tees, at almost 6,400 yards, and enjoyed my game when I hit the ball on my chosen line which, surprisingly, was most of the time.  But the approach shots I struck even slightly off line seemed invariably to find the four-to-six-inch deep rough, and the difficult chips rarely left me with a gimmee.

    The greens themselves will be wonderful in a few weeks, after the aeration bumps left by a good punching 10 days ago settle in.  In spite of the aeration and fertilizer spraying the greens received just before our round, they were medium fast.  One of the courses rangers told us they typically read 11 on the stimpmeter, which is about as fast as any public course ever gets.   Like most new courses, it was very difficult to get a good reading on the putting lines, and invariably Tom and I were reduced to whining about misreading.  I didn't make one outside of four feet all day.    

    It was interesting to play the Hills course the day after playing Pete Dye's renowned River Course at Kingsmill.  The Hills course is tougher, its fairway landing areas tighter and its forced carries longer and more threatening.  Bunkers at the two courses were similar in terms of placement and size.  Both courses are public accessible, and the next time you are in Williamsburg, I urge you to try them.  And if you are interested in property, please let us know; we have qualified an excellent, knowledgeable broker in the area who knows all the golf communities inside and out.  We'll be happy to put you in touch.    

    Thanks to Tom for his companionship and for guiding me on some of those blind shots.  It helped.

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After the difficult 7th, there is no let-up at #8, with its two tiered green and trouble all around.  Pull your tee shot and you are left (literally and figuratively) for dead.  Right is not much better. 

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Tom Abbott lives at Ford's Colony but is considering a move to West Virginia to escape some of the summer heat. 

Friday, 20 April 2007 01:08

Ready for the ladies

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Fans lucky enough to secure a seat behind the 17th will have a great view of the hole and the James River at Kingsmill Resort's River Course.

 

    The River Course at Kingsmill is everything you would expect of a professional golf tour stop.  It is in terrific shape, and not nearly as good as it will be in a month when the LPGA makes its stop for the Michelob Ultra Open.  You may recall the PGA used the course for 22 years as its local tour stop.  In 1994, Pete Dye renovated his own original design, adding new fairway bunkers and softening some of the harder edges on and around the greens. 

    From the blue tees at 6,300 yards, the course rating is a modest 70.9 with a slope of 133, which seemed a little inflated for the routing.  The comparables from the gold tees, at 6,800, are 73.3 and 138.  Distance counts for a lot at the River Course, and when the blue tees were back near the gold tees, the holes played much tougher.    

    Kingsmill must have spent a fortune in over-seeding its courses last fall because everything was green and near lush, including the rough, which was close to tournament length.  The greens were smooth but very difficult to read; Dye's typical mounding around the greens made it seem as if putts broke away from them, but looks were often deceiving.    

    There wasn't a bad hole in the 18, and a few memorable ones.  The 17th, the par 3 that runs along the James River, is about what you see on TV - treacherous right of the green and nasty to the left (nasty is better than treacherous).  The 15th, a benignly distanced par 5 at just 473 yards, requires that you thread the needle off the tee between one trap left and four at right.  If you make the go zone, a deep ravine awaits, covering the entire right half of the fairway in front of the narrow green.  Left and front of the green almost guarantees a par, if not a birdie; the ravine leads to bogey or worse.

    We were restricted to cart path only, and one ranger told us he expects it to be that way right up until the LPGA arrives.  I'm sure the course will close in the next two weeks as the heavy resort play has left many divots in the fairways.              

    I had the pleasure of playing the round with Chuck Coe, a self-described "rug merchant" from Maryland and a member of the Bethesda Golf Club.  We had a great conversation during the round and at lunch about golf, family and exercise (Chuck was quite articulate about how yoga has helped him regain and maintain flexibility and improved his golf game after serious shoulder and knee surgeries).  Yes, it's fun to go away with your buddies for a week of golf, but one of the glories of the game is the match-up with total strangers who, for four hours at least, turn out to be good friends.  Thanks Chuck.

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Modern art:  From the tee at #5, the stream, bunker and mounding form parallel lines around the smallish green. 

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Chuck Coe of Maryland played some excellent golf and was great company.

Thursday, 19 April 2007 16:38

When I'm 64...

  Yesterday I noted that I have lost significant distance off the tee since last year, maybe 20 yards, and I am about one club shorter with my irons.  I know it is the lack of shoulder turn, the result largely of advancing age and sedentary habits.  Still, I had my best score of the year on the back nine at Ford's Colony's Blue Heron course in Williamsburg, so the logical conclusion is that the course was easy.     

    Dan Maples designed the Blue Heron as well as the two other 18s at Ford's Colony, the Black Heath and the Marsh Hawk.  None of the ratings from the men's tees exceed 70.0 and the highest slope rating is 125 (the Blue Heron is 124 at 6,328 yards).  I like Maples courses, but his designs do seem geared to "vacationers." (Who wants stress on a vacation?)  The Blue Heron, which featured some nice elevation changes, fairly slick and smooth greens, and just enough in-play water to keep some adrenaline pumping, was the right medicine to boost my ego with a decent score.  But I am not sure this, or its companion courses at Ford's Colony, would satisfy me day in and day out while I still pretend I am the golfer I once was.   

    Those of us contemplating retirement to a golf-oriented lifestyle face a dilemma:  Will the course we choose to play a few times a week pose enough of a challenge or too much of one?  At the brutally tough Davis Love III course in Chapel Hill, The Preserve at Lake Norman, breaking 80, for a 10-handicap golfer, would be a thrill; but the thrills would be far and few between.  I also have played a course in eastern Tennessee, at Rarity Bay, that was so forgiving that the thrill was gone by the end of one round.       

    The Blue Heron tended a little toward the easy side, but in five years, who knows?  It might be all the challenge I would want, and then some.  So in choosing a community and its adjacent golf course(s), do we make the big investment based on our game today or the one we project for ourselves a few years out?   My own theory is that many of us will have it both ways, moving a few times in retirement for a number of reasons, not the least to rehab our scores on courses more suited to our then-current game.  As the generational psychologists like to say, baby boomers want what they want.      

   

    Last night's dinner was at a local Vietnamese restaurant called Chez Trinh.  The "Chez" part is a little frilly, since there are no combo French/Viet dishes on the menu, but the food was serious, ample and quite tasty.  The crab and asparagus soup was the real thing, not those ubiquitous, imitation and unfortunately named sea legs, but real shredded crab.  The white asparagus may have come out of a can, but the half dozen pieces held their own in the silky broth.  The rice paper that enclosed pieces of garlic pork, mint leaves and bean sprouts was a bit spongy, and the pork seemed a little past its prime, but the mint gave the dish a refreshing kick.     

    The Saigon Seafood plate announced itself just as the kitchen door opened, a sizzling - almost howling - dish that included small shrimp, the oxymoronic large shrimp, and scallops, as well as a heady dose of ginger.  Well-prepared Vietnamese food depends on the freshest ingredients, and this dish did not disappoint.    

 

    Later today I play the River Course at Kingsmill, which Pete Dye renovated a couple of years ago.  Stay tuned.

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The 17th on the Blue Heron at Ford's Colony is not as tough as it appears.  That bank in front of the pin is not steep and you can land just short of the green without fear of rolling into the water.  However, the pin position indicator -- halfway up the stick -- was wrong.  The pin was at front on a very deep green, and I hit way too much club.

Tuesday, 17 April 2007 22:52

Williamsburg notes

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The finishing hole on the Two Rivers course is a hard dogleg left around the marshy indentations of the Chickahominy and James Rivers.

 

    I won't burden you with a restaurant review today; I left the haute cuisine circuit last night and opted for the Chinese buffet down the street from the hotel.  All I'll say is it was pretty mediocre.    
    Yesterday I toured the community of Governor's Land at Two Rivers and played the golf course.  Governor's Land is pretty well completed, with just 80 lots of a total 733 still waiting for houses.  The homeowners association runs the community and the members guide the golf club, having been handed the reins by Dominion Resources, the developers, a few years ago.     

    The community is all single-family houses, no town homes, and the starting prices are in the mid $500s.  The James and Chickahominy Rivers merge at Governor's Land, thus giving the community its embellished name "at Two Rivers." Homes that overlook either or both of the two rivers run into the few millions.       

    The Tom Fazio-designed Two Rivers Golf Club course meanders through woods until it emerges at the confluence of the rivers for the three finishing holes.  For the most part the water is not in play, but it does form an impressive backdrop.  I didn't play the course on its best day - it rained hard the day before and the greens had been aerated and top-dressed a few days earlier - but it gave every indication that, in a month, it will be in splendid shape.  The greens, despite the sandy surface, were almost fast.  And, as always, Fazio has done a splendid job of burying the cart paths behind mounds and in the woods.  Since it was cart-path only, I was exhausted by the end of the round with all the walking back and forth.  I'll have more to say about the Two Rivers course later here and in an upcoming issue of HomeOnTheCourse.    

    After golf, I stopped by the pro shop at Colonial Heritage, a fairly new age-restricted (55 years) community just north of town with a few months old Arthur Hills course.  It the weather holds out, I am hoping to play the course later in the week; I have yet to play anything less than a good Hills design, and from the looks of the 18th, with a lake fronting the greenside, this one may not change my mind.    

    The four communities I'm visiting this week are remarkably close to one another.  Kingsmill, Governor's Land, Ford's Colony, and Colonial Heritage are no more than 15 minutes apart.  Only Governor's Land is private, so those opting not to join a club have these good choices, as well as the heralded Golden Horseshoe courses and about a dozen other fine ones within 35 minutes.    

    I visit Ford's Colony tomorrow.

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The 4th hole at Two Rivers could qualify as the signature hole at many other courses, but since it does not run along the two rivers, it must settle for tough and good looking status. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2007 00:59

"Lazy" Williamsburg and the Fat Canary

    One of the nation's first cities, Williamsburg, VA, has been in a perpetual state of torpor since its earliest days.  One anonymous 19th Century pundit summed it up when referring to the local Eastern State Hospital (the lunatic asylum), the town's main source of income and employment for much of the 18th and 19th Centuries, as "500 lazy [living] off 500 crazy."     

    Today, the town lives substantially off the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit annually the privately run Colonial Williamsburg and the state run settlements of Jamestown and Yorktown down road.  In the summer they clog the roads, the oldest among them coming in for a little benign, behind-their- backs abuse from the townspeople, who refer to them as "creepy crawlers" for the speed with which they move (or rather don't move).  Still, the townspeople know better than to bite the hands that feed them, and whether they mean it or not, they are friendly and helpful in the stores, on the streets and in the pro shops of the area's fine golf courses.     

    Many of those tourists come back to Williamsburg eventually to live.  An estimated 60% of the residents of Kingsmill, which we visited yesterday, first encountered Williamsburg on a vacation.  Most of the rest of the residents are current and former members of all branches of the armed services, as Williamsburg is within an hour of Norfolk and two hours of D.C.
    Kingsmill is a resort community, but the residential areas are well separated from the modest sized resort, which comprises just 100 of the community's 3,000 acres.  Kingsmill has no hotel.  Every day, one of the resort's three excellent golf courses is designated for member play only, a very smart move on the part of the courses' owners, Anheuser Busch, whose brewery and famed Busch Gardens are at the edge of the property but well out of site.  The nine-hole par 3 course, squeezed in below and beyond the resort's pool, is an amazing sight, sitting on some of the best real estate in Kingsmill.  The two-mile wide James River is in view from every hole, making this possibly the most scenic pitch and putt course in America (and it is in pristine shape as well).       

    Kingsmill is quite laid back despite the resort traffic but consistent with Williamsburg's own demeanor.  Sleepiness is part of a great tradition in the town.  An editorial from a 1912 edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch put it best: "Tuesday was election day in Williamsburg but nobody remembered it. The clerk forgot to wake the electoral board, the electoral board could not arouse itself long enough to have the ballots printed, the candidates forgot they were running, the voters forgot they were alive."  Now that's sleepy.

 

    Someone forgot to tell Tom Powers that he is supposed to take it easy.  Powers is the creative chef at the always busy Fat Canary restaurant off Merchant Square in downtown Williamsburg.  My meal there last night more than made up for a mediocre one the night before (see the review on 4/15) and showed some big city inventiveness.
    As a single diner, I feel as obvious as a fat canary when I sit at a table in a crowded restaurant, and so I opt for the bar.  On this Monday night, the Fat Canary was crowded, a good sign insofar as Monday is typically slow. (Most savvy patrons are nervous that they might be served the weekend's "leftovers.")  But Fat Canary is a full-steam-ahead, seven-day a week operation, dinner only, so there really aren't any weekends per se.   

    I would have been content ordering off the five-appetizer, seven-entrée menu, but I was hell bent on having seafood after a few days of steaks and barbecue in North Carolina.  So when the friendly barkeep mentioned the appetizer of seared tuna, served rare on a bed of Japanese ponzu-broth- infused diced vegetables ($14.95), the healthy part of my heart skipped a beat.  It turned out to be everything I had hoped for, the tuna rare as promised, and sparkling fresh, with only a light searing, and the crisp nuggets of vegetables perfumed by the fragrant sauce (sorry for the purple prose, but it really was good). 

    For the entrée, I stuck with my resolve for seafood, forgoing the special of halibut on a bed of lobster risotto at the pricey $38.95, and opting for the roasted monkfish with curried Virginia clams & oysters, chorizo sausage, charred tomato, basil and chive couscous at a relatively reasonable $25.95. 
    I'm glad I did.  Talk about fusion, this dish melded wonderfully the tastes of Asia (the curry flavor was somewhere between India and Thailand, pungent but not at all overpowering), the couscous a delicate version of the usually taken-for-granted Moroccan grain, and the chorizo (which was both sweet and a little spicy) representing the northern Mediterranean.  The last fluffy little pile of couscous soaked up the last droplets of curry sauce; I thought the perfect timing was pretty cool.     

    When I first read the menu item, I thought, "Who cares where the clams and oysters are from?" but I realized later that I had missed the point.  The point was that "Virginia" clams and oysters meant fresh, and were they ever, tiny little things that were easy to pluck from their shells and were bristling with briny flavor.  Oh yes, the monkfish itself had a really nice char on the outside and managed to be both flaky and almost creamy beneath.  What a great dish!    

    I will say, though, that my entrée last night took as long to deliver as it did the night before, almost a half hour after I had finished my appetizer.  It must be that lazy Williamsburg thing.     

    The Fat Canary, whose name is from a poem by John Lyly, a Colonial era poet ("Oh for a bowl of fat Canary, rich Palermo, sparkling sherry...") does not maintain a web site since, according to the bartender, "the owners are 80 years old."  And why bother?

 

We'll have more to say about Kingsmill and a few of the other area golfing communities in an upcoming issue of HomeOnTheCourse.  Look for a special announcement about the newsletter coming in the next few weeks.
 

    We spent Friday at Washington & Lee University in Lexington, VA.  Son Tim, the golfer, has been accepted there, and although we had made a prior visit, we had not met golf coach Gavin Colliton.  And in evaluating his choices, Tim insists on taking a look at the golf team's home course before he decides on his college (Davidson College and University of the South in Sewanee, TN are also in play).     

    We didn't have time to play the course, but we did stop to look at the sleek Lexington Country Club, whose original nine were opened in 1906.  Today, the course is a hilly, tree lined 18 in excellent condition, very green for mid-April in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with just a little more grass growth needed on the greens.  The adjacent community sits well back from the course, and from most holes you cannot see any houses.      

    At less than 6,400 yards from the tips, Lexington certainly is not long, but views of #1 and #18 from behind the clubhouse indicate it is tricky.  The first fairway, lined with trees from about 200 yards out, tilts hard from high right to low left.  Assuming the tee ball stays out of the trees, the approach is uphill to a smallish green with traps guarding its right half.      

    The finishing hole, a 520-yard par 5, is downhill from the tee, so a well-placed drive puts you in the go zone to the green.  But the approach - whether the second or third - is not for the faint of heart, with a stream at the base of the steep hill that leads up to the elevated, two-tiered green.  On the day we visited, the pin was on the far right, just in front of a trap.  Put your approach on the top tier of the green on the left side and your putt will likely roll past the cup and off the green.  Go for the pin and you will face the prospect of rolling down into the creek if you are short; or if you go long, a trap shot with an impossible downhill blast and the risk of being back down the hill.  The only bailout area is to the right of the green, leaving a delicate but not unmanageable chip shot.  It is a beautifully designed hole by Ellis Maples and Ed Seay, the course's most recent designers (1971).    

    The club has a longstanding affiliation with the university and offers membership to non-resident parents of students for just $1,000 per school year.  Lexington is a small but culturally rich town, given its two schools (the Virginia Military Institute is just down the road from W&L).     

    If you are wide open to choices about where to relocate and would be happy playing just one excellent golf course is a strongly collegiate town, Lexington is worth a look.  Phone:  540-463-3542.  One caveat:  The driving range is irons only.

    I am visiting communities in the historic town of Williamsburg, VA, this week.  The plan is to gather information about Kingsmill, Governor's Land, Ford's Colony, Washington National and Colonial Heritage, a 55 and over community with an Arthur Hills golf course.  If you are interested in the area and want me to address specific questions about Williamsburg, please contact me through the "Contact" button at the right.    Although I will write extensively about Williamsburg and its golfing communities in a future issue of HomeOnTheCourse, our advisory newsletter, I'll file a few notes in this space in the coming days.  The following is a quick review of dinner at a local restaurant last night (Sunday).     

    After a six-hour drive, I was looking for a good meal in comfortable surroundings, including a bar, a TV and something on draft.  I found it - for the most part - at the Blue Talon Bistro in the quaint and historic Merchant Square section of the town.  The bar had a zinc top, very modern and, though out of place in Colonial Williamsburg, it was wide and immaculately clean.  Above the bar was the requisite plasma screen.  The programming was a little monotonous, a continuously looping DVD of Julia Child cooking.  Without the sound on, Ms. Child's cooking appeared to have no other purpose than to get the taste buds going. It worked.

    The Blue Talon offers daily specials as well as a set menu that presents a range of meat, poultry and seafood items.  In addition, a special menu with three appetizers and entrees was also offered.  Sunday's weekly special is coq au vin; I was tempted, but I opted for the pork belly special, and ordered the country pate as my appetizer.  The pate ($7.95) was presented beautifully on a plate that included fanned out slices of fresh French bread, a tiny frying pan filled with gherkins and chunks of candied fruit and a little jar of grainy mustard at the center of the plate.  Tiny, salty, pitted French olives and larger green olives were scattered around the plate, making the entire portion as generous as it was pretty.  Too bad the pate was lacking the same level of taste of the accompaniments.     

    Given the size of the appetizer, I wished I had not ordered a salad ($4.95), but it turned out to be a simple plate of lettuces with a tasty vinegar and oil dressing, a generous ramekin of blue cheese chunks on the side.  No harm done.    

    I was looking forward to the pork bellies which, when done properly, have the kind of lustrous texture you would expect of a piece of meat generously layered with fat. The cast iron pot and fragrant beefy and anise scented steam promised something special, but sadly, these pork bellies ($21.95) didn't measure up.  The meat was not only too chewy, but the fat was cold and un-melted.  This was curious coming from a steaming cast iron pot - I was warned not to touch it - and I can only think that my bellies had been taken out of the refrigerator, or maybe even the freezer, just moments before immersion in the pot.  I put the meat back in the pot, which helped a little.  But since it took 25 minutes after my salad for the steaming pot to arrive, there was no good excuse for this miss.  If I'm going to give up so many calories, I want my fat melted at least.    

    My meal at the bar took a full 90 minutes, not long if you are in the dining room with wife and friends, but too leisurely for eating at the bar.  And to add insult to injury, the bartender coughed continuously throughout the meal.
    The Blue Talon promised a lot but came up short on its delivery.  I might give it one more chance this week, but I will choose my dishes more carefully.  Web site:  www.bluetalonbistro.com

Friday, 13 April 2007 03:00

A taste of Bald Head Island

    Island living is not for everyone, especially on an island reached only by ferry.  Just getting used to trading a car for a cart as your major mode of transportation is daunting enough, but then consider no shopping malls, no doctors' offices within 15 minutes, no hospitals in case of emergency.     

    But of course, there are the compensations.  No cars mean no pollution, no honking of horns or the potential for road rage.  Life is so much gentler than on the mainland, and you can walk or drive your golf cart to just about everything, including the golf course in just a few minutes.     

    For those drawn to the notion of island living without having tested their resolve, a place like Bald Head Island, a 20-minute ferry ride from Southport, NC, offers a couple of options.  The customary one is to rent a house for the summer, or any other season for that matter, and try it out.  But if you plan to live in a place year round, a one-season summer or fall sampler will not necessarily tell you all you need to know about life on an island in the dead of winter.
    Purchasing a piece of The Hammocks at Bald Head is an interesting alternative.  It is based on the time-share concept.  Essentially, you purchase one week per season - four weeks annually - at one of the nicely designed cottage-like buildings in the island's maritime forest, overlooking a part of the golf course.  The units are fully furnished and maintained and virtually all come equipped with the golf cart that is ubiquitous on Bald Head.  Ownership conveys membership in the Bald Head Island Club and its links-style golf course, the oceanfront Shoals Club and the on-site Hammocks Club which includes a clubhouse with fitness center and other amenities, as well as a "services coordinator."     

    Four weeks at the Hammocks begins around $150,000 for a two-bedroom unit and $160,000 for a three bedroom.  Insofar as homes less than a ½ mile away on the beach at Bald Head are on the market for as much as $4 million and more, The Hammocks provides an affordable entry into the high-end beach life.  Contact Bald Head Island agent John Liles at 800-346-5192.

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