Review: Creighton Farms, Aldie, VA

      In the good old days – a mere three or four years ago -- communities with golf courses that earned awards of distinction from the likes of Golf Digest and Golf Magazine did not have to work too hard to attract plenty of residents and club members willing to pay six-figure initiation fees and seven-figure home prices.  Many of those golf communities required their residents to be at least social members, if not full golf members, thereby guaranteeing a steady flow of income to the club.  Amenities were not optional; if you were a dedicated couch potato, you still paid for the fancy Nautilus equipment you never used in the community’s fitness center.  Yet even couch potatoes were not upset about paying up during the funny-money era; they assumed that more and fancier amenities would help their high-priced homes appreciate in value.

        And, for a time, they were right.  But in the current economy, it takes more than great golf and sophisticated big new homes to sway prospects anxious about their financial portfolios.  The high end of the market is hurting, and the competition for the rare million dollar buyers is intense.  Today, it takes eye-catching extras and some unique accommodations to push the undecided into making big real estate investment decisions.


The Golf Club at Creighton Farms gets off to a rousing start with a generous fairway but challenging approach, elements that characterize the rest of the course.  All photos by L. J. Gavrich


        Southworth Development, the newest owners of Creighton Farms, appears to understand the reality of the upper end of today’s marketplace, and the company has adjusted accordingly.  The $87,500 membership in the Aldie, VA, golf club is being waived for new residents, at least for the duration of 2010.  Fees for other levels of membership are wellCreighton Farms provides precises distances at its practice range. off their pre-recession highs.  The restriction to build a home within two years of a lot purchase has been lifted.  Construction is underway on a 29,000 square foot clubhouse (dedication next August), and an up-scale sports and fitness center will follow (coming in late 2012); however, membership in the amenities package is no longer mandatory for residents, nor is social membership.  The clubhouse will include nine suites to accommodate members’ guests and visiting families.  For the busy executive who has neither time nor patience for shopping malls, the club offers a unique concierge service that includes made-to-measure clothes and a wide range of other extras that would make Jeeves blush (including party planning and car detailing).

        Creighton Farms can also now boast of something a rare few other communities have -- Jack Nicklaus.  Nicklaus, who designed Creighton Farms’ highly regarded golf course, recently committed to live in one of the community’s 25 Villa homes when he and his family are in the D.C. area.


Bunkers at Creighton Farms are not superfluous.  Nicklaus puts them in places that make you plot a strategy and grit your teeth.


        Nicklaus’ reputation notwithstanding, Southworth Development itself may be Creighton Farms’ key asset.  Though the company is just six years old, founder David Southworth started his career in residential development in 1992 as CEO at the Willowbend golf community on Cape Cod.  He and business partner Joe Deitch, founder of the Commonwealth Financial Network ($50 billion under management and the largest privately owned broker/dealer in the U.S.) stepped in when the original managers of Creighton Farms, Ritz-Carlton, suffered the slings of a falling economy and the arrows of too much competition in the D.C. area (the nation’s capital is 45 minutes away and Dulles International Airport a mere 20 minutes).  Creighton Farms was Ritz’ second foray into golf community management (Jupiter in Florida was the first), and it may be their last, given their rocky experience.  Southworth concluded that Creighton Farms fit its sharply honed portfolio of high-end golf properties, including Machrihanish Dunes on the west coast of Scotland, Renaissance Club near Boston, PGA Village on Cat Island in The Bahamas and Costa Caribe Golf & Country Club in Puerto Rico, all clubs that offer reciprocal privileges for Creighton members.  Ritz-Carlton and its partners were only too happy to turn it over to Southworth a year and a half ago.

        The 900-acre site at Creighton Farms includes just 184 home sites, a couple of dozen on one-acre lots in The Villas section (priced at $1.4 million and up) and the majority on properties that range from three to seven acres, with views of the golf course or the rolling countryside (some owners will be lucky enough to have both views).  Just 13 homes will comprise a section called The Enclave, with lot/home packages starting at $1.69 million.  Home sites in a section called Legacy begin at $620,000 and run to $1.3 million on the golf course.  The Legacy II neighborhood, when it opens, will offer home sites in the mid six-figure range.  Mandatory minimum size in The Villas is 3,000 square feet and maximum of 4,500 square feet.  In the other sections, minimum square footage runs from 4,000 to 5,000, depending on whether the house has one or two stories.


Home construction is well under way again at Creighton Farms now that Southworth Development, whose portfolio of communities and courses include the David McClay-Kidd stunner at Machrahanish Dunes on the west coast of Scotland, has restored a sense of equilibrium.  Members of Creighton enjoy reciprocal privileges at Southworth's other clubs.


        From the outside, Creighton Farms’ homes are impressive both in size and design but by no means repetitive, even though the developer uses just five builders.  The 14 homes built or under-construction span the styles of French Provincial, English Manor, English Romantic, Colonial Revival and American Vernacular (craftsmen-style) and co-exist harmoniously, owing mostly to the separation the large properties gives them and the mostly natural and rustic exteriors.

        The golf course is everything you would expect in such lavish surroundings and lives up to its billing as one of the best new courses of 2008 (Travel & Leisure Golf actually named it the best new private course that year).  I have played a dozen or so Nicklaus-designed golf courses, including my home course at Pawleys Plantation in Pawleys Island, SC, but Creighton Farms may be the best from a pure design standpoint.  Right off the bat on the first tee box, Nicklaus presents a set of challenges and a look that will characterize the rest of the round -- large bunkers, small bunkers,

Travel & Leisure Golf magazine named Creighton Farms the best new private golf club of 2008.

fairways that dip and swerve -- sometimes toward those bunkers -- and greens as well-protected as a Brinks armored car.  At just 6,223 yards from the Member tees, the rating of 71.2 is less indicative than the slope of 135, which implies the kind of havoc Creighton Farms can wreak on a bogey golfer who has occasional loft issues.  The 2nd hole is one of those nifty short par 4s, just 307 from the Member tees, but the fairway wide bunker at 30 yards or so in front of the green is there to warn you that risk and reward are unequal partners.  The 3rd hole is even shorter relative to par; a par 5 of just 445 from the Member tees, sand is in play on every shot, and a bold attempt at the green in two must fly surrounding bunkers that are so embedded into the false front that they seem to prop up the entire putting surface.



        And so it goes throughout the round at Creighton Farms, the bunkers supplemented with areas of “scrub” in name only; these areas combine colorful combinations of grasses and goldenrod that seem almost composed.  The few greens that provide a welcome front door entrance also present steep upgrades and treacherous bunkers tucked close in left and right.  Sightlines from tee to fairway and fairway to green are uncluttered at Creighton Farms; Rick Bechtold, the membership director and retail manager at Creighton Farms, provided excellent guidance for the course’s finer points, but if he had not been my guide, I still would have understood what shot needed to be played on virtually every hole, no yardage book necessary, even for a first timer.  Executing those shots at Creighton, though, is quite another thing.

        The deluxe experience at Creighton Farms begins even before you tee up on #1.  Caddies are mandatory before noon even if you choose to take a cart, and our caddy Brian greeted us at the practice range, wet rag in hand to keep the clubs spotless.  Gleaming white triangles of stacked Callaway golf balls await you at the practice range, but the real treats are the wooden hang tags at each driving station that display precise yardage to the flags in the distance.  The club stores multiple sets of these tags to reflect the change in positions at the range; the wood for the tags, by the way, is from trees that were cut on the property, as are the yardage markers at the tee boxes, the beams in the golf center’s ceiling and the temporary lockers in the pro shop.  Back in the good old days, high-end clubs might have pushed the envelope and imported the wood from Ireland or some other place.  These days, though, luxury is being redefined, and Creighton Farms seems to do that as well as any golf community we have encountered.

         If you would like more information about Creighton Farms or would like to arrange a visit, please contact me.


The Golf Club at Creighton Farms, Aldie, VA.  Designer:  Jack Nicklaus.  Yardage:  7,410, 6,858, 6,223, 5,008.  Ratings and slope:  77.0/152; 74.1/145; 71.2/135; 70.3/127.  Homesites from $400,000; homes from $1.4 million.  Full golf membership:  $87,500, waived with purchase of home.


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