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“round of golf” is replaced by a “golf experience” when you tee it up at The Highland Course at Primland, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2016 as one of the truly remarkable recent additions to the golf market — not only on the East Coast — but across the United States.

A Many golfers at Primland don’t keep

score. No need to as golf seems second- ary at times to the layout’s breathtaking views that rival any along the nearby Blue Ridge Parkway.

“The beauty of the course brings you

back to reality,” said Primland head professional Brian Alley. “The score is not the topic when people come in after their round; it is the views. “We have three main things to sell

– great architecture, great views and great playing conditions,” added Alley. “And you don’t have to be the best golfer in the world to appreciate those things. Golf is a tough game sometimes so when you have our course to look at and play on everybody leaves happy.”

SELLING STEEL And to think one of the most unique

courses constructed almost didn’t occur. Steel came over from England more than a decade ago to tour the vast property, which has an expansive valley floor. But that area has for years been used for various hunting activities at the resort (and still is one of the 60 activities), so Steel was running out of options to locate golf before the idea was floated to take a ride up the mountain. Steel rolled his eyes. “In Scotland, they

have courses up in the mountains, but they are 9 holes and not very long,” Steel said, noting that he expected to see a steep, rocky and virtually unusable canvas.

But Helms was taking

Steel to a piece of the property at 2,900 feet that was once a peach orchard in the early 1900s and was selectively timbered 25 years ago. “I knew it had some

great views,” Helms said of the property,

Course Architect Donald Steel

“but until you get into it and clear some of the land you don’t realize how great they are.”

As Steel and Helms weaved their way along some old ATV trails and through the thick forest the potential became a reality to the golf course architect.

“It had good topsoil so it kind of fit what the owners were looking for,” Helms said. “And the views just really set this site apart.”

“I’ve always said of this course that it is like no other, not because it’s better than any other, but because the setting is so unique and there was so much fertile ground on top of the mountain that we didn’t expect to find,” added Steel.

“That explains why it looks so mature.” Most of us in this area associate brilliant golf course architecture with Donald Ross, not Donald Steel. But while Steel only has four layouts in the United States, his reputation across the pond is well cemented, having been the resident architect at St. Andrews. The connection to Steel was simple,

but in retrospect a stroke of genius by Primland founder Didier Primat, who has since passed away. Steel built a golf course at a castle owned by Primat out- side of Dublin, Ireland, so when Primat decided to move on a golf course at his U.S. property he telephoned Steel. “It was somewhat of a challenge with the terrain and such dense forested areas,” Helms said. “It was hard to see 20 feet in front of you in a lot of places or visualize what you could do. Donald had to get an idea of the views and then how much elevation change there was. We also had to fly over the whole property and do 2-foot contours as the first step. You could really tell after that first fly over what could be done with the property.” Still, there were gorges, hollows,

streams, peaks and valleys, 200 feet of elevation change, along with tons and tons of dirt to move. Steel says no figure was put on the amount of dirt moved because it was incalculable. It’s a credit to Steel that there are no

“funky” mountain holes at Primland, and just one or two blind shots. His gargantuan greens fit perfectly into the expansive landscape and offer a putting paradise – or for some three-putt hell. “We always say there are not auto-

matic two-putts at Primland,” Alley said. “The greens are huge. If you find the fairway and get it on the green your job is far from done.” “Modern golf now is all great big carries through the air to small targets with water everywhere and great collars of rough around every green, so if you’re 5 yards from the pin you have to have a full swing,” Steel said. “That’s not the sort of golf course that I like. Here all the green surrounds are cut nearly as close as the greens so you have a lot of different options if you are playing recovery shots or chip shots. You could use up to five or six different clubs … it’s up to you.” Now retired and 78, Steel still returns to Primland at least once a year to chat with anyone who will listen about his remarkable work. “It is very cool Donald comes back,” Helms said. “Donald may not be as big as some of the other names in golf course architecture, especially in this part of the country, but there is unique- ness to our course. Having Donald do the course brought us some of those European characteristics. Just look at the tall flowing fescue, the deep bunkers – there are a lot different things you’re not going to find in this part of the country. “It has kind of been somewhat of

a crown jewel for him and he’s very proud of the accolades he has received for this layout,” added Helms.

THE VIEWS Not many “golf” changes have

occurred since the June 1, 2006, opening TRIAD GOLF TODAY • JULY 2016 13

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