Mariners Landing Golf & C.C. voted top 5 places Anyone Can Play in the Timesland area

”Without a doubt, the Cascades Course offers the best balance of difficulty, fair play, immaculate conditioning, strategy, and beauty in this region. In my mind, the ‘Upper’ is the finest example of golf in its purist form. A test for the heart and soul that one is unlikely to win but will cherish forever.”— Jason Perdue, ex-Roanoke College All-American.

”Not even close. Of all the courses I’ve ever played, this is the one I’d choose to play every day for the rest of my life.” — Tim Hall, Ex-Bassett High School golf coach

1. The Homestead’s Cascades Course
Designed by noted architect William S. Flynn in 1923, the venerable Cascades Course has consistently ranked among Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses” and Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 in the World,” and often has been touted as the finest mountain course in the U.S. Length isn’t the big concern — only two of the par-4s measure more than 425 yards. At 6,566 yards from the championship tees, the Cascades is the ultimate placement course that requires precision shot-making. Take the day off between the ears and this place will bite even the most highly proficient player. Highly pitched fairways routinely serve up an array of different stances and lies. At 476 yards, the formidable 12th hole is one of the most difficult par 4s anywhere. A mountain stream comes into play on five holes on the back nine. Back-to-back par 5s (Nos. 16 and 17) are ultimate risk-reward holes that make the Cascades a marvelous venue for match play. The late great Sam Snead, who began his career as the Cascades’ head professional in 1934, always said if you can play here, you can play anywhere. This ravishing beauty that plays through the test of time has played host to numerous USGA championships and will be the site for the U.S. Women’s Senior Amateur in 2009.

“There are only two types of people who play golf: Those who rate Primland as one of the best courses they’ve ever seen and those who haven’t played Primland.”— Wade Whitehead, former Patrick Henry High golf coach

2. Primland’s Highland Course
Scottish designer Donald Steel didn’t just hit a home run with this immaculate gem that cost some $30 million to construct in rural Patrick County. We’re talking grand slam here, golfers. After only one full season of play, Steel’s spectacular layout traced over a mountaintop and its surrounding valleys has quickly made a name for itself, being selected as Golf Digest’s Best New Public Course in America for 2007. The breathtaking scenery is stunning in its beauty, scope and vistas. This place is not for the weekend hacker. Many holes are bordered by steep cliffs that double as permanent resting areas for many a golf ball. Because of the level of difficulty, it is recommended that golfers have a handicap of 18 or less, but it is not a requirement as it was last year.

“You drive up to the clubhouse, you get out of the car and you stand around and look at the view. It’s the most incredible place I’ve ever seen. The scenery and the setting is amazing. The place is just made for a golf course. It’s got length, it’s got water, it’s got it all.” — Bobby Penn, three-time Roanoke Valley Golf Hall of Fame champion

3. Olde Mill Resort
A championship course in a spectacular mountain setting that lies only a couple of miles from the Blue Ridge Parkway. First-time visitors may not remember the dateline of Laurel Fork, but they won’t forget this diamond in the rough designed by Ellis Maples in 1973. While prices have escalated a bit as Olde Mill has risen to resort status, it still ranks as one of the state’s best values. Water comes to play on all but four of the 18 holes and the hilly terrain is littered with 69 sand traps. The course’s signature hole is the par-4 10th hole, which provides one of the most breathtaking views anywhere as players stand on the tee box and stare at lakes that border each side of a narrow fairway. A newly remodeled clubhouse has been added to the growing list of amenities.

“It’s a real nice of property. The serene sound of the flowing river in the background makes for a peaceful experience. The train will blow through about every couple hours, but I like it. I think that’s kind of neat. The course can play as tough as you want. If they wanted to, they could let the rough grow up and could make it really unplayable.” — Mike Flanary, ex-Roanoke College golf coach and former assistant pro

4. The Pete Dye River Course of Virginia Tech
“One of the best pieces of land for a golf course I’ve ever seen,” said Pete Dye, after getting his first look in 2004 at the Fairlawn course. What was already a good course has transformed into a great course after one of the world’s most renowned golf architects did his makeover job. The layout that winds along 2 1/2 miles of the scenic and historic New River became an immediate attention-getter. Golf Magazine named it one of the best new public access courses in 2006, and Golf Digest named its one of its best remodeled layouts the same year. Tees stretch length from 5,142 yards to 7,665 yards, giving all players a course that fits. From the tips, it may be the toughest track in western Virginia. A $5.5 million clubhouse is scheduled to be completed in 2009.

“It is a great layout that allows you to score and at the same time offers a challenge. What makes it special are the holes along Smith Mountain Lake that take you away from your golf and make you admire nature. The recent renovation was a first class job and will take the course up a notch because it is always in great condition. — Tommy Joyce, Hidden Valley head professional

5. Water’s Edge Country Club
Hey, any venue that’s good enough for Michael Jordan ought to be good enough for most. A couple of years ago, the retired NBA superstar showed up in secluded Penhook with a couple of his buddies and had the place all to themselves for a couple of days. When you’re Michael Jordan, you can throw that kind of party. Sir Michael would love the place even better now that ‘The Edge’ has been completely remodeled with newly redone greens. A lot of trees were removed to enhance golfers’ views of the bordering lake. Grand Opening is May 29. It wasn’t bad as it was, as the panel attested. The 20-year-old course, designed by the late Buddy Loving, always has been in splendid condition and a challenge to beat. Features an island green — the par-3 seventh — you’ll forever remember.

The 5 anyone can play

“A wonderful test without beating you up, and what a beautiful setting! Draper would be in my best five were it not for its 18th hole. It’s not a worthy conclusion to a great day of golf.”
— Jason Perdue, ex-Roanoke College All-American

“Just a fun course. Rip it off the tee and see where it goes.”
— Tim Hall, Ex-Bassett High School golf coach

1. Draper Valley Golf Club
Just grip it and rip it. No, this isn’t John Daly’s home course. Undoubtedly, though, big John would love the mostly wide-open and lengthy course built on incredibly plush and lush land that lies at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He’d love the people, too. And since he’s made only three cuts this year, Daly would like the deal. Last year, the 16-year-old layout designed by Harold Louthen Sr., was named one of the top 50 courses in the U.S. for under $50. The average golfer might find Draper’s length intimidating — it goes 7,046 yards from the back tees — but there’s plenty of room to hit it hard even if it goes somewhat astray. Water comes in play on seven holes. The signature hole is the par-5 ninth, which requires an approach shot over both a marsh and a water hazard to the green.

“It plays the longest of the three courses at the Homestead. For many years, it was ranked among the best courses in the country. It provides a great combination of tough par 3s and 4s, and today’s equipment gives you three reachable par 5s. The greens are large and have severe undulations to put a premium on putting. Robert Trent Jones’ design gives you breathtaking scenery in every direction.” — Keith Decker, the state’s longtime No. 1-ranked men’s amateur

2. The Homestead’s Lower Cascades Course
The resort’s other “Cascades” course. It’s not easy being No. 2 when the much more revered and much older Cascades Course lies only a couple of miles down the road. Still, this place is far from being some kind of municipal course. OK, it’s not nearly as plush as the Cascades. Still, the Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed course that opened in 1963 is a good play at half the cost of the much more ballyooed Cascades. No wonder it’s called “The Lower.” Just don’t let the trademark wide-open fairways fool you. This place has the most demanding greens of the resort’s three courses, full of undulation and break.

“Ellis Maples created a gem of a routing here, with several of the area’s best holes. In fact, [Nos.] 16, 9, and 12 may be the best par 3, 4, and 5 in Roanoke.”
— Wade Whitehead, former Patrick Henry High golf coach

3. Countryside Golf Club
Check this out, Roanoke City bigwigs. According to the voters here, this golf course should stay put and not be buried under some sort of development project. While the city-owned course hasn’t had enough money to keep it in A-1 condition for years, there’s little argument that Countryside has one of the best layouts in the area. It was good enough to play host to a VPGA Open in 1981, won by Bobby Wadkins. Designed by Ellis Maples, the course’s five par 3s from the tips may be second to none as a group in this area in degree of difficulty.

“Mariner’s Landing possesses the most challenging set of par 3s in the area and the back-nine par 5s are great tests from the championship tees.”
— Miller Baber, three-time Roanoke Valley Match Play champion

4. Mariner’s Landing Golf and Country Club
The reviews of this place keep getting better every year. With Smith Mountain Lake and the mountains as a backdrop, the course features narrow fairways and small greens, with water hazards that come into play on more than half the holes. Originally designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., the project was dormant for several years before finally opening in 1993. The course is long enough from the blue tees (7,155 yards) to severely test the low-handicappers. The 560-yard 10th is one of the area’s best holes, a classic risk-reward hole that can help make or break a player’s round.

“It is a nice change to be able to hit driver on all the par 4s and par 5s, plus the par 6, the only one I’ve ever played. The condition is a major factor; the greens with the new L93 Bent grass are a pleasure to putt. The uniqueness of the par 6 adds a lot to the conversation after playing.”
— Keith Decker, the state’s longtime No. 1-ranked men’s amateur

5. Ashley Plantation Golf & Country Club

A public course with a private feel that opened in 1999 and helped lead the surge in the fast-paced development in the Daleville area. The Russell Breeden-designed course will expand to 27 holes when a new nine-hole layout opens this summer. Ashley is best known for a couple of numbers — 73 and 6. It’s a rare par-73 course that includes an even rarer par-6 hole — the 14th, which plays to 721 yards from the blue tees and 625 yards from the whites. The hole was listed eighth among a 2007 list of America’s longest holes.

Panel of judges
Miller Baber

Ask the 43-year-old Roanoke bachelor about marriage and he’ll tell you: “I am married … I’m married to golf.” Baber, whose job as a financial advisor lends him plenty of time to keep his game sharp, captured his third Roanoke Valley Match Play title last summer. An ardent follower of the game whom many consider as the valley’s resident golf historian, Baber has been a major behind-the-scenes player for the Scott Robertson Memorial, Roanoke’s First-Tee program, and Roanoke Valley Match Play Championship.
Keith Decker
Virginia’s top amateurs must wonder if the 48-year-old Martinsville furniture executive is ever going to retire to the couch. Good luck on that one. Decker has exhibited no signs of backing off. He has won VSGA player of the year honors in five of the past six years and seven times overall. The former Elon (N.C.) All-American has captured 15 VSGA majors, including three State Opens, two State Ams and seven Mid-Am titles. One can find the Chatmoss Country Club member’s name on the winner’s trophy of nearly every major event in the state.
Jerry English
While his 10 minutes of fame as a player came in 1987, when he shared the first-round lead in the HOF championship, English’s off-course contributions to valley golf have been immeasurable. For the past 20 years, he has helped run the Bob McLelland Metro high school tournament, directed the Don Holliday Memorial event, and has served as Scholarship Chairman for the Roanoke Valley Hall of Fame. An ex-Northside High boys’ basketball coach, English, 58, teaches at William Byrd. The 10-handicapper won the Botetourt Country Club senior title in 2004.
Mike Flanary
Not only does this guy seem to know everybody in town, he also knows a bunch about golf. The 39-year-old Richlands native played four years at Bluefield State College, worked as an assistant pro (Hidden Valley, 1990-94), then served as a sales representative for Ben Hogan Golf for three years before returning to the area to coach the Roanoke College golf team for eight years. Flanary’s schmoozing with well-heeled members at such elite clubs as Merion and Baltusrol in his Hogan days obviously paid dividends as he’s now co-owner of the successful Cornerstone Bar & Grill.
Tim Hall
Here’s one sportswriter — well, an ex-sportswriter — who can play a little bit. After spending nearly a decade toiling for the Lynchburg Daily News & Advance, Hall has a little more money for greens fees these days as the Deputy County Administrator for Henry County. Despite carrying a 9 handicap, Hall knew enough to be chosen Piedmont District coach of the year once during his 1991-98 tenure as head of the Bassett golf team. Hall says “kids, old age and job demands have conspired” to push his handicap to 15.
Tommy Joyce
The only professional player on this year’s panel. Joyce, 39, has been around the game his entire life. A Bassett native, Joyce learned how to play from a man who taught so many youngsters the game — the late Wayne Haley of Martinsville. Joyce was an All-Sun Belt Conference selection in 1990 when he played for Virginia Commonwealth University. Joyce has earned great respect for his teaching skills the past decade at Hidden Valley, being named among the “Top 50 Kids Teachers in America” by U.S. Kids Golf in 2004 and ’06. Recently, he was selected the Middle Atlantic PGA Section Golf Pro of the Year. Joyce and his wife, Kristy, have two children — Trey (3) and Kendall (1). According to Dad, both already are well on their way to building solid golf swings.
Bobby Penn
Reared in a house that borders Hidden Valley, Penn didn’t need a lot of prodding to get hooked on golf. He honed his talent quickly, winning the VSGA Junior Amateur in 1977. The James Madison University graduate won the 1981 Virginia Intercollegiate title and has captured five Roanoke Valley majors, including three HOF titles. While he’s been plagued with a bad back the past couple of years, the 48-year-old teacher at Andrew Lewis Middle School is still likely capable of beating any of the valley’s best on a given day. One thing for certain: No one took this assignment more seriously.
Jason Perdue
Here’s another guy who cherished this unexpected homework assignment. Perdue’s submitted ballot included unrequired breakdowns and witty lines describing each hole, all of which was greatly appreciated. Perdue may be 47 now, but in younger days he was quite the stellar player. He was an integral part of a Northside High team that was third in the state in 1977 and second in ’78. At Roanoke College, he played on a squad that finished second in the 1981 Division III national tournament. As a senior in 1982, Perdue was named a third-team All-American. He’s still a 4 handicapper today.
Wade Whitehead
The fifth-grade teacher at Roanoke’s Crystal Spring School has never won a tournament of note, but he’s far more proficient at the game than most. Whitehead, 36, has been playing golf for only 15 years, but carries a 3 handicap that most area amateurs would kill for. He scored a hole in one in an USGA Public Links qualifier in 2003 and once carded a bogey-free round of 67. Besides playing the game, Whitehead spent 1999-2002 as Patrick Henry High’s golf coach and currently serves on the executive board of the Roanoke Valley Match Play Championship.