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By John Scott Lewinski | Photo: Courtesy of Primland | November 21, 2016
When it comes to gorgeous golf, fast cars, fine spirits and smokes, Primland in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia is every man’s far-off fantasyland.
I knew I was on the trail of an elite luxury resort far removed from the eyes of the average tourist when the guard at the tree-lined security gates told me I still had a 20-minute drive before I’d be dropping off my car with the valet.
As I headed along dirt roads winding through the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, the terrain seemed timeless. Through the decades, the countryside only changed owners between different foresting operations until Primtimber—owned by billionaire Didier Primat and his family—bought 12,000 acres for development in 1977.
By 1986, there was a hunting lodge on the property. I headed for the modern resort that grew out of that hunting lodge, now known as Primland. As I approached the lodge, my head turned immediately to the golf track surrounding it. Here to play the Highland Course about 3,000 feet up these mountains, I realized anything else I encountered that weekend would be gravy.
Leaving my car with the attendant along the wide circular drive, I was surprised to see a silo nestled up against the stately, rugged outlines of the 72,000-square-foot lodge. While there was a note of rural Virginia muscularity throughout Primland’s architecture, there was no sign of livestock beyond the pheasants and grouse the lodge breeds for seasonal hunting parties. I’d learn soon enough there was no corn or grain filling that circular tower either, but instead an infinity of celestial bodies. It was a full-service stellar observatory offering nightly stargazing.
The round of golf I played that weekend was a team competition populated with guests on-hand for Primland’s third annual Driving Experience. Held every September, the track day transports car and racing enthusiasts to Virginia International Raceway for three days of hot laps and driving instruction with the likes of nine-time Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen and endurance racer Harold Primat (one of Didier’s eight children.) The Driving Experience gives participants a chance to get their hands on elite machines like the V-10 Audi R8, thanks to a partnership with the German luxury automaker.
With thoughts of fast cars and short putts filling my head, the bell staff escorted me to my room—one of 26 suites in the main lodge. Primland packs 51 accommodations in total, including Fairway Cottages arranged on the Highland Course and the Mountain Homes overlooking the property. Considering the schedule I had for the weekend ahead, I wouldn’t be seeing the inside of my room except for bedtime.
The next morning, I opened the curtains to find a thick mountain fog shrouding the grounds. A hearty room-service breakfast and a warmup on the privets driving range gave the mist time to burn away for our 18-hole battle.
Designed by Donald Steel and opened in 2006, the park-style course pre-dates the opening of the Lodge by four years. Immaculately kept, the course’s layout feels entirely devoted to feeding off of the venue’s natural beauty. The fairways run high above the promontory-studded Meadows of Dan in the valley below, inviting the player to stop and admire the view before attempting that next shot.
The carpet fairways and greens are PGA event-quality, and the Highland’s crew makes a constant effort to protect the surrounding environment. Biofilters located around the course protect Primland’s natural trout streams and rivers, and the Wetlands bordering the course are environmentally protected areas.
After my round of golf, I headed to Primland’s Spa for a massage. The various treatment and recovery rooms throughout the space were recently redesigned to incorporate the Native American culture rooted to this region of Virginia. After a masseuse worked the kinks out of my shoulders, I had a chance to read up on tribal spirituality before showering and heading out to sample a combination of Primland’s dining experiences.
“Farm-to-table” and “locally sourced” are the obsessions at Elements, Primland’s main cuisine space. Led by Chef in Residence Cory Untch, Elements serves an ever-evolving menu of meats and seafood bought from regional suppliers with recipes focusing on Virginia’s Southern heritage.
I had the option of ordering from an ample wine list or calling for a classic cocktail as a digestif, but I chose to sample the conceptions at Primland’s smaller, more casual dining and drinks spot, the 19th Pub. Intended primarily as a watering hole for golfers rolling off the 18th green, the pub stays open as a sports bar and social draw into the wee hours.
While there’s no official cigar lounge on property, the pub offered a respectable guest humidor and a selection of fresh Romeo y Julieta, Montecristo, Graycliff and Cohiba. I snagged one of those for later and turned my attention to the fully equipped bar in the 19th. It’s ready to provide any top-shelf spirit from 20-year-old scotch to small-batch Kentucky bourbon. However, Primland mixologist and area native Santana Lawson was quick to point out that Primland’s region is historically not whiskey country—unless you sample it frow the still without bothering to age it in a barrel.
“Virginia is moonshine country,” Lawson said as she lined bottles of local product on the bar before me. “I look for regional distillers who still make ’shine that stays true to the recipes and the process that came out of the hills here in the Blue Ridge.”
Lawson spent the next hour mixing samples from a long list of her own recipes, tapping jars of straight and flavored ’shine from regional distillers like North Carolina’s Midnight Moon, Tennessee’s Ole Smoky and Dry Fork Fruit Distillery from the Meadows of Dan, mere miles away.
My final hours at the resort focused on the wide range of outdoor activities enhanced by a recent multimillion-dollar expansion. From the bow and arrow ranges to the sporting clays shooting course to the newly opened tomahawk-throwing range, the wilderness-themed tests of skill are a direct link to the basic hunting lodge of decades past that gave rise to Primland’s elite resort experience.
I wrapped up my victorious run through the mountains with a visit to that observatory I first spotted as I arrived at the Lodge. As I inspected the likes of Saturn, Ursa Major and the Crab Nebula, I realized—with plenty of acreage left and no shortage of bookings—the sky up there was the limit for Primland. December-March lodge rates from $465 per night, Pinnacles suite from $1,000 per night, Tree Houses from $618 per night, primland.com