2006: Virginia Roadtrip - 60 miles through time

Few regions juxtapose the old and the new, the Colonial and the modern, the classic and the downright tacky like Williamsburg, Va., and Virginia Beach.

Though only 60 miles from each other, the two communities are worlds apart.

Along Duke of Gloucester Street, the unpaved road that cuts through the heart of Colonial Williamsburg, you are surrounded by people in Colonial-era attire and 17th-century buildings that include a blacksmith shop, taverns, the historic Bruton Parish Church and a replica of the former Colonial capitol. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it “the most historic avenue in all America,” and it certainly was a history lesson for my 10-year-old son, Jonathan, who accompanied me. Williamsburg and neighboring Jamestown, along with Yorktown, form Virginia’s Historic Triangle, all linked by the Colonial Parkway and easily reached via Interstates 95 and 64.

Just an hour away, along Atlantic Avenue, next to the Virginia Beach boardwalk, you can find tattoo parlors, video arcades with music blaring, flashing neon and enough girls in bikinis to make old FDR’s head spin.

Ain’t America great?

Day 1, Williamsburg

First stop: Golden Horseshoe’s Gold Course in Williamsburg. Robert Trent Jones Sr. called this 1963 creation his “finest design,” and you’ll get no argument here.

The par-71 layout measures 6,817 yards, many of those coming on one hole: the 634-yard 15th. The Gold also has a strong quartet of par 3s, including the 169-yard 16th, showcasing a scenic downhill tee shot and one of golf’s first island greens. Another defense: many elevated, sloping putting surfaces that drop off quickly to trouble. Jack Nicklaus set the course record with a 4-under 67 way back in 1967; next June the top collegians will be gunning for the Golden Bear’s mark when the Gold hosts the NCAA Men’s Division I Championship.

After the round, we headed to Kingsmill Resort & Spa, a 10-minute drive up U.S. 60, to play the par-71, 6,831-yard River Course, home to the LPGA’s Michelob Ultra Open. We virtually had the course to ourselves, always a pleasure on a layout worth savoring. And this Pete Dye creation is definitely that. This strong design is particularly memorable for its finishing flourish. The final three holes open out to the James River: the brutish 16th, its green guarded by four yawning bunkers, the precarious par-3 17th dangling on the river’s edge, and the watery, par-4 18th.

Not a bad day: 36 holes on two of Virginia’s most-lauded layouts, capped by fried catfish at The Whaling Company, located just outside the Kingsmill gates in a building that resembles a New England-style boathouse, complete with faux lighthouse. Not bad at all.

Day 2, Providence Forge

After a comfortable night at Kingsmill’s renovated villas, we headed up I-64 to the Tradition Golf Club at Royal New Kent.

Many consider this public layout, designed by the late Mike Strantz, one of the nation’s most unique tracks. Cut from the middle of rolling Virginia woodland, Royal New Kent somehow looks and plays more like an authentic Irish seaside links. Deep, unkempt bunkers, thick fescue, dramatic contours and dunes that leave plenty of blind shots give the feeling you’ve been magically transported to Ballybunion or Royal County Down. You know this place is different from the first hole, which features a downhill tee shot to what looks like a sliver of a landing area (there’s more than meets the eye), followed by an extreme uphill approach to a multi-tiered green.

The only disappointment – and it was a big one – was the 16th hole, where a decidedly non-Irish housing development recently sprouted behind the green, spoiling some of the character and feel Strantz sought to create.

Royal New Kent is not a place for the meek, with plenty of forced carries and a layout that can be stretched to 7,300 yards. But if you’re within two hours of the place, it’s a must-play. It’s that different – and that good.

After taking our lumps at Royal New Kent, we were off to Virginia Beach, stopping along the way in Norfolk’s historic Ghent district at the No Frill Bar and Grill for a generous helping of calamari and the teriyaki grilled tuna pita.

Day 3, Virginia Beach

There is some history in Virginia Beach, and we managed to find it. It’s at The Cavalier hotel, a beacon along the oceanfront since 1927. Seven U.S. presidents have stayed there (from Coolidge to Nixon), and for three decades starting in the 1930s, The Cavalier claims it was the world’s largest hirer of big bands. On any given night, you could hear Tommy Dorsey, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Lawrence Welk or Bing Crosby. Among the guests known to drop by:

F. Scott Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Will Rogers and Bette Davis. There’s even a little golf history. Sam Snead won the ’35 Virginia Open at the adjacent, but now-defunct, Cavalier Yacht & Golf Club.

The original structure has been nicely renovated, giving visitors a look into its storied past. It now teams with the 11-story Cavalier Oceanfront, located across the street on a tremendous stretch of wide, smooth beach, to offer guests all the modern conveniences.

That afternoon, we headed for the TPC of Virginia Beach, a Dye and Curtis Strange layout that’s home to the Nationwide Tour’s Virginia Beach Open. While undoubtedly an upgrade of the area’s golf landscape, even a Dye fan like me had to admit this is not one of the bellwethers of the TPC network. At 7,432 yards from the tips, it can play plenty long, but it’s short on originality. There’s a sameness to many holes – lots of slight doglegs that play around water or long waste bunkers – that just isn’t up to Dye’s standards. Against this somewhat mundane tapestry, the par-5 fifth, a thrill-filled double dogleg culminating in a devilish downhill approach, will hold your attention.

We capped our trip at Tautog’s, a quality seafood restaurant that occupies a 1920s beach cottage and has a pleasant, efficient staff.

Hey, it’s not quite Williamsburg, but if you look in the right places – scattered among the tattoo parlors and bikinis – the Virginia Beach boardwalk has its own unique history, and even some class.

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