HOT SPRINGS, Va. -- A flood of history can start to flow when standing on the first tee on Omni Homestead Resort's Old Course, surrounded by the beautiful Allegheny Mountains.
It is the oldest first tee in continuous play in the U.S., dating back to 1892. Presidents who teed off here include William Howard Taft, William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight D. Eisenhower and just about every modern golf-playing president.
Famous golf-course designers to work here (or consult) include Donald Ross, A.W. Tillinghast, William S. Flynn and Rees Jones.
And this grand hotel and golf resort celebrates 250 years in 2016.
Sam Snead's legacy
But to many Virginians, the name Sam Snead towers over all of them. The smooth-swinging legend started working here at age 17 as a maker of hickory shaft golf clubs in the old Casino Building that now serves as the Old Course's pro shop.
Snead grew up only a mile and a half away, and the winner of 82 PGA Tour events and seven major titles now has his name on the address of the Omni Homestead: 7696 Sam Snead Highway.
Opened since 1766, it is one of America's grand resorts. Southern hospitality is abundant in a 2,000-acre setting in the Allegheny Mountains known for its natural hot springs. The resort offers 483 guest rooms and suites, 72,000 square feet of meeting space with fine and casual dining choices including Sam Snead's Tavern loaded with golf memorabilia.
Homestead Resort's Cascades Course
For 82 years the Omni Homestead Resort's Cascades Course was ranked no. 1 in Virginia, and Snead said, "if I could play only one course, this would be it."
Flynn's 6,667-yard par 70 on paper doesn't strike fear into the expert golfer, but Mark Fry, head professional, said that when the NCAA Championships came here in 2004, it was no pushover with a field of winner Ryan Moore and notable tour luminaries Bill Haas and Camilo Villegas.
Elite events staged here include the 1928 USGA Women's Am, 1966 Curtis Cup, 1967 USGA Women's Open, 1980 USGA Senior Men's Am, 1988 USGA Men's Am, 1994 USGA Women's Am, 2000 USGA Men's Mid-Am, 2004 NCAA Division I Men's Championship and 2009 USGA Senior Women's Am.
In 1923, when Flynn routed the Cascades Course, today's modern machinery was absent. Plows, pulled by mules and horses, helped Flynn tool a landscape that created stances and lies that demanded skilled golfers to approach greens that were sometimes sloping or pitched. Flynn returned in 1935 for some enhancements.
A bunker restoration project took place in 2007 as part of a master plan submitted by Wayne Morrison and Tom Paul. Don Ryder, the Omni Homestead's just-retired director of golf, has been here a lifetime, going from a doorman to pro.
"One of the things you'll notice right away about the Cascades Course is how naturally it blends with the mountain setting," Ryder said. "There's that stretch of holes on the back nine, 10 through 13, that just seems like they've been there all along. And it's that way throughout the course -- truly, 18 different golf holes, all fitting into their places."
The rough is thick, and the fairways narrow on some holes. According to Ryder, the success of your round depends on how you drive.
"If you drive the ball well, you can hit some greens. But if you drive the ball poorly, you're in for a long round. I've played courses where you can drive it all over the place and still finish okay, but The Cascades is not one of them."
The crystal-clear Cascades stream flows through the course, coming into play on several holes, particularly the final three. "The stream definitely presents some challenges," noted Ryder, "but it really adds to the beauty."
Homestead Resort's Old Course
That first tee shot in 1892 wasn't to an 18-hole golf course, but because The Homestead saw into the future, it was hosting women's and men's tournaments early in its existence.
By 1913, Donald Ross was called to work his magic with fairway contouring producing sidehill, uphill and downhill lies to small greens. Approach shots were no gimmes. Today's Old Course measures 6,099 yards at par 72 and has been updated by Flynn in 1925 and Rees Jones in 1994.
Don't be surprised to see a professional golfer on the range, putting greens or fairways. Sam's nephew J.C. Snead was present one day during my visit. He won eight times on the PGA Tour and five times on the Champions Tour.
"What's amazing to me is that 38 golf pros have come out of Bath County with a population of 4,200," Fry said. "Don Ryder has two brothers who are golf pros -- that's three from one family!"
Also amazing is the mountain scenery, the quality golf with superlative conditions, friendliness, history, comfy resort hotel, historic photos, library, lounges, spa, restaurants, swimming, hiking, sporting clays, falconry, fly fishing, kayaking and canoeing all in one fantastic location only an hour and 40 minutes from Roanoke's modern regional airport.