AMHERST, Va. - Golf didn't start being played in earnest in the United States until the late 1800s, but that hasn't stopped some courses and clubs from using much earlier dates and symbols to hint at some extra history.
The Greenbrier likes to use 1778 in its general marketing materials, because that was the year its Old White Hotel first opened. And the (Omni) Homestead touts 1766, its founding date, even near its promotion of its golf.
And why not? Might as well use every bit of uniqueness you can to court visitors.
Or, in the case of another Virginia golf course and community, buyers.
Poplar Grove Golf Club is a modern daily-fee golf course incorporated within a residential community. It was laid out by former Tom Fazio associate Ed Carton and opened for play in 2004, has its own 18th-century heritage, using 1773 - the year a charming brick manor house, still standing today, was built - as its foundational year. The course, plus the rest of the nearly 1,000-acre development of the same name, just hit the market for $33 million.
Not only does Poplar Grove have its 18th century manor to recommend it, the tract it sits upon was a land grant by British King George II in the 1730s. Later on, its lands are thought to have been roamed by third United States president Thomas Jefferson, whose famous Monticello estate is about 50 miles south.
But it's a 20th-century golf icon who gives Poplar Grove a measure of distinction: Sam Snead, who grew up a ways west (closer to The Greenbrier and The Homestead, which also claim him as a favorite son) but returned to the area near the end of his life to assist with Poplar Grove's design.
The course (green fees: $96) is challenging but a good bit of fun, set on a characteristic piece of Virginia terrain: hilly and alternatively marked by meadow and forest, as well as some ravines and ponds. Carton had to do some significant earth-moving to get golf onto some parts of the tract, and a couple holes, like the station-to-station par-5 3rd hole, are demanding and a little awkward. But overall it is a scenic setting to play golf in, as I did in April 2008 during my college golf team's conference championship.
I haven't been back since, but I have kept tabs on the place, because my main non-course recollection is that the community was only very gradually being built out. Given that the recession took hold in 2008, little has changed, leaving Poplar Grove relatively lightly developed although, according to its official real estate listing, "[a]ll infrastructure (electric, gas, septic, roads, street lighting and golf maintenance facilities/equipment) is in place." The $33 million price tag seems hefty, especially considering there are several serviceable golf courses available nationwide for $1 million or less, and even a perennial top-100 public course, Bulle Rock, for sale for $3.5 million.
But for the right (read: deep-pocketed) buyer, Poplar Grove could turn out to be a worthwhile venture, especially if one could figure out how to sell a few dozen (or couple hundred, optimistically) lots in short order. The course is coming off a $3 million renovation that touched almost all parts of the golf course, focusing in particular on rebuilding tees, greens and bunkers, plus improved drainage and cart paths.
$33 million is a pretty big ask for a piece of golf real estate, but if you're a wealthy visionary George II/Thomas Jefferson/Sam Snead fanatic, you might be getting the bargain of a lifetime.