In the 15 years I’d been playing golf, I’d never before played a single round at a private club. For starters, I enjoyed the sense of freedom of playing different courses from time to time without feeling financially tied to one place, and besides that – the typical expenses associated with most private club memberships didn’t exactly jive with my disposable income. Public golf was affordable first and foremost, and living the life of a public golfer was really the only hacker’s life I’d ever known.
But there I was submitting a membership application, pondering whether or not I was getting into something that I would eventually regret.
Earlier that season a friend of mine that was a member of this club would occasionally talk about his experiences there, and when he talked about the conditions, the fact that slow play didn’t exist there, and how the members themselves were unlike the typical snooty Country Club types that have traditionally given the private club experience the black eye it often deserves – I figured that he was exaggerating a bit. And when he went on to talk about how affordable this place was, I felt that it was entirely too good to be true. But after a few months of listening to him talk fondly of the place, it gradually peaked my interest enough to finally go check it out.
John, the General Manager, was the first person I recall meeting during my initial visit to Blue Ridge Country Club. He welcomed me to his facility with a warm handshake and a degree of pleasantness that caught me well off guard. He suggested that we scout the layout before giving me the grand tour of the clubhouse, and ran inside to grab his coat. It was late fall/early winter at the time, the temperatures were just above freezing. But he felt more than happy to shuttle me around the course to see what it was like, and despite it being miserably cold outside he gave me a very thorough review of each and every hole. “This is the tree that drives all of the members crazy,” he’d say, or “this is the hole that really sets the tone for the challenge awaiting on this side.” He was very detailed in describing the subtle playing characteristics and demands that each shot on each hole required, and despite the 10-15 mph breeze that cut right to the bone on that cold fall day – he was out there offering me the ins and outs of the place.
Then we hustled inside and thawed out a bit as he showed me around the really nice clubhouse that had just been built a few years earlier, with the beautiful decor, amenities and conveniences that left nothing to be desired. It was about as perfect a setting as one could possibly wish for as an avid golfer looking for a new golf home. It really was fabulous, much more extravagant than anything I could’ve possibly expected.
There was a lot to take in, for sure. And then he invited me into his office to answer whatever questions I might have, of which there were many. He answered each and every last one of them, and gave me a members handbook to take home and look over. There was absolutely no pressure involved, and he even invited me to come back on a warmer day and play the course. “I’ll have to charge you the guest rate,” he said. “It’s our club policy, although our guest rate is quite reasonable. But if you decide you want to join and you’re accepted, of which I don’t think will be an issue from what I can tell, we’ll deduct that guest fee from your dues balance. I’ve got a feeling that you would enjoy your time here, Scott. We’re not like most private clubs.”
Not that I would know the difference since I’d never been a member of a private club before, but this much was certain – John was such a gracious host that afternoon and that left a lasting impression with me.
John ended up being correct, as I very much enjoyed my time at Blue Ridge over the several seasons that I was privileged to play and be a member there. The layout was always in great condition, as the course superintendent (Pete) did a fabulous job keeping the members happy by keeping it well maintained year round. There was hardly a day that passed when I would be playing that I didn’t see him out riding around the course to make sure that his standards were being met, and he’d take the time to talk with me on occasion about whatever battles he was winning against Mother Nature.
As for the character of the layout itself… it takes a little time to get accustomed to the subtle nuances of a new course, and that wasn’t any different there at Blue Ridge in my case. But what I liked from the very get-go was the fact that there weren’t any tricked-up holes or surprises, the challenges presented on each hole are right in front of you without the occasional trickery some layouts are cursed with. That’s not to suggest that there aren’t some tough holes there, because it can be a very challenging layout some days. The greens aren’t overly big and they’re relatively quick, so being able to chip and putt are skills that will be relied upon day in and day out. But at the same time it’s a very fair course. It’s the type of course that rewards you for hitting a good shot, and some holes will allow you to stray a little without killing the scorecard. But some holes, like the par4 13th for example, requires nothing less than your best effort. It’s very rare that you get out of position on that short, tight dogleg right hole and salvage a par, and sometimes even a bogey can be a solid score on that hole. Having played Blue Ridge for the number of years that I played there did indeed make me a better player, because of two reasons really: (1) the quality of players that play there, as there are quite a few accomplished players that I got the privilege of playing with on a regular basis, and (2) the quality of the layout itself. Both of these factors provided plenty of motivation to improve as a player. I could go to a lot of other layouts in the region and shoot low-mid 70′s and come away feeling like I didn’t play nearly as well as I did in some of the rounds up at Blue Ridge when I barely broke 80. The layout is the type of layout that demands a reasonable all-around game, and in addition to all those things – the layout taught me the importance of the incredibly difficult art of staying patient with my golf game.
Like any other private club, there were a few members there who couldn’t be pleased no matter what. Every club has them, public or private, and you quickly figure out who they are. It never dawned on me to be overly critical of anything, especially given the affordability of the place. It was (and still is imo) the best private club deal going in the region as it relates to overall value, and I recognized that a lot of public course memberships were even more expensive in the end than it ended up costing me each season to enjoy the private club experience there. For sure, I got quite the bargain with 4-hour rounds and exceptional playing conditions. As a golfer, that were the two things that mattered most… everything else above and beyond that was a bonus.
I got along great with everyone, and I found the membership overall to be very enjoyable people to play golf with and be around. In fact – some of my closest friendships have come as a result of my association with Blue Ridge Country Club, and that’s something that I don’t take for granted. Sharing a place with 300-400 other members can sometimes be awkward, but I never had a single instance where I didn’t feel appreciated or welcomed. In fact – within the first year after joining there, the membership went out of their way to make me feel like I was a longtime member.
I had to make the difficult decision over the winter to part ways with Blue Ridge. It wasn’t an easy decision, by any means, but with my upcoming move to London early summer – I knew that the distractions and requirements associated with my relocation to Europe would make it impossible to play enough to take advantage of what little spare time I might have to play golf. Although I’m somewhat excited about experiencing a new life and a different culture abroad, it was sad that such a great private club had to become part of the collateral damage of the situation I find myself in. So many good people that I met and played golf with on a weekly basis, so many enjoyable memories there….
I’d be very lucky to find that same type of laid-back and unassuming atmosphere at a golf facility across the pond, but hopefully I can. That atmosphere is what makes the game so enjoyable for me, that ability to feel at home and comfortable with fellow golfers who are as passionate about the game as I am.
Blue Ridge Country Club fed my passion for the game for a good number of years, and for that I’m eternally grateful.