Happy 250th Birthday, Homestead

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America’s first resort, the Omni Homestead in Bath County, Virginia, opened in 1766. | Photo courtesy Omni Homestead.

With its birthday celebrating a quarter of a millennium rolling around next year, the Omni Homestead is considered America’s first resort, which began as a lodge in 1766. It makes me feel proud to be an American and a Virginian that it existed before the American Revolution.

Daily and monthly theme-oriented activities involving fireworks, speakers, concerts, historic menus, and a lot of cake will commemorate the year. I am eagerly awaiting some kind of major ghost activity announcement. I could feel the excitement building on a fall visit this year, as I watched every employee on grounds group together for a fly-over photo.

The Homestead is one of the most timeless places I have ever been, and the drive to Bath County from Washington, D.C., is a sunroof and radio proposition. Showcasing smaller and smaller Virginia settings at progressively slower lifestyles until you finally wind between and amongst the Allegheny Mountains to arrive there, the drive gives you just the right amount of time to decompress and close down shop before you lose cell coverage, the air thickens, and you make the jump to historical hyperspace.

The main dining room is a trademark affair and should not be missed. Elegant dress, outstanding employees and traditional food greats make a wrong turn unlikely. That being said, on this visit Jefferson’s Restaurant was the culinary hand that just plain smacked me around and left me laughing on the scale the next morning … twice. A group of us ate one of every appetizer on the menu the first night, and my friend had a mouthwatering steak that was so big that even after he was done they cut it up into two sandwiches for golf the next day. A visit is not complete without a meal at Sam Snead’s Tavern, just to pay homage to the slamster himself. Stories of Sam Snead’s ability to kick the tops of door frames from a dead stand still, even into his seventies, are fun and factual.

The old saying that there is “something for everyone” has never been more true than at the Homestead. I focused on food, golf, foot massage and exploring creaky hallways, but I could have shot stuff and fished, too. I strongly encourage a tour from the historian on grounds, who entertained us with his present tense accounts of notable guests from different eras. Men and women have kicked off their shoes and had a good time at this place. The period photos really show it, and they are fun to peruse.

The Old Course, designed by Donald Ross, has America’s oldest continuous tee still in use, and many presidents have played it. This course is picturesque against the Homestead, is forgiving, and the perfect round to enjoy with a spouse or friend. The Cascades Course is one of my all-time favorites. I played it three times during this visit. Heralded as perhaps the best mountain course in the country, the fall scenery here is Virginia’s finest. The last round we walked with caddies, and a finer day of golf I have not had. I love Virginia: so walking through the mountains with a friend and playing the game I love would be a win-win, no matter the score. The added bonus of having Bart as my caddy to stop me from tripping over myself was great extra “day enjoyment” insurance.

The people at the Omni Homestead are what make the place special. I was lucky enough to play a round with the recently retired Director of Golf at the Homestead, Don Ryder. He took the time to introduce me to J.C. Snead, Sam Snead’s nephew and PGA Tour winner, who happened to be hitting some balls on the range. Retiring after 43 years of service at the Homestead, Don has had over a hundred relatives work at the resort, at last count. His cousin Barry Ryder took over as Director of Golf, while Don will still play a role as Director of Golf Emeritus. Bob Swiger of Raspberry Falls Golf Course, upon my mentioning the round with Don, stated, “A finer ambassador of the game does not exist.”

Don and I were approaching a tee box on the Old Course in separate carts that day, and all of a sudden out of nowhere he roared off down the hill at top speed. I looked around for what I was sure would be poorly behaved guests, or an emergency of some magnitude, only to see Don racing a hedgehog across the valley, through the fairway. Watching him outdistance the hedgehog, and then turn the cart around to block the animal’s forest entry with a series of right and left dance moves, just left me laughing out loud. Upon his return to the tee box, I asked him who won, and he replied, “Just visiting an old friend. I used to just reach down and grab ’em.” What can I say? This kind of catchy enthusiasm, interest, and energy speaks for itself.

I highlight my experience with Don as one example of the quality of people that make the Homestead work. It truly is an exceptional family within this small community in southwest Virginia. Celebrating 250 years is a big deal and is worthy of a place on your calendar in 2016. I always look forward to going there. The anticipation of a trip there will cause me to take pause when deciding what shirts to pack and what music to bring. I rarely use a cell phone there, and I always take the time to wash and wax the car before the trip. I laugh a lot there. My ghost will hang out there sometimes.

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