Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

December 16, 2017
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Southern comfort

Golf like a Rockefeller amid the antebellum hospitality of this historic Virginia resort

In these frenzied days of digital, mobile and life in the fast lane, it’s reassuring to know that there are still some places where time-honoured traditions and gracious living exist. I’m a self-confessed golf fanatic with a hedonistic bent and I think I’ve found nirvana here at The Homestead resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. There’s just one problem: not enough hours in a day.

My recipe for the perfect getaway is simple: give me outstanding golf, spa and food. The Homestead delivers all of them, in spades. If only I had more time, I could happily hop on a horse, play a set of tennis or cast my fate at fly fishing. I might even take a lesson in skeet shooting or the ancient art of falconry.

But let’s start with the golf. There are three superlative courses on this 1200-hectare Allegheny Moutain resort, where my hero, the late great Sam Snead, learned to caddie and play.

The Lower Cascades course, designed by Robert Trent Jones, is tucked into a secluded valley crisscrossed by babbling brooks. Boasting generous fairways, it makes a good prelude to the jewel in the crown, the Cascades, known for its long, narrow fairways, fast greens and 12 spectacular waterfalls. Last year, Golf Magazine ranked Cascades as number 27 in the Top 100 Courses You Can Play and the number one course in Virginia. Its designer, William S. Flynn, believed that Mother Nature made the golf course. One can just imagine him tromping through briers and cornfields and forging streams while following the rolling lay of the land.

The Old Course, designed by Scotsman Donald Ross, follows his philosophy that power is less important than precision. I nonetheless decided that I just had to step up onto the first tee, the oldest first tee in continuous operation in the States (since 1893) and let one rip.

Soak it up

Next it was time for a vintage soak. Taking the waters has been a Homestead tradition since 1761, when a men’s bathhouse, the first spa structure in America, was built six kilometres from the hotel at Warm Springs. A women’s bathhouse opened in 1836. Known as the Jefferson Pools (Thomas Jefferson frequented them) the spring-fed warm mineral pools in each bathhouse were a hit with the Virginian aristocracy. Today they’re equally popular among hotel guests and locals, who swear by their curative powers.

The Homestead began as a modest hostelry built in 1766 by Thomas Bullett, owner of a tract of land at Hot Springs. Rumour has it that he was tired of uninvited visitors showing up at his home seeking a cure at the springs. But it was in 1832, when Dr Thomas Goode bought the property, that the Homestead’s reputation as a spa retreat took off. Goode placed glowing accounts in such periodicals as Harper’s Weekly and Mr. Godey’s Lady Book, advising that the springs would cure everything from gout to spinal irritations.

The same mountain spring mineral waters that soothed Jefferson’s aching back flow into the modern spa at the resort today. You can soak in a bath infused with sunflowers or buttercups that grow in the nearby mountains of Hot Springs.

My personal favourite was the Allegheny Raspberry Relaxer. I lay on a table while my massage therapist, Karen, exfoliated me head to toe with a raspberry loofah scrub. After a rinse in the18-spouted Swiss shower, she massaged me with raspberry oil and then wrapped me in a blanket. Karen gave my face a raspberry spritz, dimmed the lights and left me to snooze for about 20 minutes. As I drifted in and out of slumber in this raspberry cloud, my mind, predictably, turned to food.

Grits and silverware

Eating at The Homestead is an occasion. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you’ve come to the right place. It is taken in the Main Dining Room where guests graze at a sumptuous buffet. Fresh mango, blackberries, raspberries make a nice start. Try to resist the hot-from-the-oven cinnamon bun and homemade doughnut. For Southern comfort, try made-to-order omelettes, Smithfield ham, grits, waffles and porridge.

At lunch, served at the Casino Club overlooking the first tee of The Old Course, even the humble Club sandwich, stacked with fresh roasted turkey, fried green tomato, nippy cheddar cheese and smoked bacon rises to stellar heights.

Where to have dinner depends on your mood. Sam Snead’s Tavern serves up bar food, hickory-smoked ribs and superb steaks. Browse around while you’re waiting for your order. The place is filled with Snead memorabilia including his 35 hole-in-one golf balls, mounted and framed.

The 1766 Grille, with its cosy banquettes and New-York-style open kitchen, offers such sophisticated classics such as Lobster Thermidor and Baked Alaska. For sheer romance, there’s dancing with dinner every night in the Main Dining Room. Tradition is very much a part of the Homestead experience: silver finger bowls, flickering candles, glowing crystal chandeliers, women in wispy silk dresses, men in suits and ties.

The management at The Homestead has managed to add all the modern amenities without destroying the magnificent Colonial architecture and ambience. In fact, you’d swear Martha Stewart and Ralph Lauren had teamed up to marry just the right paint, wallpaper, fabrics and prints to complement the grand columns, Palladian windows, intricate millwork and high ceilings.

I took a sip of champagne and imagine myself here back in the days when J.P. Morgan, the Rockefellers, Andrew Carnegie and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor dined and waltzed in this same room. Mr. and Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt III (Grace and Neilly to their pals) honeymooned here in 1899 and returned twice a year for 49 years to stay for a month and escape the demands of the New York social season.

Maybe I should take a lesson from Grace and Neilly: ditch the cell phone and stay for a month.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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