By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeffrey A. Rendall
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA -- Ever walk out of a store after buying something thinking "Hey, I really took those guys for a ride"? It's a darn good feeling -- almost like arriving home and discovering an unexpected gift on your doorstep, or receiving a note from a secret admirer in the mail.
|One Palmer 'signature' happens to be beach bunkers, which you'll find in abundance at West Neck.|
It's also a rare occasion, as most of the time the deal is the other way around -- there are so many choices in our diverse consumer driven world that it's nearly impossible to find the best stuff at the best price every time you look for it. Invariably you'll wonder if a better deal might've been found somewhere else.
Fortunately, at the new The Signature at West Neck in Virginia Beach, you can't possibly get that impression, because the Arnold Palmer designed golf course is excellent, the service first-rate, the amenities exceed your expectations, and the location's very convenient to locals and vacationers in Virginia's Tidewater area. What is perhaps most satisfying of all, the price is right.
Strangely enough, the proprietors at West Neck almost want you to leave with the "I took 'em" feeling. Starting with Baymark Construction's Dick Foster's vision, the golf course and surrounding active adult community had to be top notch for a very affordable price. And that's what it is.
|Arnold Palmer played nine ceremonial holes at West Neck's grand opening in June, 2002. Caddying for him that day was Tom Stevenson, Director of Golf.|
Tom Stevenson, The Signature's Director of Golf, says Foster was insistent on providing customer value throughout the process: "Dick Foster and I had a conversation a few years ago, before we even started building these golf courses -- and he said "I want to build a golf course so beautiful and offer it at such a reasonable price that people will walk away shaking their heads, thinking ‘How can they provide such a great golf course at a price like that?’"
It's the same philosophy you'll find at Baymark's other Palmer designed track, Bay Creek, which opened last June in Cape Charles on the eastern shore. The Signature is the second of three courses in Dick Foster's ambitious golf community plans, with a Jack Nicklaus course slated for building at Bay Creek in the next few years.
Vicki Martz, Vice President and Project Architect at Palmer Course Designs, also said the West Neck golf course could come dearer to the average person if the owners would allow it: "When we finished the course and heard how much Mr. Foster was going to charge for it, we suggested that he could probably ask for more in this market, considering the high quality of the course and amenities at West Neck. But Foster wouldn't hear of it. He said his parents couldn't afford to join a country club when he was a kid, and he wanted to make sure the pricing scheme would allow for a great many folks to be able to do just that. That's a very refreshing attitude."
|You'll also find plenty of room to drive the ball on a Palmer course. West Neck is no exception.|
Even Arnold Palmer himself, in his remarks to West Neck's Grand Opening audience, said they wanted to provide upscale for less. "We've seen a real boom in the building of upscale daily fee courses, but we're also seeing a leveling off of fees in the high end range. I see more and more young people coming into golf, which is a great sign. Affordable courses, like The Signature at West Neck, will help bring more people to the game."
Let's clear something up right now. In The Signature's case, just because it's a good value doesn't make it cheap. On the contrary. Stevenson says part of the vision is to make sure elegance is a major element of the equation: "The thing that really sets us apart is our gardens and landscaping. Mr. Foster wanted to bring the beauty of a garden setting to the game of golf -- which is a pretty interesting piece of foresight, considering he doesn't even play the game."
It is an interesting piece of foresight. And taking into account the property's original condition, the decorative flora only makes the end result more spectacular. Palmer commented, "At Palmer Course Designs, we like to use each individual site's environmental surroundings to build golf courses that fit the land they occupy. We don't want to bring in unnatural things to an environment."
|Arnie seems to draw an 'army' just about wherever he goes.|
"Here at West Neck, you should've seen what it looked like before we started. It was essentially just a big open field with mud and slop, and I'm particularly proud of the job that Vicki & Ed (Seay, his longtime design partner) did to build and shape this place. It's very natural and beautiful," Palmer added.
Glancing over the landscape, it's hard to imagine the "mud and slop" now. But Martz said it took a great deal of effort to produce such beauty. "The thing that really stands out for me about The Signature is the effort we put into routing the course. Mr. Foster was the ideal client in that respect, because he was receptive to the idea of creating a core golf experience -- meaning the course would be somewhat self-contained. Many developers want to line all the fairways with homes, but we explained that on this somewhat small piece of land, you'd actually be saving quite a bit of space by putting some holes adjacent to each other."
Martz continues, "We also had some real water issues here. Seeing as this property is part of a tidal area, we needed to account for the occurrence of a hundred-year event. Therefore, we put 13 lakes on the course, and lowered the water level anywhere from five to seven feet below the playing surfaces to provide for a large amount of storage capacity when that happens."
|What once was a field of mud and slop now has eye pleasing contour and plenty of greenery.|
"Most people think golf architects put a lot of water on a course to be sadistic, but that's not it at all. We needed those lakes to make sure we could keep the course (and community) viable in case of a large storm," Martz explained.
It's true, water's just about everywhere you look at The Signature. But Stevenson says the course is extremely player friendly, despite its aquatic qualities. "One of Palmer's philosophies is to provide for generous landing areas. So if you'll notice, all the landing areas on Palmer courses are at least 150 feet wide. And he does this because one thing all golfers hate is looking for golf balls in the woods."
He's got that right.
|The King looks a bit frustrated here, but it wasn't because of the crowd -- the love is mutual between Arnie and the fans.|
"At the same time, Palmer's group designs the bunkering and green complexes to build in challenge for your better players. We've got some close shaved chipping swales, deep bunkers and lots of water out there to provide all the challenge you'd want," Stevenson concluded.
The course stretches to a little over 7,000 yards from the back tees, and just as Martz alluded to above, is fairly compact (but doesn't feel tight). There is a lot of room to miss off the tee, but you won't be dodging the incomers from the hole next door. Many holes are separated either by sizeable lakes or generous buffer zones.
It also plays quite a bit easier than Bay Creek. But Martz said that too was by design. "The idea at West Neck was to have a course suitable for an active adult community, where families can play comfortably together. There's enough length to satisfy long hitters, but there're also five sets of tees to accommodate all skill levels. Add in the beautiful landscaping and the excellent clubhouse, and that's really a great golf experience for members, guests and visitors for the day."
|Evening falls over West Neck, but the club's reputation is certainly rising.|
Highlights on the front nine include number three, the course's number one handicap hole. Stevenson said he named the hole "Deadman's Curve" after the old Jan and Dean song, but the name is fitting in this golf hole's sense, too. 455 yards in length, you've got water short, out of bounds to the right, and a steep dogleg right. If you don't get enough distance off the tee ball, you won't have a good angle to the green. Deadman's Curve indeed.
Number five is probably the toughest hole on the course, despite being a par three. From the back tees, it's 203 yards; all carry, with water and a large bunker in front. Long is no picnic either, as the green's slope will move chips towards the water and deep rough. Plenty of bailout room to the left off the tee, though, if you think bogey's good enough on this hole (the yardage book also has an interesting historical story about the hole's name, "Grace Sherwood").
Turning to the back, the eleventh is one of several "signature" holes at The Signature. Named "Stonewall," it's easy to see why, though I doubt there's any allusion to General Jackson here. Just 155 yards of par three, you'll need to gauge the wind for correct club selection, lest you leave it short of the stonewall lined green in a watery grave (as Arnold Palmer did twice during his ceremonial nine holes)!
The round concludes with another spectacular Palmer finishing hole, 451 yards long and named "Coliseum" for the amphitheater-like mounding around the green. There's plenty of room off the tee, though water hugs the last half of the hole on the right side (as Arnie found out again). An inspiring finish to an enjoyable trip around the course.
The Signature at West Neck is really a complete experience. Dick Foster has once again succeeded in providing superior facilities at a reasonable price -- the textbook definition of value. One only wonders if he'll find a way to better himself once again with the Nicklaus course at Bay Creek. In the meantime, content yourself with the "I took 'em" feeling at The Signature at West Neck.
I doubt they'll mind if you leave thinking that. After all, they like it that way.
The Signature at West Neck
3100 Arnold Palmer Drive
Virgnia Beach, VA 23456
Phone: (757) 721-2900
FAX: (757) 689-0698
Designer: Arnold Palmer
Director of Club Operations; Tom Stevenson, PGA
Director of Golf: Jim Hughes, PGA
Head Professional: Rory Wickstrom, PGA
Course Development Visionary: Dick Foster
Black 7010 135/73.8
Blue 6569 126/71.2
White 6072 122/69.3
Gold 5502 117/66.6 (Seniors)
Red 5012 117/68.5 (Women)
Off Season (November through March) - $40-$70
Season (April through October) - $49-$80
Discounts available for Juniors and Seniors. Rates include cart, taxes and Pro Link GPS.
Advance tee time reservations welcomed, please call the Golf Shop.
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E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor: