Privé Destinations


At The Virginian “Something special is going on”

By Scott Kauffman

If you’re from Bristol, Virginia, it’s understandable you might have a little bit of an identity crisis. At least that’s one way to describe this southwestern Virginia town that happens to have a twin city by the same name just across the state line in Tennessee.

In fact, the line separating these two states runs right down the middle of its mutually shared main street, aptly named State Street. About eight miles northeast of this dynamic downtown intersection, however, there’s no identity crisis whatsoever at The Virginian.

Even three decades after the late Don Nicewonder developed this Tom Fazio-designed course on his family’s 850-acre farmland in the picturesque foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the native Virginian’s vision to create a premier residential club so he and his friends could just “get together, play golf and enjoy life,” still rings true today.


For instance, ever since the avid golfer opened his personal playground in 1993, The Virginian, which stretches 7,025 yards from its par-71 championship tees, receives perennial recognition as one of America’s top private residential courses. And 20 years ago, Nicewonder received the ultimate golf nod when his club played host to the 2003 U.S. Senior Amateur.

To be sure, this private club community now managed by Nicewonder’s son Kevin offers quite the golf experience, with five sets of tees starting with the 4,418-yard, par-72 orange tees to a rare regulation par-10, three-hole loop Fazio also designed amongst the rolling hills. 

Given its generous 225-acre, low-density footprint – an effort to honor the heritage of the land according to Nicewonder – this core golf experience can be both very playable for all levels of golf and challenging at the same time for the game’s elite, as shown by hosting the 2003 U.S. Senior Amateur.

Not long after it opened, Fazio summed it up best when he said: “We have built a course that honors the land it’s built upon, which fulfills the commitment we made to the owners, and which provides a thrill for the player. You won’t find a better course anywhere. I like the way the whole place feels. From the country drive, through the stone entrance walls, you know something special is going on out here. …”

Indeed, that couldn’t be truer than today, where there is something truly special happening at the club’s pastoral golf setting in these Virginia Highlands, as locals describe it. And while The Virginian will always be synonymous with world-class golf, the club is now making a name for itself as one of the country’s most remarkable private residential golf and resort “lifestyle clubs,” as per General Manager Mara Bouvier.


As Bouvier put it, about seven years ago, once the Nicewonders recognized golf was no longer the “end all or be all at a club,” The Virginian started its “lifestyle transition” when the clubhouse underwent major improvements, including the addition of a second dining venue, the popular Twenty-Two Bar and Grill, where families and guests enjoy casual fare or watch a televised game.

Then, the club’s “tiny corner bar with four bar stools” was revamped and turned into a wine cellar that Bouvier says can hold some 700 bottles for special occasions and events. Not long after these clubhouse enhancement projects were completed, The Virginian turned its hospitality attention to reimagining the Swim, Racquet & Fitness Club by turning the facility’s “snack bar,” where members could occasionally get lunch, into the full-service Oasis Bar & Grille.

Considering the complex already featured a Junior Olympic-sized pool, fitness center, tennis courts, a growing junior tennis program led by top U.S. Tennis Association instructor David Poole, and a vibrant pickleball program, with an eye to future expansion, the new Oasis Bar & Grille became a first-class food-and-beverage addition to the growing non-golf side of the membership and residential community.

“So now from Memorial Day to Labor Day, you’re able to get lunch and dinner, cocktails, and pool-side service,” said Bouvier. “And  as weather permits, you will find our courts busy with racquet sports throughout the year.”


But all these non-golf changes at The Virginian arguably are not the most compelling enhancements recently made at the community, which these days is thriving with an influx of younger business owners and professionals with children living alongside the traditional retiree The Virginian was originally designed to attract.

Perhaps the game-changing “lifestyle” decision made by the Nicewonder family was returning to their beloved farmland roots in 2013 and planting six acres of viognier, chardonnay, and merlot grapes in a new venture, Nicewonder Vineyards, nestled on more than 600 acres of rolling farmland that is Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards.

As it turned out, the initial crop of harvested and bottled viognier won a gold medal in the prestigious Virginia Governor’s Cup, and every bottle the farm entered in subsequent years came away with medals.

Fueled by their initial success, the farm quickly grew into 13-plus acres of wine production. Today, Nicewonder Vineyards comprises six different varietals across 16-plus acres, including petit verdot and cabernet franc, and a tasting room for guests to sample the wines.

Suddenly the upstart vintners realized they had an opportunity to market and sell their wines to a much broader audience, and that’s when the Nicewonders decided to build a namesake boutique inn at Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards, and turn their coveted golf club and farmland into a world-class leisure destination.

The 28-room lodge opened in 2022, joining a collection of nine exquisite yurts that were introduced to a resounding success, with yet another perfect place to pair haute cuisine with a bottle of award-winning Nicewonder wine: Hickory, the acclaimed Appalachia-inspired restaurant by James Beard Award-nominated chef Travis Milton.

Being served up next on the resort amenity list: a new fitness center in time for the summer and a world-class spa and wellness center scheduled to open later this fall. In some respects, much like a fine wine, The Virginian keeps getting better with age.