LIVING ON THE LINKS
The Virginian Adds Haute Cuisine to Acclaimed Course
By Scott Kauffman
When the late Don Nicewonder convinced famed course architect Tom Fazio to create a golfer’s dream facility 30 years ago on his family’s 850-acre farmland in Bristol, Va., the Fazio-designed gem earned instant accolades as one of America’s top private residential clubs. It also helped put The Virginian, and relatively unknown southwestern Virginia, on the global golf map.
Three decades later, with Nicewonder’s son, Kevin, now overseeing the family-owned private club community, the Troon Privé property still thrives from a golf perspective. But Kevin, recognizing the family’s once core golf club needed to evolve with the changing demands and desires of the modern-day membership, started investing in other non-golf pursuits. The club’s sister property, Nicewonder Farm & Vineyards, is at the vanguard of these changes.
One of the most compelling aspects of the family’s growing 450-acre Farm & Vineyards is the namesake 28-room boutique Inn. It opened last year and includes Hickory, an acclaimed, Appalachia-inspired restaurant led by James Beard Award-nominated celebrity chef Travis Milton. Indeed, decades after the famed course designer transformed these pastoral foothills into 21 holes of world-class golf, Milton is making this part of the Appalachian Mountains the next-great leisure destination and synonymous with haute cuisine.
Inspired by Milton’s Appalachian heritage, culture, and traditions, the Hickory menu features locally sourced produce grown on the Nicewonder Farm and many rare heirloom seeds that have been in Milton’s family for generations. The result? Quite possible the freshest and most unique flavors you will ever experience.
In addition, Hickory’s vast bar offers a collection of craft cocktails, local brews, and ciders to enjoy before or after one’s meal, or guests can explore wine options from the 1,700-bottle capacity cellar that boasts a curated collection featuring some of the Nicewonder Vineyards’ own award-winning locally grown and bottled “vine-to-wine” varietals.
Food & Wine magazine recently described Hickory as “a culinary curriculum in the form of a menu and mission focused on one thing: honoring Appalachian food, and the diverse and dignified people who make it.”
West Bay Club Becomes More Wondrous
When America starts to get mired in miserable wintry weather, affluent Midwesterners have historically gone south along the I-75 corridor to an area known as one of the most concentrated pockets of private golf club communities in the world: Southwest Florida.
Places like Fort Myers, Bonita Springs, and Naples, to name just a few, are popular destinations where the picturesque Gulf of Mexico meets world-class golf and country club lifestyles in a landscape that’s hard to beat when it’s sunny and 70 degrees in the middle of February.
One place that’s redefining this lifestyle is West Bay Club in Estero, Fla., perfectly located between bustling Fort Myers and Naples along the pristine Estero Bay. West Bay’s fabulous Pete and P.B. Dye-designed course, opened in 1999, recently underwent a $4-million major renovation by the respected architectural duo of Dana Fry/Jason Straka, giving members seven new challenging tees to play from.
This Distinguished Club of America and Troon Privé property also features another $20 million worth of newly enhanced world-class amenities. For instance, another popular place for non-golfers is the beloved Bay House, home to a resort-style swimming pool, the Aqua Café, and state-of-the-art Fitness, Athletic and Wellness Centers.
For racquet, sports and outdoor enthusiasts, members can satisfy their various leisure pursuits with eight Har-Tru tennis courts and a 2.3-acre Sports Park, featuring six pickleball courts, a dog park, ample parking, and restrooms. Or members can head to their River Park, which offers West Bay boating and wildlife enthusiasts a private boat launch and storage so they can enjoy canoeing, kayaking, and fishing along the peaceful Estero River that runs through the community.
But one thing nearly every member enjoys is West Bay’s rare private Beach Club. Situated about 20 minutes away from the gated enclave on Little Hickory Island, the fully staffed venue is so popular the club is building a new 4,245-square-foot facility as the final piece of the club’s $20 million-round of capital improvement projects.
When the new beach amenity is finished next year, it will be more than double the size of the original building with parking capacity for up to 60 cars, changing rooms, and towel service. There will be ample indoor and outdoor dining space to enjoy the full-service “Key West” coastal-styled restaurant and bar overlooking 200 linear feet of gorgeous Gulf of Mexico beachfront.
It’s yet another reason that will remind everyone why the West Bay Club and Southwest Florida are so desirable, especially this time of year.