Alligators no longer live in the sunken rills of the Palm Court fountains, and the fountains themselves are gone, but The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond, Virginia, a beige brick palace opened in 1895, remains one of the South's grand hostelries. The first impression is lasting: A luminous, life-sized statue of Thomas Jefferson in white Carrara marble dominates the check-in area. Beside it is a magnificent staircase, reportedly the model for the one featured in the Atlanta mansion scenes in Gone With the Wind. The stairs lead
to a rotunda lobby marked by 70-foot-high ceilings, a stained-glass skylight, and ornate faux-marble columns. Recently restored and expanded, the 260-room property, located in the city's historic Franklin Street district, is one of 17 hotels in North America to carry both AAA's Five Diamond as well as Mobil's Five Star ratings. Guest rooms are beautifully furnished, the staff is exceptionally friendly, and the hotel's signature restaurant, Lemaire, serving "new Virginia cuisine in Gilded Era elegance," is named for Thomas Jefferson's White House maitre d'hotel, who introduced the art of cooking with wine to America. Room rates start at $235. Reservations: 800-424-8014. Web site: www.jefferson-hotel.com.
Golf may seem an afterthought in such glorious surroundings, but it's a notion worth kindling in the Old Dominion. Thirty minutes west of Richmond is the state's latest public-access standout, Independence Golf Club. On 260 acres of donated land, a full-service golf "campus" has been brought to fruition by the Virginia State Golf Association. The goal: To promote and preserve amateur and junior golf in the Commonwealth. Tom Fazio was hired to design a versatile test on rolling land dotted with pines and interlaced with winding creeks and wetlands. The look is traditional -- rectangular tees, well-placed bunkers, lots of options. Among the better holes are three "shelf-to-shelf" one-shotters (holes 7, 9, and 14), where elevation changes and/or water hazards give pause for thought. Fazio has also built a nine-hole par-three course that simulates, in shorter form, the challenges of the main design. Juniors ages 17 and under accompanied by an adult can play it for $1. There's also a large practice center and a handsome brick clubhouse inspired by Jefferson's Monticello. Green fee at Independence is $79 Monday to Thursday, $89 Friday to Sunday. Caddies are available. Golf shop: 804-594-0261. Web site: www.independencegolfclub.com.