Looking for a nice little “drive to” destination along the Atlantic Seaboard, a laid-back place where the weather is fair and the price is right? Consider Virginia Beach, an unpretentious resort city located within a day’s drive of one-third of the nation’s population. This carefree beach town, a popular family getaway in summer, has put itself squarely on the East Coast golf map this spring with the recent opening of three fine courses.
The marquee track is Bay Creek, the Arnold Palmer-designed course, which made the GOLF Magazine “Top 10 You Can Play” list in March. A round at Bay Creek requires a trip across the 17.6-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, an engineering marvel that links Virginia Beach to Virginia’s Eastern Shore and offers motorists a one-of-a-kind excursion over and under the open waters of the Chesapeake Bay (watch for bottlenose dolphins). The 7,244-yard, par-72 course is exceptional, its opening holes set along the bay’s sandy, windswept shores. When a second course by Jack Nicklaus opens at Bay Creek late next year, sleepy Cape Charles will no longer be sleepy.
Back at the beach, the Palmer Design Group also cut the ribbon last year at The Signature at West Neck. Centerpiece of a real estate development, this well-groomed, country club-style layout is marked by 13 lakes, dramatic beach bunkers, and expansive wetlands. In the mood for something a little less tame? Strap on the Tournament Players Club of Virginia Beach for size. But unless you’re competing in the Buy.com Tour event slated for May 2 to 5, resist the urge to tackle the course from the tips at 7,432 yards if you hope to finish. Designed by Pete Dye with input from Tidewater native Curtis Strange, this exacting three-year-old test, built on former soybean fields and cut through mature hardwoods, is plenty frisky from the forward tees — especially when the wind blows.
Other Virginia Beach notables include Heron Ridge, a Gene Bates-Fred Couples design with open, links-style holes balanced by rolling, wooded fairways beside Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge; and Hell’s Point, the region’s first course of distinction. Built by Rees Jones 20 years ago, this 6,766-yard, par-72 layout was carved from tall pines and hardwoods. Bordered by a nature preserve, Hell’s Point, marked by numerous lakes and large, sculptured bunkers, calls for accurate shotmaking in return for par. The area’s supporting cast — Cypress Point and Honey Bee — are short and sporty, if chockablock with housing, while Red Wing Lake is a George Cobb-designed muni earmarked for a $5 million makeover.
In a way, the real fun in Virginia Beach begins after the round. Last year, the city completed a $22.5 million sand replenishment project that widened the beach by more than 300 feet. Also, the lively three-mile-long boardwalk was modernized and is now dotted with fanciful sculptures and grassy parks. Feeling patriotic? The city’s jet observation parks enable visitors to watch the navy’s most sophisticated aircraft (F-14 Tomcats, A-6 Intruders) taking off and landing at nearby Oceana Naval Air Station. Exeriencing serious putting woes? Perhaps an answer awaits at A.R.E. (Association for Research and Enlightenment), headquarters of Edgar Cayce, the world-famous psychic. Afraid of water hazards? Strike a deal with the real “locals” at the Virginia Marina Science Museum, which boasts 800,000 gallons of aquariums, three touch tanks, and a simulated journey to the bottom of the sea.
For a different approach entirely, try your luck deep-sea fishing in the Gulf Stream — charters and party boats depart daily from Rudee Inlet — or hop the trolley at 19th and Pacific and head with your non-golfing spouse to Lynnhaven Mall. Afterward, dive into some of the best and most numerous (over 300) seafood restaurants in the East, where everything from Chesapeake Bay crabcakes and shrimp scampi to stuffed flounder and blackened tuna is available. And don’t miss Mahi Mah’s, a lively saloon and oceanfront dining spot in the Ramada Inn on the Beach where the raw bar is for real. After hours, nightclubs offer everything from Top 40 and jazz to country-western, reggae, and the regional favorite — beach music!
Set back from the beach (a la Myrtle Beach) are numerous mid-priced chain hotels (Holiday Inn-Sunspree, Ramada Plaza Resort, etc.). Nothing too fancy, but the oceanfront properties, most within easy reach of the courses, are perfect for a buddy trip. The Virginia Beach Golf Association has 14 hotels and eight courses under its aegis. Two-night, three-round weekday packages (carts and taxes included) start at under $250 per person, double occupancy in spring. For more information, call 866-482-4653, or visit www.vbgolf.com.