A little taste of Europe? Club at Viniterra serves up a glass of Mediterranean style in the Virginia wine country

NEW KENT, Va. -- When Rowland and Mary George visited Spanish masterpiece Valderrama, it reminded them of their home club outside Richmond.

Few casual observers would see idyllic Valderrama, surrounded by Andalusian farmland and overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, and think of the Club at Viniterra, which is cut through rolling woodland in the Virginia Tidewater.

But perhaps the comparison deserves closer consideration. After all, while Valderrama has olive trees, Viniterra has vineyards. While Valderrama was designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Viniterra was created by his son, Rees Jones. While Valderrama has wide fairways, multiple approach angles and big, contoured greens, Viniterra has all of the same.

"The holes set up real similar," Rowland George said. "When you're standing on the tee it's easy to pick a path, how you're going to attack the hole. All the trouble you can see."

Valderrama ... Viniterra. Even the names have a similar ring, evoking images of a slower pace and high life in the countryside.

That's what you get at Viniterra, a unique concept course midway between Richmond and Williamsburg, which is the centerpiece of an upscale gated community and shares property with New Kent Winery.

At Viniterra, players can get a post-round beer in the temporary clubhouse, but a better option is to walk across Angel's Share Drive to the winery, which looks straight out of the movie "Sideways," with high ceilings, huge windows and sweeping views across the vineyards.

Sipping a Chardonnay reserve, a Meritage or a Vidal Blanc while discussing the ups and downs of a round can spark a new appreciation for wine. You might even find yourself swirling the White Norton, sticking your nose in the glass and trying to determine its origins.

A drink might be required for those who play Viniterra from the back tees. At 7,725 yards, it is the longest golf course in Virginia and has appropriately beefy ratings of 77.2 (strokes) and 147 (slope). None of the quartet of par-5 holes measures less than 570 from the tips.

But don't be intimidated by the length or the reputation of Rees Jones, the evil "Open Doctor" of golf course design.

Viniterra has wide fairways, expansive greens and only one significant water hazard. Most of the holes are tree-lined, but the foliage is far offset from the fairway, framing holes dramatically but rarely coming into play. There's plenty of room to miss and minimal penalties for bad shots.

"We've designed this golf course for everybody," Jones told reporters at a gathering at the course in May. "We've got length for the bombers and shorter tees for those, like myself, who don't hit it very far anymore. What you see is what you get in terms of being able to see most every shot on the golf course."

Difficulty comes in the form of deep, artistically carved bunkers that give the holes definition and dictate strategy. The best example is No. 10, the 570-yard signature hole and a rare par 5 in that the entire hole is visible from the tee -- a downhill tee shot to a fairway guarded on both sides by bunkers, followed by an uphill approach.

Another par 5, No. 13, is a completely different test. On the 595-yard dogleg players have the option of cutting significant yardage by challenging an environmental hazard that carves into the fairway.

The Club at Viniterra: The verdict

The Club at Viniterra was established as a private club in 2009, but it was recently opened to the public and is fast developing a reputation as one of the best golf courses in Virginia.

Or, if you happen to be lucky enough to be world travelers like Rowland and Mary George, the comparison is to Valderrama.

"When we go on vacation, we're often disappointed," Mary George said. "We feel like we've got a better course at home.

Kevin Dunleavy is a longtime resident of northern Virginia, a graduate of George Mason University, an award-winning reporter covering golf, colleges, and other sports for the Washington Examiner, and a single-digit handicap still seeking his elusive first hole-in-one. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KDunleavy.
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A little taste of Europe? Club at Viniterra serves up a glass of Mediterranean style in the Virginia wine country