““[Bill Gates] has been historically one of my best supporters…One of my favorite e-mails he ever sent me…I proposed this crazy project. And he sent back this two-line response: ‘This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve ever suggested. Please proceed.’” ”
Virginia's Homestead Resort
Driving past bright green fields adorned with lazy dairy cows along Virginia's Route 220, you get the sense that you're entering a world where you can completely unplug yourself from the nine-to-five grind. You are-but you don't necessarily have to unplug all the way. Awaiting you atop the hill marked with the horse-and-buggy-crossing sign is The Homestead, a historic luxury resort offering all the amenities and services a business traveler needs in a relaxed, country setting. So you can come here for an executive brainstorming session or team-building retreat, but you can also come just to unwind and enjoy gorgeous scenery.
"Our location is our biggest challenge and also our biggest advantage," said Jeffrey Ford, the property's vice president of sales. "We're like a cruise ship in the mountains."
Nestled on 3,000 rolling acres in Hot Springs, Va., in the Allegheny Mountains, The Homestead is just over an hour's drive from Roanoke and about five hours from Washington, D.C. The closest business-jet-capable airport, Bath County/Ingalls Field Airport with its 5,600-foot runway, is about a 25-minute drive from the resort (see "Where To Land Your Jet" on page 49). The location is sufficiently remote to make it attractive as a place where individuals and groups can focus on the task at hand, but there is still plenty to do when the meeting adjourns.
Founded in 1766 as a refuge for traveling settlers, The Homestead is best known for its championship golf courses and spa facilities. The Cascades is consistently ranked among the top 100 courses in the nation, and the resort's PGA instructors offer individual and group lessons. The Homestead also features the Jefferson Pools, a group of warm mineral springs named after Thomas Jefferson, who visited them in 1818. The spa offers everything from massages and skin treatments to rejuvenating baths in these waters, which according to Ford, have gained favor with male guests seeking post-golf muscle relaxation.
"Today it's OK for a man to have a facial, but my dad would have never done that," he quipped, noting that The Homestead has changed many things over the decades to keep itself fresh and attractive. Lawn bowling has gone the way of the dinosaur, though the 10-pin variety persists with eight indoor lanes open daily. Most of the tennis courts have been replaced by gardens due to lack of use, as guests opt instead to pursue skiing, snowboarding, tubing, laser tag, horseback riding, canoeing, fishing, mountain biking, paintball or hiking. You can even learn how to handle a large bird of prey from a professional falconer.
"I don't think it will ever go out of style," Ford said of the resort, which has passed through numerous hands over the decades, including J.P. Morgan and the Ingalls family, which owned the land where the resort and the nearby Bath County/Ingalls Field Airport were built. ClubCorp, which KSL Capital Partners of Denver recently purchased, also owns or operates about 170 other resorts, private clubs and golf courses. The firm has invested more than $75 million in renovations and upgrades at The Homestead since purchasing it in 1993, according to Ford.
Sixty percent of the roughly 50,000 guests who visit The Homestead each year are on business trips, Ford said, noting that companies based throughout the Mid-Atlantic states account for 80 percent of the resort's revenue. The facility features several "leadership development" activities for groups, including a ropes course, a 40-foot scaling wall and The Crow's Foot, in which participants climb separate poles to reach a set of tightrope cables 20 to 25 feet high. Partners use each other for balance and support as they move toward the apex of the converging cables. Full-day sessions cost $200 per person; a two-hour session costs $75 per person.
For those who'd rather play than hone their leadership skills, the resort features three 18-hole golf courses: the aforementioned Cascades; the Lower Cascades; and the Old Course, which was built in 1892 and boasts the oldest continuously operating first tee in the country. Greens fees range from $30 on the Old Course during winter to $235 for the Cascades from April through mid-November. The spa offers hydrotherapy treatments using the area's famed warm mineral waters. Call (540) 839-7547 for an appointment and pricing.
And then there's afternoon tea in the Great Hall. From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. daily, live piano music wafts through the room as waiters in black coattails deliver tall glasses of iced tea, pots of hot tea and plates filled with finger sandwiches and fresh, homemade cookies. It's an ideal place to end the day.
Traveler Report Card
Accommodations (A): Guest rooms are warm, cheery and fresh, with tastefully coordinated colors and prints on the floors, walls and
windows. Super-soft pillows and luxurious quilted bedspreads cradle the weary traveler, while picturesque views of the grounds and surrounding terrain beckon you outdoors.
Dining (A-): The Homestead's formal dining room (jacket and tie required) offers continental cuisine prepared under the direction of executive chef Rodger Martin, formerly of the Grand Hyatt in New York and the Mandalay Four Seasons Resort in Texas. The 1766 Grille (keep the jacket but skip the tie) specializes in tableside preparation of French favorites such as Châteaubriand à l'Armagnac and sirloin steak au poivre, served flambé with a merlot and green peppercorn sauce. Sam Snead's Tavern-named after the late celebrity golfer, who was born near Hot Springs-serves steaks, ribs, burgers and barbecue chicken in a more casual setting. The stately President's Lounge, featuring photos of the 22 U.S. Presidents who have stayed at the resort, is a good place to enjoy a cocktail.
Activities (A): Readers of Condé Nast Traveler ranked The Homestead among the world's top 100 golf resorts in a 2006 poll. The spa is quite inviting and while it wasn't very busy during my brief stay, I did soak my feet in the outdoor mineral spring pool, and it felt fabulous. As the accompanying article suggests, there's no shortage of things to do at The Homestead for both work and play. And if you're bringing the family, you'll find that the resort's Kids Club provides athletic and educational activities for children of all ages.
Quietude (A): No matter where you are inside the building or outdoors wandering the grounds, you'll find ample places to sit down for a heart-to-heart conversation or simply to enjoy being alone.
Traveler Fast Facts
What it is: The Homestead (
www.thehomestead.com, 888-796-5838) is a golf and spa resort that dates from pre-Revolutionary times. It has 486 guest rooms and suites, including the newly renovated Presidential Suites. All rooms have DSL connections, and wi-fi is available in all indoor public spaces. Daily rates range from about $100 in the winter to more than $300 during the peak fall foliage season.
Conference facilities: The facility boasts 28 meeting rooms of varying sizes and shapes, each with high-speed Internet connections. For large groups or events (including the resort's annual New Year's Eve gala), the 13,000-sq-ft Grand Ballroom can accommodate 1,200 people, while many of the smaller conference rooms open up to intimate gardens or lawns that are perfect for coffee breaks. Audiovisual presentation and lighting systems are available.
Transportation: A rental car isn't necessary when visiting The Homestead because everything you need is on the grounds and within walking distance. Shuttle-van service is available between the resort and Bath County/Ingalls Field Airport (17 miles), Greenbrier Valley Airport (50 miles), Roanoke Regional Airport (59 miles), Charlottesville-Albermarle Airport (100 miles) and the Clifton Forge Amtrak station (35 miles). Hourly shuttles to and from Roanoke charge $60 per person each way. Service to Ingalls Field costs $25 per person with a $50 minimum. Private transfer to Roanoke in a luxury sedan runs $125 per person, with a $250 minimum.
Where To Land Your Jet
Bath County/Ingalls Field Airport (KHSP)-named after the family that originally owned the land upon which it and The Homestead are built-opened in 1931. At 3,792 feet above mean sea level, it is the highest-elevation, public-use general aviation airport east of the Mississippi River. The facility, which has a 5,600-foot runway, is only three miles southeast of the resort but the trip takes about 25 minutes by car because you have to cross a ridgeline, then go south up a big hill to get to the airport. It's a pretty drive, though, with several scenic pull-off areas and an occasional black bear sighting.
Nearly all the aircraft arriving at Ingalls Field carry passengers headed for the resort, with peak activity on weekends from April through November. On rainy days, clouds often settle in the valley right at the runway threshold, forcing pilots to divert elsewhere. But for those who make it in, the convenience is well worth the effort.
Ingalls Field's large ramp area was resurfaced in 2005 and can accommodate about 20 business jets. No hangar space is available for transients now.
No de-icing equipment is obtainable, so those planning a trip in the wintertime need to be extra careful. "I've seen pilots out there chipping away at the ice with credit cards," said Dean Black, one of three linemen serving the airport.
The convenience of using Ingalls Field notwithstanding, most people who fly in to visit The Homestead choose to land at Roanoke Regional, which is about a 75-minute drive to the south but has two long runways, a control tower, an FBO with a wide range of ground services (Landmark Aviation) and scheduled airline service. (Greenbrier Valley Airport in Lewisburg, W. Va., is slightly closer to the resort but offers only one runway and fewer airline flights.)