Even though Ed Shelton describes himself as “a reformed golfer” who hasn’t picked up a club in 15 years he was all ears when Yadkin Valley tourism officials approached him about partnering golf with the area’s surging wine industry.
After all, Shelton is an astute businessman, who along with brother Charlie has built quite a destination and award-winning wine collection at Shelton Vineyards outside of Dobson.
Shelton saw an instant value in such an alliance with a game that attracts nature lovers and travelers looking for alternatives to the Triangle, Sandhills, Triad and other North Carolina mountain destinations.
Looking back, after such a successful 2012 campaign of partnering golf and grapes, it seems like such a natural fit now for an area of the state that is sort of being rediscovered with an abundance of outdoor activities.
“We feel like we’ve hit a nerve with people,” said Surry County manager Chris Knopf, part of the brains behind the golf-grapes partnership idea. “The unique thing about our courses is some of them are on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains and some of them are down in the Foothills, so you get two different experiences. And as we add courses it’s going to be an even better mix. It’s not the Sandhills, it’s not the coast – it’s a different challenge. Each course is very unique.”
Interstates 77 and 73 knifing through the Yadkin Valley offer easy access to golf as Cedarbrook Country Club in Elkin is just 40 minutes from Winston-Salem and less than 2 1/2 hours from the Triangle, providing the quickest route in the state to some outstanding mountain golf.
The present golfing alliance also includes Cross Creek Country Club in Mount Airy and Olde Beau in Roaring Gap. Knopf envisions adding two or three more courses to the mix of more than 30 wineries next year, along with additional lodging options, such as rustic cabins.
“We were optimistic partnering golf with wine because we have something no one else can offer,” Knopf said. “And our wineries have really started to establish a good reputation with most of them a little over a decade old. Our revenues are through the roof. We’re jumping $10-12 million a year, which is huge for a rural county. And the way we’ve designed our packaging system we can expand into additional things other than golf. There are certainly a number of quality courses in our area that we’re looking to add in 2013.”
The Hampton Inn & Suites at Shelton Vineyards off Interstate 77 has raised the bar in the area in terms of lodging. Developed and owned by the Shelton brothers, the inn is equipped with a wine bar and has been voted the No. 1 product in the Hampton chain several years running.
“It’s a Rolls-Royce as far as Hampton Inns go,” Knopf said. ”The lodging here surprises people … and some of the restaurants here are going to surprise people, too. A lot of these fine-dining restaurants in places like Elkin and Mount Airy are the direct result of the wine industry. The feedback we’ve gotten from people who have been here on a golf trip has been very, very good.”
Yadkin Valley golf is diverse, challenging and beyond all else scenic. Cedarbrook is an old-style Ellis Maples-designed course whose green complexes will make golfers think on approach shots, while Cross Creek was recently renovated by Greensboro-based architect Kris Spence, and Olde Beau sits at 3,200 feet in Alleghany County with stunning 25-mile views.
“You can’t beat the Yadkin Valley for the designs, the beauty and the conditions of the golf courses,” said Cedarbrook’s longtime director of golf Zim Zimmerman. “We try to give the highest level of service and make you feel welcomed, and let you know we appreciate you coming. We want you to come back and see us. The traveler or the golfer looking for a new experience can get a great golf course, in great condition and have a great value. It is great golf at a good price.”
Cross Creek’s owners spent $1.5 million five years ago to bring in Spence and upgrade the layout. The result has been a golf course annually ranked among the state’s top 100.
“We put some very bold bunkering in at Cross Creek, added some depth to the bunkers so they have good meaning, they have good presence and they register with the player,” Spence said. “We tried to create as much variety as we could with the greens so that the 18 holes now have individual character; they are memorable and register with players.”
Olde Beau offers golfers a true thrill ride and some of North Carolina’s best golf course views, especially on the back nine where the 15th green virtually sits on a cliff that drops off into the Mitchell River Gorge. Meanwhile, the 17th hole falls some 800 feet from tee-to-green.
Dinners on the veranda of the clubhouse provide stunning sunsets over Bullhead Mountain, and peace and quiet after a memorable day on this stunning mountain layout.
“We always say we are a true mountain golf course,” said Olde Beau director of golf Tommy Maines, who has been on site since 1993. “When a lot of people get on the back nine they are just amazed by the vistas and the views we have.”
And while golfers see a 12-15 degree temperature drop as they climb the mountain during the summer months, Olde Beau is THE place to golf once the fall colors take shape.
Down in the Foothills, Shelton expects his vineyard to produce 22,000 cases of wine in 2012 as the largest family-owned estate winery in North Carolina. After embracing the golf connection, he foresees potential golf-course development in the area as well as more high-end shopping and fine-dining restaurants.
“I’ve always enjoyed golf but two things got in my way – my backswing and my back,” Shelton said. “Joking aside, golf has brought a whole different group of people here than we’ve ever had before. And we’ve started to get more people coming here for things like fly fishing, canoeing and hiking because this is a great area for all kind of outdoor activities.”
The unique thing about the Yadkin Valley golf packages is that wine tastings are included in the price. Each golfer receives a voucher for a tasting at one of four select wineries.
“Golf has made us a little more two- or three-dimensional,” added Knopf. “We’ve had the Mayberry hook for years, and over the last decade we’ve had the wine hook. Now we’ve got a golf hook. And when you think about the changing fall colors you think about the Blue Ridge Parkway and that is right in our backyard. If golfers come up for a wine and golf excursion in the fall it will truly be spectacular.”
To learn more about Yadkin Valley stay-and-play golf packages, visit www.YadkinValleyGolf.com or call 855-398-4653.