By Joe Bargmann
Technically, we only announce the winner, runner-up, and honorable mention in the Best of C-VILLE voting results. But for Birdwood Golf Course we’ll make an exception.
The course closed for renovation on November 25, 2018, months before this year’s best-of nominations began. And yet, Birdwood—a players’ favorite since it opened in 1984 and a frequent top-three pick by our readers—ranked among the five best courses in the area, and it nearly nosed into the top three before voting ended. Pretty remarkable, since not one stroke (officially) took place on the layout in 2019.
Golfers are a notoriously sentimental group, prone to nostalgia and prickly about change. And so, they voted for Birdwood, perhaps recalling a particularly satisfying shot they’d made there—a miraculous birdie putt on the steeply sloped fourth green, a booming drive across the pond on the 13th hole. In golf, as in life, one tends to remember the good and forget the bad.
Starting next spring, players will begin collecting new memories at Birdwood. As reimagined by Davis Love III, a two-time Ryder Cup captain, and his team—in particular, his brother Mark and lead designer Scot Sherman—the tired old course will be replaced by a world-class facility, with 18 holes that can accommodate easygoing rounds by casual players as well as NCAA Division I competitive play by the UVA golf teams.
People familiar with the old Birdwood will be gobsmacked. The main course repurposes a few holes from the original design, the funky little clubhouse is intact, and the practice range covers roughly the same ground. Beyond that, Birdwood is a whole new game.
“You can’t buy this kind of location and topography,” Sherman says, bumping along a future cart path in a little four-wheel-drive vehicle with knobby tires. “It’s one of a kind.”
The picture of the facility came into focus when the Love brothers and Sherman, during an early site visit, asked about a vast tract west of the second hole. Told that the land, nearly 80 acres between Birdwood and the back of the Boar’s Head Resort property, belonged to UVA but was not planned for development, Davis Love asked, “Well, can we have it?”
The answer was yes, and the plans suddenly became grand.
Love is familiar with bodacious golf properties. He grew up on the greens at Sea Island, a posh resort and residential community in coastal Georgia with three golf courses and—notably—an 18-hole putting layout designed by Love and his brother. His current home and hunting estate are both nearby, as was a hidden retreat called Cabin Bluff. There, Love built a short, six-hole golf course, so guests could enjoy taking a few swings between wing-shooting and fishing forays. (The historic sporting facility closed, and the land is now owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy.)
At Birdwood, Love brings his considerable experience to bear—specifically, with the addition of a one-acre, 18-hole putting green outside the old clubhouse, a six-hole short course to the west of the access road off of Route 250, and a spectacular main layout that promises to earn national attention. The UVA golf teams also have a new home at Birdwood, in a clubhouse and year-round fitness and teaching facility at one end of the practice range, which—like the golf course itself—will be greatly expanded.
“We have a rare opportunity here, to get all of these features into one place,” Sherman says.
The diversity of the new offerings is bound to draw an equally diverse clientele—Boar’s Head guests, tourists, local golfers, families, and even some of Love’s friends from the PGA Tour. And hey, with a golf course that’s actually open next year, Birdwood might land in the Best of C-VILLE top three.