Keswick Hall and Golf Club is the ideal base for exploring historic Charlottesville, Virginia.By Rob Duca
Thomas Jefferson never had the opportunity to visit Villa Crawford, the historic north wing of the Keswick Hall and Golf Club in Charlottesville, Virginia. But if given the chance, he undoubtedly would have made the five-mile journey to the stunning, Italian-style villa, especially to spend an evening enjoying dinner in the magnificent Treble Wine Cellar. Jefferson’s love of wine is legendary.
Today, Keswick Hall serves as a luxurious base for touring Charlottesville’s numerous attractions. Jefferson’s plantation manor, Monticello, beckons from a hilltop just a short drive down the road. Virtually around the corner is the home of James Monroe, and if you venture about 25 miles to the northeast you’ll come upon the former residence of James and Dolley Madison.
With all that history it might be easy to forget the future. But with the opening of the new Pete Dye golf course three years ago, called Full Cry, Keswick Hall is clearly focused on creating new memories. Now you can play 18 holes on a championship course that winds through the bucolic Virginia countryside, tour the local sites, enjoy dinner in Charlottesville’s bustling downtown and then settle in for the night at a glorious world-class resort.
Or maybe you might just make a reservation at the area’s most exclusive private dining venue, the Treble Wine Cellar at Keswick Hall, where you’ll be surrounded by 5,000 bottles of wine while being served in a candlelit setting at a locally carved wooden table for groups of two to 12.
Keswick Hall has plenty of its own history. Guests have included Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Mick Jagger, Bill Murray, Anthony Hopkins and John Grisham. Margaret Thatcher frequented the hotel in the 1990s. Arthur Ashe played a tennis exhibition here.
But there have been turbulent times, too. Villa Crawford began as a private residence in 1912 and remained that way until 1948 when the Keswick Country Club was opened with nine holes, three tennis courts and a swimming pool. A second nine holes was added in the 1950s, and by the late-1960s the club had 700 members, 10 tennis courts, an Olympic-sized pool with a space bubble for winter swimming and an ice skating venue. But by 1980 when scenes from the movie “The Four Seasons” starring Alan Alda and Carol Burnett were filmed, the clubhouse was abandoned and the property had fallen into disrepair.
That began to change in 1990 when Sir Bernard Ashley, the widower of the famed designer Laura Ashley, purchased the property and began restoring it to its former glory. Ashley spent $25 million on renovations, and three years later Keswick Hall reopened with a newly designed Arnold Palmer golf course. More changes have come in the past five years with extensive renovations to the guest rooms and the introduction of the Dye course that is ranked in national publications as among the best in the state.
Perched on the property’s high ground, the course features multiple tee boxes, ranging from
5,000 to 7,000 yards. With the exception of one hole, golfers can approach greens through the air or on the ground. With an absence of forced carries, one can elect to hit old-school run-up shots, which is a safer option than bringing Dye’s numerous penal bunkers and hazards into play.
A visit to Monticello is a must-stop on any trip to the Charlottesville area. The author of the Declaration of Independence and the country’s third president spent 40 years constructing and modifying the buildings and surrounding landscape, and today Monticello stands as a monument to his brilliance. You’ll walk through rooms that haven’t changed since Jefferson lived there, visit his library containing nearly 7,000 books and tour the parlor where he regularly hosted the Madisons for dinner.
His many inventions are also on display, including a polygraph machine for copying letters and an enormous wall clock that displays the time of day and day of the week. The polygraph sits on a desk in his bedroom. It has two pens; one that Jefferson wrote with and the other to make an exact copy. It was used for the more than 19,000 letters he wrote in his lifetime.
As you tour the extensive gardens and pathways outside the property, you can look into Charlottesville and down upon the University of Virginia, which Jefferson founded in 1819, just seven years before his death.
Less than one mile from Monticello is another historic site of note, the rustic Michie Tavern. Opened in the late 1700s, waiters in period-style clothing serve up 18th-century Southern recipes in a somewhat decadent, but certainly delicious, all-you-can-eat buffet. Southern fried chicken, hickory smoked pulled pork, black-eyed peas seasoned with ham, and cornbread and biscuits are just a few of the items that will have you letting out a notch in your belt.
In downtown Charlottesville in the district known as The Corner, you’ll find a seven-block collection of bars, restaurants, coffee shops, bookstores and clubs that are alive and vibrant morning, noon and night. For peace and solitude, and a bit of exercise, walk “The Lawn,” which is surrounded by college dorms (including one that once hosted Edgar Allen Poe) and serves as the architectural centerpiece of the University of Virginia.
Through all these stops, beginning with Keswick Hall and ending downtown, it’s impossible not to feel the weight of history. One suspects Jefferson would be quite pleased with that.