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Yadkin Valley: Golf and grapes

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By Elsa Bonstein, Golf Gab

In this column I sometimes have the opportunity to write about people and places outside of Brunswick County. It all started years ago when Gene and I were getting ready to go on a cross-country golf trip and I was struggling to get four columns written before our departure.  
Ben Carlson (then editor of the Beacon) said, “Why don’t you just write from the road and email the articles and photos to us? Tell our readers where you’ve been and about the golf courses you’ve played. They might enjoy it.”
From the comments I received during the years, my readers told me they enjoyed my armchair travel golf columns, so I continued the practice.  
Last week, Gene and I went to the Yadkin Valley in the mountains of North Carolina to play golf and taste some fine wines. We found a beautiful area with high mountains, deep valleys, excellent golf courses and dozens of vineyards.  
Our first stop was Cedarbrook County Club near Elkin, a classic Ellis Maples design that winds through forest and lake and has many changes in elevation.    
“Cedarbrook is a test of every club in your bag,” said Zim Zimmerman, PGA golf professional and general manager. “There are no two holes alike here and golfers must plan their shots.”  
Their closely cut bent grass greens make putting a guessing game of estimating just how much roll there was on each putt. I tried to follow the rule of mountain golf (the ball always breaks away from the mountain), but I felt that old Ellis sat up there in the clouds and chuckled at me as I struggled to three-putt a green).
Built on the site of an old quail-hunting lodge, Cedarbrook is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The course plays at 6,873 yards from the tips and 5,207 yards from the forward tees.  
On the second day, we drove way up into the mountains to play at Olde Beau Golf and Country Club in Roaring Gap. Named after a faithful bulldog owned by the course architect, Billy Satterfield, Olde Beau is eye candy for most golfers because of its breathtaking views. The course runs up and down the very peak of the Blue Ridge Mountains and has 1,500 feet in elevation changes.   
Jack Draker is the head pro at Olde Beau.
“This is an up, up, and away golf course that requires pinpoint accuracy,” he said. “There are a lot of changes in elevation from shot to shot and from hole to hole. Club selection is important.”  
To help the errant golfer and to speed up play, hazard lines designate the sides of many fairways, which are often deep gulches. The course played 6,565 yards from the tips and a forgiving 4,307 yards from the forward tees. I love it when my husband has to struggle to reach my tee box on his drive.   
On the third day, we played Cross Creek, near Mount Airy, an enjoyable and totally different kind of course.  
Designed by Joseph Lee and built in 1973, Cross Creek was originally the site of a large working farm that produced corn, tobacco, cattle and commercially grown flowers and bulbs. The course is aptly named because a creek crosses the golf course 11 times. The land is mostly flat (except for holes 10 through 16, which head up and back down the mountain), but that does not mean Cross Creek is an easy track. Numerous ponds and creeks come into play, often sneaking in front of the green.  
In 2005, renowned golf course architect Kris Spence extensively renovated the course. The greens are now a combination of A-1 and A-4 bent grass and were soft and true when we played them. The fairways were lush and even a 3-wood was easy to hit.  
The golf at the three courses we played was terrific, but a real highlight of the trip was a visit to Shelton Vineyards near Dobson.
The Yadkin Valley has become renowned for producing fine wines and today the area boasts more than 30 wineries. A vast variety of grapes is grown here, so there are many wines and blended wines to taste and try.  
“Shelton Vineyards is one of the largest vineyards in the region and has won dozens of awards for its wines since it was built in 1999,” explained Brenda Reven, our tour guide.  
As we climbed up several levels of stairs, Brenda explained that Shelton is a gravity-flow winery.
“Nothing is pumped; everything flows naturally downward from the upper area, where the grapes are crushed, to the finished product as it enters the oak barrels.”  
When we reached the top, we started the journey from grapes to wine. At the top of the winery, a 33,000 square-foot building built into a hillside, grapes are dumped into two kinds of machines, depending on whether red or white wine is being produced.  
“For white wine, the grapes are crushed and the juice is strained out,” Brenda explained. “For red wine, the grapes are put into a different machine, which extracts the stems, but sends the whole grape onward. Red wines get their color from the skin of the grape in the fermenting process.”  
On downward through several levels we went, watching films of the process, viewing the large stainless tanks where the grape juice is fermented. Some of the tanks had electric coolers around them. This allows the winemaker to slow down the fermentation process to produce the best wine possible.      
“We make 18 kinds of wine, from dry whites like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to dry reds, like Cabernet and Merlot. We make semisweet wines like Riesling and Blush,” Brenda said. “We also make a sparking wine, a Family Reserve Claret and an Estate Port. There’s something for everyone and all the grapes are grown right here.”
The grounds of the winery are beautiful with ponds and bridges and picnic areas. The hillsides contain rows and rows of assorted various grapevines. At the end of each row is a rosebush.
“Rosebushes are sensitive to many diseases and provide us with an early warning system for the grapevines,” Brenda explained. “In addition, windmills are scattered through the vineyards and we turn them on when a frost is expected during the growing season.”
Our one regret about the visit was that we did not have enough time to spend a day in Mount Airy. We drove through the town and it looked just like the set from the “Andy Griffith Show.” The Andy Griffith Museum and Playhouse, Opie’s Candy Store, Mayberry Gifts & Collectables, the Mayberry Trading Post and many other stores were patterned after the famous television series. Visitors can even take a “squad car tour” of Mount Airy from Wally’s Service Station.    
I spoke with Tammy Johnson (Surry County tourism director) and Jessica Icenhour, director of Mount Airy tourism, about the unique blend of golf and wineries in the Yadkin Valley.  
“Folks from our area vacation in Brunswick County,” Jessica said. “In fact, I was married at Ocean Isle Beach last summer. Plus, our area has become a stopping spot for people who are travelling from Ohio to the beach. Now we have this marketing initiative to invite people to come, play golf and explore our wineries.”  
“We’ve come up with cute slogans like ‘Fairways and Chardonnays,’ ‘Chip and Sip,’ and ‘From Mayberry to Merlot,’ and it’s working,” Tammy said. “We have a lot to offer and we’re slowly becoming a destination instead of a stopping-off point.”  
Wouldn’t it be fun if we could arrange for some golf exchange matches between the golfers in Brunswick County and the golfers in the Yadkin Valley?  
For more information, check www.YadkinValleyGolf.com.  

Golf Gab groaner
A frugal man enjoys shooting in the 130s because he’s getting more for his money.  

Elsa Bonstein is a golf columnist for The Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net. Follow her at facebook.com/elsa.bonstein.