In spite of its rating as a “Best Place to Play” by Golf Digest, and the word “Club,” at the end of its name, the Piankatank Golf Club in Hartfield is open to the public, affordable, and designed for use by golfers of all ages, regardless of ability level.
“We probably shouldn’t have added the word “club,” says John Fleet, the older of the two Fleet brothers (E.G. being the younger brother), who own and operate the bucolic course which touches the banks of its namesake river in Middlesex County.
Opened in 1996, the club sits on a plot of land which reflects some of the rich history from the Middle Peninsula. Along with the 285 acres which have been owned by the Fleet family for 11 generations, the bottom seven holes are located on 130 acres of Margaret Beckwith’s property, Woodstock, a former plantation home which was built in 1840. Beckwith is the widow of Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith, who is Abraham Lincoln’s great grandson and last blood heir.
Fairfield Landing, site of the club, and where the tributary empties into the Piankatank River, is adjoined to the east by Scoggins Creek, whose headwaters start at Lower Church, formerly known as the “Chapel of Ease,” with ties linking back to 1650, when it was the first parish church of Christchurch. The steamboat “Fairfield Landing” can be viewed from the 13th and 14th greens, leaving one to picture a simpler time in history, when commerce was accomplished by boats and trains.
The Fleets, who were originally involved with the farming and equipment industry, fell into the golfing business by accident. With the Middlesex and Mathews regions lacking an 18-hole golf course, the National Golf Association headed up a feasibility study to explore the possibility of finding land to design one.
“One of the architects had family in Mathews. We shared a mutual friend so he stopped by and told us that he was passing through,” said John.
E.G. quickly interjects, “We told him that you don’t just pass through Hartfield. It’s a destination.”
From their initial conversation in 1994, a bond was formed and the architect inspected the Fleet’s property.
John recalled, “He was a man of great vision, because at the time, 70 percent of our land was woods.”
The determination was made that a course could be built, but there was a problem.
John adds, “We didn’t own all the land.”
Fortunately, Margaret Beckwith was happy to offer a 40-year lease for her property, with the future option to purchase. The addition of Beckwith's property gave the course a unique look, and topography.
“There are two distinctly different nines (holes). The front nine has seven streams and a 110-foot elevation change. Then it flattens out on the bottom nine as you get closer to the river. It’s not your prototypical golf course, like the ones being built in the 90’s,” continues John. “It’s a unique course, but a good test of golf.” To prove the point, he adds that unlike many other American golf courses, there are no two completely parallel holes at Piankatank.
“I want the culture of the course to be where a golfer is standing on the 15th green, looks around and asks “Where am I?”
Piankatank’s club pro Kris Keith tags on to the thought. “From a golf perspective, it’s one of the most unique courses anywhere.”
Along with its status as a top notch course, Piankatank also plays host for many civic and charitable events. Recently, the course hosted a tournament for Bliley House, an organization dedicated to brain injury issues. The annual Relay for Life has also hosted many events at the club, which features room for 150 people in its Steamboat restaurant and accompanying multi-purpose room, whose large windows overlook the course.
Eighteen years after the Fleet brothers looked at each other and asked, “What are we getting ourselves into?,” the Piankatank Golf Club has emerged as an athletic and social hub for the Middle Peninsula, as well as neighboring Richmond, Williamsburg, and other parts of the Peninsula.
The Piankatank Golf Club is an 18 hole, par 72 golf course, located at 6198 Stormont Road in Hartfield, VA, just off Rt. 3 W/33 (General Puller Hwy.) at the Grafton Church Rd. intersection. Memberships are available. For further information, call the club at 804-776-6516.
While in the process of studying for my qualifying comprehensive exam - scheduled for the second week in September - it has been enlightening to go back and review some thoughts I shared with various professors at William and Mary as a beginning doctoral student back in 2009. At the School of Education in Tribeland, one of the four developed attributes expected of its graduates is to be a reflective practitioner. As I reflect on my answers to a question presented in EPPL 601 class during the summer of 2009, I'd ask the reader to assess my prognosticating skills.
The question presented in this instance was "What are the four factors impacting educational policy today? Agree? Disagree? I'd like to read your thoughts on this matter.
Back to studying!
- The four factors I see impacting education policy most today are the following – economics, technology, diversity and high stakes testing.
By economics, I am looking at a few sub-factors. Of course, the first is our stumbling economy in America. Unemployment is over nine percent and as high as 18% in states such as Michigan. The lack of growth in the economy is causing Americans more stress, but more importantly it is leaving school districts in the position of having to make cuts. Last year, school district had to slice 5-10% of their budgets and the 2010-2011 year budgets are looking at more cuts. At the family level, rising prices and higher real estate assessments are causing families to have to buckle down – take on second and third jobs, which leaves them less time with their children.
Technology is greatly affecting education policy, but its potential looks to be a benefit within school policy. School systems such as Henrico (VA) have been able to undertake a “one-to-one” laptop agreement thereby giving each student access to his/her own laptop. Surprisingly, Henrico did not have to outlaw a great amount of funds to make this policy a reality, but rather re-allocate some of the existing funds. Technology will continue to have a positive impact on education policy in the near and distant future.
Diversity also affects policy. Several years ago (2002-2003), I was the boys track coach at JEB Stuart H.S. in Fairfax County. Stuart was a school represented by students from over 70 countries. The world is changing and evolving and the America as “melting pot” continues constantly as pockets of many nationalities continue to make America their home. Within the next 20 years, white students will lose their majority status and new policies have to keep in mind that the schools are becoming much more diverse, sometimes in unexpected places, such as Harrisonburg.
Finally, high stakes testing will continue to impact educational policy. The NCLB Act is scheduled to reach its goals by 2014. Since no one believes that 100 percent of students will be able to pass the SOL’s it is apparent that more policy discussions will occur to determine how to alter NCLB. As noted in class, this should be a knockdown, drag-out “12 rounder.”
The second in a series on golf courses and pros who serve the Middle Peninsula of Virginia
In its 80-plus year existence, the Gloucester Country Club has enjoyed a unique history, one which has shadowed that of the Middle Peninsula region. As a centerpiece of the community, the Club has played host to numerous events and served as more than simply a local recreation outlet.
Current owners John and Bobbie Firth have maintained a scrapbook since purchasing the club in 1960. The following excerpts are highlights of Gloucester Country Club in the news, culled from the archives of local publications.
Thursday, August 23, 1928 – Twenty five men are at work at Country Club of Gloucester on what will be one of the finest and most up-to-date nine-hole golf courses in Virginia. The course has been laid out for 18 holes, the other nine holes to be constructed later. (Note: Construction on the golf course began in 1924.)
Friday, June 20, 1930 – The first of a series of women’s golf tournaments, held at the Gloucester Country Club, was a great success with the ladies showing much interest and skill.
Thursday, October 15, 1931 – Gloucester Country Club holds an “open house” marking the formal opening of its recently completed clubhouse. Tea was served from four to six in the afternoon, and a dance was held later that evening. Music was provided by an orchestra from Richmond.
Tuesday, October 16, 1933 – Bobby McWatt, professional of the Gloucester County Golf Club and a widely known golfer in Tidewater, was acquitted by a jury in the circuit court of a charge of hit and run. The incident occurred near Armistead Avenue and Queen Street in Hampton. McWatt denied leaving the scene of the accident and said that he went to see the victim, as well as offered to call a physician if necessary.
Thursday, July 8, 1937 – Mrs. Madeline Rawlings won the $5 prize offered by President John T. DuVal of the Young Democratic Club of Gloucester for enrolling the most new members. The club’s drive was highlighted with a dance at the Country Club of Gloucester. Rawlings signed up 91 of the 250 members enrolled during the campaign.
June 1939 – Green fees at the Gloucester Country Club are reduced to 50 cents for weekdays and 75 cents for Sundays and holidays.
Thursday, October 25, 1945 – Clearing and grading operations continue at the Evans Airport, on the country club field near Gloucester. When finished it is expected to be one of the best rural airports on the Eastern seaboard.
May 1, 1946 – Virginia Governor William Tuck attended an Al Evans winch demonstration in Gloucester, held at the country club. The guests included South American highway engineers and other dignitaries. Tuck’s executive secretary at the time, Moss William Armistead III, went on to become a journalist, eventually rising to become the head of Landmark Communications, owner of the Weather Channel and The Virginian Pilot.
Thursday, May 26, 1949 – Mrs. H. E. Thomas was sweepstakes winner in the Garden Club of Gloucester flower show, which was held at the Gloucester Country Club. Mrs. Louis Maxfield was the tri-color winner.
Thursday, July 4, 1957 – Miss Linda Darden of “Exchange” and Drew Carneal of New York and “Eagle Point Plantation,” led the Cotillion figure at the first Cotillion of the season at the Gloucester Golf Club. Attractive favors were distributed to the guests and the dance was a gala occasion for the Gloucester, Mathews and Richmond members of the social set.
1960 – The Firths and C.B. Raby purchase the course. Raby becomes the manager.
1962 – Firth takes over managerial duties, and is still working at the club 50 years later.
Some final thoughts on special education as a part of today's school system - reflections captured after completing my first special education course at William and Mary.
Like many other educators before, I entered EPPL 640 with only a brief understanding of special education issues. The few concepts I could grasp came from being thrust into the position of special educator by necessity. Examples of this would be looking at my class homeroom list and seeing seven students with a one letter mark under the disability category, which meant they had been labeled with some sort of learning disability and that I would need to go to the main office and read the IEP. Another example would occur when the assistant principal would come in my classroom during a break and ask me to attend an IEP meeting for one of my students, as a core subject teacher.
In instances such as these, my learning curve only developed to the point of realizing two things. First, the special education community shared a lot of acronyms as part of its jargon. To me, it was like learning a foreign language, and being unwilling to do so, I chose to pick up any information that was necessary to know, and leave the rest for others. Second, I learned that the IEP document had to be followed, so it was important to read the file, and ask for its whereabouts when being unable to find the file for one of my chosen students. Particularly in my three years as an alternative school teacher, I learned that in many cases, the file lagged behind the student, or was not immediately updated in my school. This happened because many of our students were transient, arriving and departing in a fashion which was not orderly. Therefore, as a teacher, it was important to make sure that I was aware of a student’s status by our special education coordinator.
The special education experiences of many teachers mirror my own. We teach general education students, but must work within the parameters of the individual education plan (IEP) set forth for the special education students who are included in our classes. We do not necessarily choose our students, but are required to learn about their unique situations, and some of the rules regarding special education, in the process. It is my belief that all teacher induction programs should include a required course in special education law, because most of us are affected by them.
Reflecting, after a condensed ten session introduction to deeper issues within the special education community, one thing is apparently clear. Each student and situation has to be reviewed from a number of lenses. There is not always a “one size fits all” type of answer to solve each problem. During my master’s degree program at the University of Virginia, I recall a professor who addressed each case study by saying…”it depends.” At the time, it was humorous, because the initial implication was that the professor was unsure, However, after weighing every factor and nuance of a case, it becomes obvious that they are not all handled in the same manner, and it really does depend. To me, this made our case studies the most meaningful aspect of the course, and a focal point of my reflections.
For this summer, my writing assignments for the DAILY PRESS have centered on the golf courses of the Middle Peninsula, the scenic chunk of land which juts out into the Chesapeake Bay while separating our Peninsula from the Northern Neck of Virginia.
On that day, a short article was written to promote “what will be one of the finest and most up-to-date nine-hole golf courses in Virginia.” Originally, the course was laid out for 18 holes, but the other nine were scheduled to be developed later. As a stopgap measure, a second set of tees was added to every hole in order to satisfy the golfers who wished to play a full round.
The question could be asked, “Why weren’t the other nine holes built?” Perhaps the airport next to the course was taking up too much space.
Owner Lem “John” Firth Jr. recalls the past. “Sure, we had an airport and airstrip which used to be right in front of the entrance.” Firth and his brother Alvin, along with C.B. Raby, bought the course in 1960. For Firth, now 79, it was an opportunity to satisfy his “hobby,” and a place to golf with his friends. In 1960, the siblings owned and operated Firth Brothers Ironworks, a welding supply firm in Hampton. Alvin oversaw the welding business, while Lem handled the golf course.
Things were much different then. According to wife Barbara “Bobbie” Firth, “we didn’t have any electric carts.” But the lack of power provided another opportunity. Adds Bobbie, “sometimes, we had as many as 15-20 men waiting to caddy.”
Son John III, now the general manager, adds, “We’ve come a long way… I guess.”
One constant over the past 50-plus years has been the family aspect of the club. The elder Firth’s live on the grounds, in a home adjacent to the clubhouse. Daughter Debra Firth Higgs, travels from her home in Poquoson to help out on a part-time basis. Even granddaughter Mara fills shifts during her breaks from college, or as Bobbie notes, “comes in to pinch-hit,” adding that “John and John III do the outside work, while my daughter and I handle the inside.”
Part of the uniqueness of the Gloucester Country Club comes from its simplicity. The name is a misnomer; anyone expecting an actual country club will be disappointed. In fact, the clubhouse could best be described as an older, very large white wooden house.
But for the golfer looking for a bargain on greens fees, the Gloucester course is a must-play. Another article from the folder, this one from 1939, points out that the green fees were reduced to 50 cents for weekdays and 75 cents for Sundays and holidays. Even now, the green fees remain in the low twenty dollar range, far below the typical cost for a round of golf. But the Gloucester course provides an honest 6165-yard challenge with a par of 72 to both the champion golfer and weekend hacker. Both the older and younger John Firth’s agree that the low fees and country atmosphere are the reasons why they have maintained a steady clientele of repeat golfers for decades.
The Firth’s attitude toward golf is probably another reason why their duffers come back.
“Working keeps them (parents) young,” says John III. “Even at 79, Dad always starts (the work day) before me.” Bobbie interjects, “most of our golfers are very nice home folks who have been with us for a long time.”
Or as Dad was quoted in an article from the 1960’s, “The popularity of golf is increasing all the time and I’m glad to be a part of it.” After 52 years at the helm of Gloucester Country Club, it’s a safe bet that his outlook has not changed.
The Gloucester Country Club is located at 6731 Golf Club Rd. in Gloucester, VA. The course rating is 34.2 with a slope rating of 111. Gloucester is a daily fee golf course with an 'Open to Public' guest policy. Their phone number is 804-693-2662.