Those of us involved in the shotgun sports also associate the world renowned Southern establishment with a man named David Judah. Since taking the helm of The Homestead's shooting club in 1993, David's reputation as one of the finest sporting clays instructors on the planet has spread through the shotgun world with a sense of reverence.
It's nearly impossible to mention his name without someone complimenting this humble, accomplished gentleman from Jamaica. In fact, it was only with a great deal of coaxing that we managed to convince David to talk about himself, since his foremost priority is the complete satisfaction of his guests.
But after you shoot 100 rounds with David on the magnificent sporting clays course of The Homestead, you understand why he commands so much respect in the shotgun sports community.
To appreciate David's talent, it's important to understand the challenge of being a shotgun instructor at The Homestead: typically, David only has an hour or so to make his guest a better shooter.
Compare that with your regular instructor who you may see several times a month. Now you get the picture.
David's approach to instruction goes beyond his prestigious NSSA Level III designation. The key to his success is that he doesn't try to change your shooting techniques - only improve upon them. We all know that many highly touted instructors have a system they like to rigorously impose, often forcing the student to scrap years of hard work and experience.
But what if you only have an hour to make someone a better shooter?
As David explains it, "We are concerned with re-adjustment rather than radical change. If someone is an adult shooter, and has been shooting for some time and wants to fix something, it's very difficult for them to adopt a whole new shooting ideology. So what we have tried to do instead is watch them shoot and try to improve upon what they are doing. In other words, if someone's tendency is to shoot behind targets, we need to show them the importance of shooting in front of the target -change them a little to get a better result."
This subtle but effective approach didn't bloom over night. It's a method that David has developed for himself and the entire staff of sporting clays instructors at The Homestead since he first joined in 1990.
That's when David "just started helping out" he says. At the time, he had been shooting with The Homestead owner, Mr. Dan Ingalls, Jr., on the resort's 15,000 acres. The emerging game of sporting clays had been in the U.S. for only about five years and the original clubhouse dated back to 1933.
While they were out shooting one day, Mr. Ingalls asked David what he could do to expand the resort's shooting program. As David recounts "I suggested that since they own the land, why don't they try putting in a sporting clays course?"
Mr. Ingalls liked that idea and retained one of the superstars of the shotgun sports, Bob Edwards of the Okatee Hunting Club in South Carolina, to design The Homestead's first sporting clays facility. Mr. Edwards became the Shooting Club Manager in 1991 when it opened to the public.
When the sporting clays course made its debut, it was state-of-the-art with electricity lines buried in the wooded hillsides to avoid unsightly cables. The Homestead's sporting clays course went a long way toward legitimizing the sport. But David also knew that the legitimacy of certified instructors would further enhance the shooting club's reputation by providing guests with the best possible sporting clays experience.
Between 1991 and 1992, David retained legendary instructor, John Higgins of The British School of Shooting in the UK and Pembroke, Georgia, to introduce a certification program for The Homestead shooting instructors.
It was also in 1992 that David helped Club Manager, Bob Edwards bring the first-ever U.S. Open Sporting Clays Championship to The Homestead. The event attracted 425 competitors.
The following year, David helped organize the inaugural Homestead Cup competition under the new Shooting Club Manager, Michael Shea. Although Mr. Shea's tenure lasted a single year, the Homestead Cup was held for the next 16 years every Memorial Day weekend.
The Homestead Cup ended in 2006 due to a combination of factors such as production costs, smaller participation and the fact that the shooting facility had to be closed to any resort guests not participating in the event.
In our case, though, it was nothing quite as grand The Homestead Cup that would conspire to keep us off the sporting clays course. Instead, it was the weather.
The Homestead was our second stop as part of our Triple Crown of Sporting Clays resorts road trip. We had started at the Greenbrier, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. We had spent a wonderful day there shooting sporting clays, four-wheeling and perusing the Christmas Shop. It should've only taken us an hour or so to make the drive to The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia.
Mother Nature, however, had other ideas.
Although patches of snow were still visible at the Greenbrier, the temperature was on the rise. By the time we started to make our way to Hot Springs, dense fog had moved in. Our GPS had taken us on some back roads with near-zero visibility. Our one-hour drive turned into a nerve-wracking three-hour trip.
Entering downtown Hot Springs, The Homestead sits prominently atop the tallest hill in the quaint Allegheny Mountain hamlet. The building resembles more of a fabled college than a world class resort. It seems that little has changed from the 19th century when The Homestead hosted prominent guests such John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie and Henry Ford.
When you pull up to the entrance of The Homestead, Hot Springs is nestled in the valley below. A few lights outlined the town through the evening fog as the resplendent resort opened its doors to us.
The long rectangular lobby, more of a Great Hall, has retained the sensibility of a bygone era. Architecturally, it was more formal than luxurious - an icon of genteel Southern hospitality.
Our spacious, top-floor room was adorned with pink, candy-stripe wallpaper and classical green and white carpet with a Grecian wreath pattern. A full-length patio gave us a spectacular view of the pool, tennis courts, mountains and ski slopes.
Unfortunately, the other activities of the hotel would have to wait for a subsequent visit. Mountain biking, spa, fly fishing, canoeing, hiking, ice skating - sports that would acquaint us with the surroundings were noted but unfortunately pushed back in favor of shooting sporting clays.
This is certainly not the best way to enjoy of The Homestead. You should surrender to every temptation, give yourself the rare opportunity to be pampered and exhale a deep sigh of relief upon your arrival to embrace the best of Old World Southern Hospitality. This is a place that will take care of you, nurture your body and soul, in a way that vacations are supposed to replenish you.
But we were on a sporting clays mission: three days, three luxury shooting resorts. For the moment, though, we were leaning on the railing of the spacious patio relishing the majestic view from our room. Finally, it was time to dress for dinner.
Like the Greenbrier, The Homestead enforces a jacket-and-tie policy for dinner (now only jacket and collared shirt required) in the main dining room. For a couple of shooters like us, this dress code at first brings out the recalcitrant kid in us who wants to stay in jeans and a sweater. We can tell you, however, that once you give in to the dress code you suddenly enter a splendid world of dining that seems lost in America's fast-food culture.
The dining room is on a grand scale, with scalloped columns that are vestiges of the 19th century. The far end of the room curves like a dome railroad car. A jazz trio entertains from the stage, couples dance, the uniformed staff seems to glide across the carpeted floor. The chandeliers are graceful rather than ostentatious. As the hostess escorted us to our table, you begin to realize that you have entered a genteel pocket of civilization in a world that seems to be ripping itself apart.
The next morning brought a completely different atmosphere to the dining room. Guests gathered around a splendid buffet that offered every possible variety of breakfasts, including an omelet bar that dished up rich, fluffy selections such as the cheese, bacon and tomato delight that we savored with black coffee and pastries.
Afterwards, we checked out and drove the few miles to the Gun Club, which also offers skeet, trap and 5-stand.
From the Gun Club lodge there was a 365-degree view of the Allegheny Mountains. The rustic building featured an expansive covered porch for relaxing and visiting. A large outdoor pavilion boasted spectacular views, and we could imagine ourselves returning with friends for a picnic lunch, cigars and wine.
Inside the lodge, we enjoyed a great conversation with David, as he talked about his approach for successfully coaching guests. This was more than an introductory session. By the time we all got into the cart to start shooting we had the feeling that we just made a new friend.
The sporting clays course is seamlessly integrated with the mountains - a classic study in embracing the surrounding landscape to create a challenging course of awe-inspiring beauty. Snow had been predicated for later in the day, but for now a calm mist evoked a marvelously enchanted forest.
David was extremely patient with us, carefully analyzing each presentation to reveal its secrets. The course has 14 stations, but only 12 are used on a regular basis.
Station 1 gave us a pair of high right-to-left crossers.
Station 2 featured low, left-to-right quartering targets.
Station 3 took the presentations of Station 2 but higher and further out.
Station 4 was set up for a left-to-right and bird that were actually thrown beneath your feet.
Station 5 seemed a plain-vanilla trap shot, but a subtle eye caught that it rose higher than initially expected and cured right. There was also a left crosser that for some reason easily tricked you into shooting way in front of it.
Station 6 was a real wake-up call with a quartering left-to-right rabbit and very fast quartering bird that also came from the left.
Station 7 presented a far teal and left-to-right crosser.
Station 8 had a close in-comer and a fast right-to-left quartering bird.
Station 9 started with a far left-to-right quartering bird followed by a far right to left crosser.
Station 10 featured two right-to-left crossers originating beneath your feet.
Station 11 had another incomer and high right-to-left crosser that you could also call a quartering target if you wanted to make a point.
Station 12 threw a high outgoer from beneath your feet and then a high overhead bird from behind the shooter.
At each station, David would throw singles, true pairs, reports - anything that would help us understand the targets and take us to the next level of shooting. There was lively conversation in the cart rides between the stations as he elaborated on points you made and or missed. It is all part of David's credo to never give up on a guest, but rather to help them finish the course a better shooter than when they started.
By the time we reached Station 12, we were completely invigorated by David Judah. We really did want to stick around and spend more time with him. But that's the effect he has on guests at The Homestead.
Deborah McKown is Editor of Shotgun Life. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To read the first installment of the Triple Crown of Sporting Clays Resorts, please click here.
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