Spring Creek Golf Course

Spring Creek Golf Course was created to support a high end housing community about seventeen miles east of Charlottesville.  When it came on line the economic infarction of the time seems to have upset real estate sales, yet this course has design quality and integrity that should make it a success as a fee course until that trend turns around.  Ed Carton has considerable deputy experience with Tom Fazio and it shows in the presentation of this course.  Like his mentor this course is visually pleasing and seems to fit into the regional topography very comfortably.    The course has won some instant national recognition by the national golf magazines and has been favorably compared in reviews to the other jewel of Virginia, Lester George’s  very private Kinloch Golf Club outside of Richmond.  The difference is this place is totally accessible to the fee paying public.

For a residential community course this has a modern design characteristic rarely seen in these type of developments-generous hole setbacks from the residential lots.  The owner, Charles Kincannon, showed great discipline in allowing the design team to employ such setbacks which make the holes seem very comfortable in their surroundings without visual encroachment.  Given the dramatic topography on which this course is built that has resulted in holes of stunning visual stature as well as tactical uniqueness.

Creative use of the topography create visuals like the par 4 #14

The most obvious characteristic is the generous use of sand throughout the course.  This is an expensive design decision but, as you see on Fazio style courses, free form expansive bunkering is a visual accent that can be psychologically intimidating and provide tactical parameters that challenge the golfers as well.  My wife said on about the eighth hole, there must have been no sand left in Virginia Beach once this course opened for play.  Most interesting is that she played the entire 18 holes and was not in a single bunker-now that is good design.

The Alien Gingerbread Man bunker hunkers over # 3 green

Another unique characteristic for this region is the choice of bent grass for the fairways and tees.  Zoysia and Bermuda grasses are usually the choice when you get this far South but the bent works well and it displays beautifully when it is well maintained and manicured as it is out here.  There is also the clever use of indigenous rock accenting some of the low creeks, crossing bridges, and the high areas behind some greens.  Given the severity of the topography this stone softens many of  the visual transitions that were required.

Sprawling greens with undulations and fall offs that will challenge

The greens themselves may be the most unique part of this design.  They are vast, sprawling green surfaces with lots of facet and undulations.  The speed on these greens, especially down the slopes, can be disarming.  You need to play this course a number of times to understand the tactical requirement of your approach positions into these greens.  On many holes the greens have fall offs in more than one direction or insidious little donut depressions that feed to side pitching areas.  Knowing how to negotiate these and leave yourself an uphill putt you can play aggressively is the secret to scoring well.  The pro told me before I played  that the yardage on the card belies the difficulty that the rating and slope indicates.  The need to be able to approach these greens with a club you can control is critical so pick your tee length conservatively if you want to enjoy your day.

The front side starts with a wonderful challenging par four that will set the tone that ball control and accuracy are at a premium.  The next two holes, a very technical par five and a seemingly innocuous par four that is in fact the first handicap hole will serve to reiterate that notion.  From four to nine, with the exception of a bear of a challenge on six, the yardage will not overwhelm you but don’t be lulled into a sense of security, good planning and articulate shot execution will be rewarded.

Some pixie dust might help resolve the mysteries of #16

Once you turn to the inward nine the adrenaline rush will begin on the tenth tee.  This is an old classic style 90 degree dogleg right which means it is all about position off the tee followed by an aggressive uphill carry shot into a well guarded green.  The next three holes are very interesting technical holes that present your best scoring opportunity run of the day.  On the fourteenth tee you will witness the anti-gravitational moment  of being atop of the highest point of your favorite thrill ride.  Other than a reprieve on the short par three seventeenth from this point it is just one G-force experience after another that will exhaust your strength and test your resolve all the way to the house.  The eighteenth hole, a wild and wooly par five that is a hooker’s nightmare, is one of the most difficult holes you can face if you need a par to close out a match.  Just a terrific exclamation point for a course that has no shortage of thrills and spills.

The wharf green setting on #18 is a formidable challenge

If I have any criticism it is the array of par threes.  All four of them play within one club of each other so the yardage demand on the short holes does not vary much at all.  The four par threes are of distinct characters but they are probably the least interesting offerings of the day for me.

What sets this course apart for me is that, for an architect without a vast resume of his own courses to fall back on, Barton has succeeded in putting together 18 wonderful holes that work well together.  You would think in such an early effort there would be at least two or three holes that either did not fit in or just did not work.  Cannot say that about this place, every hole seems to fit the motif and there is not a single hole out there that will fail to stimulate your aesthetic and athletic sensibilities.  This place may seem out of the way but it is well worth the effort to seek it out and play it more than once.

Gordonsville, Virginia

Architect: Ed Carton (2006)

Tees                 Par            Yardage      Rating     Slope

Marble              72               6673           73.2        145

Onyx                72               6197           70.9        138

(Click here to review Spring Creek hole-by-hole descriptions)

Washington Golf and Country Club

The logo says “1894” so you can imagine this place has a real air of tradition about it. The grill room is full of memorabilia of past presidents and dignitaries that have been members and played here-clearly there are deep roots as a Washington golfing institution. Very much in the Columbia Country Club mold, ensconced in an urban, neighborhood setting the golf course is fit tight as a glove into what would now be considered the minimal requirement of acreage for a full length course. A very hilly piece of ground, the holes meander, folded tightly among each other in a serpentine routing that follows no conventional pattern. One is constantly surprised by what comes next until the last hole climbs up the hill to the foot of the resplendent clubhouse perched on the hill-this look is something out of U.S. Open lore.

The yardage of 6100 from the tips is a bit of a fooler-par 70 with two par fives that are in no way full measure 3-shot holes-but five par fours over 400 yards with serious undulation that make them play even longer give the player a stiff challenge. The driving areas are very tight-lots of massive old trees tower over the doglegs making the player very conscious of picking the right angle of approach from the landing area of their drives. The greens are very small-yet segmented and full of slopes built in a time when the green speeds would have allowed it-with today’s mowing they can be disarmingly fast from above the hole so playing shots below the pin on approach is a premium strategy. The small greens mean that pitching and chipping is a big part of the day’s calling-but Ross and Flynn provided plenty of run up space in front of these greens so it is easy to be creative on green side shots.

Thrill A Minute #7 Par 4 401 yards

The three pars play within a two-club range on the distance but I found that the elevation changes, the chance decision of the grounds crew on placement of the tee markers, and any wind at all actually provide a much wider variety of club/shot selection when it comes times playing them. In some ways these short holes and the short par fours are the key to a good scoring round-this is where you cannot stumble, you must make pars and get some good birdie looks to make up for the inevitable double or two you will experience on the longer holes. My strategy is to ignore the tightness of the driving areas and green settings and play full throttle aggressive all day-hit it long off the tee paying good notice to the approach angle to the green and make club choices into the green that will reach the segment of the green that holds the flag. The nickel defense will not protect your scorecard on this course.

An interesting bit of trivia, looking at scorecard they have from 1934 the basic routing and yardage of the course have not changed at all. Despite innumerable renovations, the course maintains it’s original format and that, more than anything else, holds testimony to the genius in this design-it still challenges the golfer at all levels in spite of the current advantage of playing with the latest technological marvels. Small sloped greens are the secret to the competitive longevity of this course-tactical driving and precise iron play is the only way to gain an advantage on this Ross design.

Arlington, Virginia

Architect: Donald Ross/William Flynn

Tees     Par     Rating     Slope     Yardage
Blue     70         71         130         6128
White   70         69.4      126         5779

(Click to see complete Washington Golf Club hole-by-hole descriptions)

Laurel Hill Golf Club

In the early 00’s the DC Department of Corrections closed their Lorton detention facility in Northern Virginia and returned the  property, which included 4000 acres of hilly dairy farm land, to Fairfax County to redeploy for public use.  The county wisely decided to take full advantage of this opportunity to build a high school, an equestrian park, a museum, an athletic complex, an arts center, and a high-end municipal golf course.   With close to 300 acres at his disposal Bill Love, an accomplished designer with an environmentally sensitive approach to course design, was asked to oversee the project and he put together what has turned out to be one of the real gems in the Washington Metro area.

The juxtaposition of the property's former use to it's current use is intriguing.

The juxtaposition of the property’s former use to it’s current use is intriguing.

The golf course he created has stunning aesthetic beauty combined with challenging strategic design and will provide you with an afternoon of sheer golf delight.  Standing on many of the tees you cannot help but stop to appreciate how the holes gently follow the natural flow of the land bringing your attention the sheer beauty of nature’s features therein.  This would be a particularly inspiring experience in October with a little leaf color and a slight chill in the air.

October fall colors are already adding flavor to the driving area on #9.

October fall colors are already adding flavor to the driving area on #9.

The course is built to the top specifications featuring generous bent grass rolling fairways in impeccable condition, over 100 bunkers in places that make you think and think again, rough that will take control out of your hand on recoveries, and firm and fast greens with plenty of interesting contours to consider.

Just one nest of sand madness you must avoid in front of #5 green.

Just one nest of sand madness you must avoid in your path to the #5 green.

On many holes you just have to scratch your chin and ponder the possibilities before you decide how you are going to play effectively.  The county has committed serious budget money to keep this in top flight condition so the consistency of this experience is gratifying. Golfweek Magazine recently put this course as #13 in their list of top municipal courses in the country.  The top 15 on that list include Bethpage Black, Chambers Bay, Torrey Pines, TPC Scottsdale, and Harding Park.  Pretty heady company for our local muni, huh?  Based on this pedigree the USGA held their 2013 Public Links Championships at Laurel Hill.

The uphill climb on the long 439 yard 3rd has plenty of obstacles to

The uphill climb on the long 439 yard 3rd has plenty of other obstacles to consider.

What I like the most about what Love has done is the variety in the types of holes he presents.  The par 71 is not because of only 3 par fives-it is because of 5 par threes and these are some of the most interesting visuals of the day.  You have monster par 4s that are 425 to 450 yards and uphill to boot.  You have reachable Par 5s under 500 yards with major decision making parameters.  Two par threes under 150 and three par threes between 180 and 210.

#14 is 212 yards and a club and half uphill with a three tier green to boot.

#14 is 212 yards and a club and half uphill with a three tier green to boot.

There are steep uphill approaches, dramatic two-club less downhill shots, forced carries over environmental areas, and just some of those approaches where you have to slip it between the this bad thing and that.   Every club in your bag will be dirty when you are done-the variety of shots you are going to be asked to hit will run the full gamut.

There is a natural flow to the design as you see off the tee box on the long par 4 17th.

There is a natural flow to the design as you see off the tee box on the long par 4 17th.

In general the driving areas are wide, but the preferred areas are always cordoned by bunkers or bordering angular topographies.  On a number of the doglegs it is nests of bunkers that are your no-no not trees but trees do frame many of the landing areas and generally define the line of the holes.

The short par 4 7th tempts the bomber but the Jack-O-Lantern bunkering will spook them.

The short par 4 7th tempts the bomber but the Jack-O-Lantern bunkering will spook them.

The greenside bunkering is very imaginative-often nested to one side to force you to work the ball into a green set on the diagonal line of the green.  The greens themselves have lots of segmentation and tiering so you have to be careful to recognize where the pin is located and where the prevailing slope goes to keep your ball under the hole.  There is not much overt water in play but there are some moist ditches and adjacent environmental areas that can lead to double bogies.  Both nines end with a short par five that has real visual and strategic interest.  This gives you a chance for redemption or damnation at the end of each side.

The postcard 16th has alternate tees to change the challenge but not the pleasure of the view.

The postcard 16th has alternate tees to change the challenge but not the pleasure of the view.

The entire facility is done to high standard.  The clubhouse is small but well appointed and functional.  The grass driving range is very roomy and has the same bent grass the course.  The pitching and putting areas have much of the course feature so you can practice the things you will be called on to play during your round. For a municipal fee course price you are really getting a high-end golf product.  This is a must play and needs to be on your short list.

Lorton, Virginia

Architects: Bill Love (2005)

Tee          Par    Rating    Slope    Yardage
Blue         71      73.3       142        6730
White       71      71.7       139        6386

(Click to see complete Laurel Hill hole-by-hole descriptions)

The Golden Horseshoe-Gold Course

Of the Jones Sr. courses that I have played the Golden Horseshoe remains, in my estimation, one of the finest courses he ever designed.  It was built in the 1960’s in a hilly wooded area that surrounds a a natural canal basin-the finished course is a product of it’s surroundings.  It bears similarity to Spyglass Hill which was built in the same time frame, a course that the pros consider one of the most difficult courses they play all year.  Much like Spyglass this course was carved out of a densely wooded area-tall trees ensconce every hole and give the course that distinctive cathedral-like feeling.  Much like Spyglass the holes meander up and down seriously hilly terrain presenting the player with the challenge of evaluating elevation change on almost every shot.  Throw in a little wind and the tunnel effect caused by the tall trees and you have a difficult mental challenge in club selection on every shot.

Esthetically this is one beautiful golf course.  There are more maintenance people per player than you will see anywhere.  Every flower and blade of grass is manicured to perfection-it is presented to please the eye and it will not disappoint.  This is a mother of a piece of terrain to walk so you will actually be glad to be riding in a cart most of the way.

Number 2 Par Five 476 yards     (reesjonesinc.com)

As is characteristic of most of the Jones Sr. courses you see long tees to allow multiple tee lengths, oddly shaped-segmented greens that never give you much target to shoot at, and well placed fairway bunkers that force you to play dexterously for the best line into each green.  The greens are very undulating and segmented which puts a premium on getting your ball to the correct tier and further pressures you to get the correct driving position for an advantage angle at the flag position of the day.  The only characteristic missing from most of the Jones Sr. courses I have played are the large sprawling amoeba-like bunkers with which he loves to intimidate players-but the green side bunkers are deep and well positioned to swallow a shot without conviction so you will end up with sand between your toes before the day is over.

In spite of the fact that the overall yardage does not seem intimidating it is a driving course-long drives on the right line are requisite to scoring well here.  The trees and bunkers clearly define the driving lines-you must hit them if you are to have a bats chance of hitting these segmented greens.  Concentration and correct club selection on the tee box is very important.  Mindlessly blasting your driver on every hole will lead to lots of troubles and doubles on your scorecard.  Which brings to mind one of the cardinal rules of The Shoe-if you hit it in the trees take the most direct and shortest route out.  Anything bold or macho will be punished by Trent’s ghost-there is very little air in these trees.

Number Three Par 3 174 yards (golfzoo.com)

As is the case with most great courses you have to be intelligently aggressive to score well here.  When you have the right angle to a flag or the putt from the correct side of the hole you have to go for it.  On a course like this you have to put some cash in the account when you have a chance because there will be debits coming due on some of the harder holes during the day.  The middle holes require you to score well because the beginning and the end will not offer you much opportunity other than survival.  The par three holes are easily the most difficult scoring holes on the course.  All four are nested around the basin in the middle of the property with serious elevation change and always a smattering of wind.  To murk your decision making further three of these holes have at least three tee positions they can use so the club selection can change two clubs from one day to the next.  These are four of the most challenging and breathtaking par threes you will ever play on one course.  The last five holes are the hardest run of the day-one of the toughest finishes if you are clinging to a good score.  Only the last four at Avenel or the last five at TPC Sawgrass come close.  It is especially difficult to face this challenge late in the round when you are tired.

Number Sixteen Par 3 159 yards (reesjonesinc.com)

I have played this course a dozen times and I still find every round I play here full of intrigue and delight.  It is the type of course I think you could play every day and never get sick of it-the facets of the architecture-the beauty of the surroundings make it a real treat time after time.  There is no course I have played in the states-except Pebble, Pinehurst 2, Merion, and Oakmont-that has left a more indelible mark on my golf psyche.  Touche Mr. Jones!

Williamsburg, Virginia

Designer: Robert Trent Jones, Sr (1963)

Tees            Par          Yardage            Rating              Slope

Blue            71            6522                 72.4                 135

White           71            6248                 70.7                 129

(Click to see complete Gold Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

Golden Horseshoe-Green Course

In an effort to create a two-course facility that would be able to handle large convention groups, the Golden Horseshoe hired Rees Jones, son of Robert Trent Jones Sr.,  in 1991 to build a complement to the heralded Gold Course at The Shoe.  What he created in no way resembles Trent’s classic masterpiece.  This is a contemporary styled wooded course winding through tall beech, oak, and pines and more gentle rolling terrain than it’s sister where they moved lots of earth to get the shaping they were looking for.  The most distinguishing characteristic is enveloping mounding-every hole over 200 yards long seems to have a wall of mounds on both sides that contain the area of play and keep balls from chasing into the woods.  I am convinced the owners said to Rees we don’t want 30 handicappers out here for six hour rounds looking for their Pinnacles in the woods.  The mounding around the greens is wild as well but here at least it leads to some creative pitch saves when you miss the greens.

The sequencing of the holes is interesting-you start with four par fours without great distinction.  You don’t see a three par until 7.  At that point the character of the course changes dramatically and you have to start paying attention.  The middle six are actually the meat of the course for me.    There are three par threes from seven to eleven and not another par five until fifteen when you will see two in the last four holes.  The last three are very technical holes-shortish par four, long par three, and an interesting par five to finish.  The main criticism I have is that the holes tend to be pretty straight, only two real doglegs in the bunch, and many of the holes start to appear alike though the green set mounding and sculpting make them play differently.

This is by no means an easy course-the rating and slope from the Blue Tees is actually higher than the Gold but I think the difference is that less blowup holes are lurking here than across the campus.  The zoysia grass fairways also make it play even longer and the side mounding also leads to lots of side hill approach shots into the greens.  Don’t always reach for the driver there are holes where position trumps length and the well place three wood or hybrid will be the better choice of driving club.  The green shapes themselves are very varied and interesting and you have to ignore the straightness of the fairways and think carefully about approach angle relative to pin position to get good scoring opportunities.

Number Nine Par 3 176 yards (reesjonesinc.com)

The par threes are easily the most interesting holes out here-all feature elevation change and unusual green complexes with varied pin positions, difficult sculpting and undulations, and nice variety in length.  The water in play on the course is only on #11 and the drive on #18 so the chance for the triple bogey threat is only if you double pump a tee ball into the trees and that is hard to do over the side walls.

Finishing Hole Par 5 512 yards (reesjonesinc.com)

Keep your head about you-concentrate on the driving lines and you will enjoy this day.  This is a fun course-sporty and interesting-and a great complement to the challenges of his father’s track.

Williamsburg, Virginia

Designer: Rees Jones (1991)

Tees              Par          Yardage            Rating              Slope

Blue              72            6722                 73.6                 138

White            72            6244                 70.7                 129

(Click to see complete Green Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

Kinloch Golf Club

Kinloch Colors 2 There have been a number of “pure golf” club’s created in the area between Baltimore and Richmond over the last fifteen years-their common thread is creating the complete golf experience not just the course itself.  All the facilities-visitor cottages, food service, locker rooms, practice areas, and the course itself-are of high end quality and there is a real emphasis on personalized service to enhance the player’s experience.  Caves Valley Golf Club, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, and Four Streams Members Club are all examples of this approach.  Kinloch Golf Club just outside of Richmond is the latest of these to come on line and they have certainly accomplished their mission of making a place to fit comfortably among their peers.

The country style clubhouse dignifies the 9th green with it's presence.

The country style clubhouse dignifies the 9th green with it’s presence.

 Kinloch is the brain child of C.B. Robertson who originally wanted to create an upscale daily fee facility in a market that he considered underserved with quality golf opportunities.  He approached Vinny Giles-a past U.S. Amateur winner from the Virginia area-about doing the design.  Vinny initially begged off since he had no real experience in course design, but eventually agreed to act as the primary consultant when Robertson hired Lester George who had done considerable new golf course design as well as significant renovations to established top line courses from Delaware to Virginia.  When the team got into the design and routing phase they decided that this piece of land offered a unique opportunity for something really high line and Robertson was convinced to realign his plan from a daily fee facility to an exclusive private golf club.

The first green frames the beauty of this property right out of the gate.

On an autumn day the first green introduces the grand beauty of this property.

The results of  their collaboration is a very special golf club that very few people will get to experience.  With only 300+ members-many of them from outside of the Richmond area-they are playing less than 10,000 rounds a year on this pristine layout.  The amenities throughout the facility are top of the line-elegant club house with a very cozy interior layout of the golf shop, locker room, and bar/eating facilities that make the player feel like they are in the comfortable surroundings of a friend’s country estate.

Taking in the challenge off the elevated tee on #2 will make you pause for consideration.

Taking in the challenge off the elevated tee on #2 will make you pause for consideration.

The practice facilities are as good as you will see anywhere-acres and acres of driving range, putting greens,  chipping greens, and pitching areas that are designed to replicate on-course conditions for effective practice sessions.  The target greens on the driving range are cut to course specifications so you are aiming at real targets that respond as the greens would to a well struck shot.  The arrangement of the pitching areas allow for shots up to 80 yards and from one spot a player can pitch at multiple targets of different approach configurations which makes shot simulation as real as it can get.

The practice facility replicates the short game permutations and combinations of the course.

The full feature practice facility replicates short game permutations and combinations.

The attitude of all of the staff at the club is to make the members and guests feel comfortable and the delivery on this is beyond anyone’s expectation.  You just never feel like you are imposing on anyone when you ask for something and you never feel that you are spending your money as you partake in what they have to offer.

The composition of the Par 4 6th brings out the artistry in their design.

Pure artistry on display in the composition of the Par 4 6th.

            This is a walking golf course-a wonderful stroll up and down an expansive rolling piece of woodland that tumbles out in front of you.  The absolute minimum of dirt  was moved to build this course-they picked natural tee and green settings to build holes that are very dramatic and visual but truly feel like they belong on the terrain.  The money they saved in not moving soil they spent in importing grasses from out of the region.  The entire course was sodded with bent grasses for fairways and greens and bluegrass for the rough.  This is one of the southern most courses using bent grass but the sod took heartily to the region and their maintenance budget has kept it impeccable.

The Par 3 #7 fills the canvas with the setback of the trees as well as the elevation change.

Elevation change and the setback of the trees fill the canvas on the Par 3 7th.

The trees have been cleared well off the playing area of the course-Warning: everything looks larger or farther than it really is-there is very little frame of reference for distance or size of target.  The lack of trees in the playing was compensated for by the use of natural hills and swales, existing environmental areas, and rambling streams to segment landing areas and the give the golfer a wide array of tactical choices in playing the holes.

The finishing hole finally brings the lake into play...in a big way.

The finishing hole brings the loch into play…in a big way.

They even included a playable 19th hole for settling bets.  This is a nice 160 yard carry of the lake to a green setting just under the veranda of the clubhouse.  You can be sure there will be a vocal audience arbitrating the final stage of your competition.

The 19th hole set at the foot of the clubhouse is an added bonus.

Added bonus of the 19th hole set at the foot of the clubhouse.

            At the end of a round you will feel mentally exhausted because this course forces you to play with our head as much as your hands to be successful.  The result is a very gratifying golfing experience no matter what your score.

The visual majesty of the Par 4 16th will revisit you in bed at night.

The majesty of the Par 4 16th will revisit you in bed at night (click image for the full dream).

            Do not fail to enjoy the bar/lounge next to the locker room.  A real Hamish setting for settling the bets and telling big fish stories.  I highly recommend the chocolate chip cookies on the bar.

Manakin-Sabot, Virginia

Architect: Lester George (2001)

Par         Rating        Slope        Yardage

Gold                 72            74.5            137            6810

Blue                 72            72.3            135            6405

White               72            69.9            128            5818

Red                  72            71.7            133            5222

(Click to see complete Kinloch Golf Course hole-by-hole descriptions)

(For more pictures click to see moegolf’s Escape To Kinloch)