CAPE CHARLES, VA - I think you'd agree, in most ways, maturity's essential for success. It takes several years of aging to soften a great Cabernet Sauvignon' decades of study to attain a doctorate' hundreds, if not thousands of years to render a man-made object priceless' and millions of years to transform a lump of coal into a diamond. So age is all the rage, right?
Not for Bay Creek Golf Club in Cape Charles, Virginia. This incredible Arnold Palmer designed track is a sparkling gem already, and it's only been open a little over two months. It just goes to show, you don't have to bury something for years under a hunk of dirt to convert it into something valuable-some things' value is inherent. Bay Creek is such a place.
You'd almost believe the planets must've aligned in order for Bay Creek to turn out this way, but it really was the result of one man's (Baymark Construction Corp.'s Owner, Dick Foster) vision, and a superstar team of course construction talent to mold ideas into reality. Not to mention working with a peerless piece of ground along Virginia's eastern shore, bordering the Chesapeake Bay.
The King, Arnold Palmer, puts the setting appropriately, "There's not a better place in the world to put a golf course and have it work as well as it has... Bay Creek is a fantastic layout, one you'd never get tired of playing-and that's the true measure of a great golf course."
Ed Seay, Palmer's longtime design partner, adds, "Bay Creek's site was unusual for a couple reasons. First, because it's got a seaside location, which is extremely difficult to find these days--due to extensive development of prime coastal areas. Second, it gave us some natural sand dunes to work with-and placing golf holes in between the natural dunes is, to me, the most ideal site in the world."
That's not to say building Bay Creek wasn't a challenge. With natural treasures comes monumental responsibility to safeguard the environment. Seay elaborates: "Our biggest challenge was the protection and enhancement of the wetlands-we had over a hundred acres to preserve at Bay Creek, and we were very careful with it."
"In order to nestle in the seaside holes-2,3 and 4, even the fifth tee is along the shoreline of the bay there-and to stay back far enough where you still get the feeling of the openness of the sea and let the golf just blend in-we were extremely prudent with the placement of the golf course. We can normally build a green in the middle of an open field without too much problem, but on a site like Bay Creek, you had to watch your slopes and also the wind factor, right along the coast there-the environment was a serious consideration on how the holes would play."
Seay was also extremely pleased with the layout's variety. "It's always a goal of ours not to leave any 'signatures' on the course. We really feel like we've succeeded in designing a golf course if each golf hole is distinctly different than the next. A lot of it has to do with who shapes the course-how they do their grade work, their bunkers, and their mounding work. You start with a set of plans and specifications, but it's always very interesting to see how it turns into reality."
"For a hole like number three (right along the coast), God gave us a lot to work with. What brings me the greatest thrill is looking at a hole like number nine, considering what was there before, then admiring the incredible sand dunes and mounding of the finished product-that's really an excellent golf hole."
Both Palmer's and Seay's enthusiasm is tangible. Their firm sets out to make playable, fun golf courses for the average player-and solid tests of golf for good players. Bay Creek certainly fulfills both goals.
Carey Hodsden, Bay Creek's Head Golf Professional, agrees with Palmer and Seay on the course's special place in golf course circles. "Bay Creek is quite literally the perfect blend of nature, beauty, playability and challenge in golf." It would be hard to speak any higher of your place of employment-I wish I loved my office that much.
But Hodsden says it's only the beginning. "Dick Foster told me once: 'Every day that you come to work-that's the worst this place will ever look.'" Sure enough, not only does Bay Creek have the beauty of nature on its side, the grounds are being enhanced through the planting of tens of thousands of azaleas, trees and shrubs. Mark it on your calendars for next Spring, when the flowers bloom...
Certainly the site is stunning, but it doesn't overshadow the golf course-if you can believe it. The course conditioning is immaculate, with Tifway Bermuda tees and fairways, and A-4 Bentgrass greens. Hodsden says A-4's the perfect quick putting surface, because the density of the grass mandates a short cut. "A-4's got something like 1,000 more grass blades per square inch than most standard types of Bentgrass. For that reason, it must be kept short or else it'll choke itself out."
The day we played, the greens rolled at 10.5 on the stimpmeter. Hodsden says he's seen it as high as 14 for the A-4 Bentgrass strain (at another course). Seay says they've recommended keeping it in the 10 range, so the average golfer can still putt and enjoy the course (not to mention keeping up pace of play).
As if the setting and course weren't enough, Bay Creek's an exceptional value. The highest you'll pay is $70 for weekend prime time. You can play twilight for $35. If there's a better value anywhere, show it to me. It almost feels like stealing to get it so cheap.
Finally, before I describe some of the golf holes, I'll note that Foster and Baymark Construction are going to add a second 18 at Bay Creek, to be designed by Jack Nicklaus and Associates. Palmer and Nicklaus, lifelong competitors on the professional tour, now will design courses side by side on this incredible site. It's more than enough to put Cape Charles on the map as a golfing destination.
But for now, you'll start off with number one, a 578 yard, uphill par five that launches your journey towards the bay side, and begins the most inspiring set of four holes you'll find in this hemisphere. Not really reachable in two, so aim your tee ball to the left of the set of fairway bunkers guarding the right side. Layup to the right on your second, and leave a good angle for your short iron approach.
The second hole (394 yard par four) features the bay for a backdrop, and grants an extremely generous landing area for tee balls. As is true throughout the course (and is a Palmer design philosophy), fairways and landing areas are quite large and forgiving. The second shot on this hole is tricky, because you'll most likely have to fly a large bunker fronting the green, and avoid going long into waste areas surrounding the putting surface.
Number three would dot the 'i' in signature for most any course. Set alongside the bay with a thin beach and tree buffer, it's a 460 yard par four with a slightly uphill tee shot guarded by a large bunker that guards the dogleg right. The second shot must fly the hundred yard wide Allegood pond, to a green fronted by a rock wall. There is a bail out area to the right if you don't have enough distance to reach the putting surface. Simply put, number three's spectacular-expect to see it on the cover of magazines.
Four completes the bayside opening sequence, a tough 213 yard par three calling for a water and sand carry onto what looks like a tiny green. The bunker is huge, and I'm sure will get plenty of play. Bail out left if at all.
Eight is another terrific par four, set alongside the banks of Plantation Creek. The hole's name is 'Illusion,' a fitting title considering you really can't see how wide the fairway is-and it's sloped from left to right, so it looks like your ball will roll into the creek if you go in that direction. The second shot's not hidden, but if you're short, you'll either funnel into the creek or dive into a deep bunker that's short and right of the putting surface.
Nine is another great visual hole, called 'Lighthouse' because you'll aim your tee ball at the Cape Charles water tower that looks like a lighthouse. A 463 yard monster, it played considerably shorter the day we played, due to the stiff tailwind. From personal experience, avoid going over the green, or it's a very tough up and down.
The back nine moves away from the bay, but doesn't lack for water challenge. Number twelve is often mentioned as another signature hole, a beautiful 171 yard par three with a full water carry to a green fronted by a stone wall. This hole demonstrates the Palmer philosophy of-'if you've got water, use it.' Arnie would do well in the recycled ball industry, no doubt.
Thirteen, like eight, is somewhat deceptive. On the tee, you'll see a lake guarding the entire right side of the hole (named 'Lake,' hmmm). The yardage book suggests a high draw, but the hole looks shaped for a fade-being a slight dogleg right. Just don't fade into the lake, and avoid a bunker to the right. If you manage to stay dry off the tee, the second shot's a short iron into another narrow green, protected by bunkers on both sides.
Fourteen's a beast of a par four-486 yards from the tips and doglegged left. Even a crushed tee shot leaves a long iron or fairway wood into the green-and you won't be able to cut off much distance, either, as the green's protected by a marsh all down the left side. A par on this hole felt like a birdie.
Eighteen is the consummate finishing hole for this outstanding course. Named 'Arnie's challenge,' it's 569 yards of par five, risk-reward all the way. Keep your tee shot to the left side for the best angle to shoot over the water on your second shot. The closer you want to get to the green, the more sand and water you'll have to carry, as the fairway (over the water) leads away from you on the approach. A beautiful hole-and it takes a lot of guts. Accept Arnie's challenge, and you might just be swimming after it.
Upon finishing the round, you'll probably look at your playing partners and search for words on how to describe what you've just been through. So, Carey Hodsden will speak for you: "I want golfers to say they looked and saw the most beautiful golf course they've ever seen, and that they paid a tremendously nominal fee for what they got. I want them to feel they've gotten the best golfing value on this earth." Well, Hodsden will get his wish for a lot of people who come here. Bay Creek is that kind of course, and it amply demonstrates that not everything needs to gather cobwebs in order to become a classic.
1 Clubhouse Way
Cape Charles, VA 23310
Phone: (757) 331-9000
Fax: (757) 331-1685
Course Designers: Arnold Palmer and Ed Seay
Project Architect: Vicki Martz
Head Golf Professional: Carey Hodsden
Director of Golf: Tom Stevenson
Golf Course Development Visionary: Dick Foster
Palmer 7204 142
Blue 6811 132
White 6308 130
Gold 5656 120
For area residents, $45 during the week, and $60 on weekends.
For non-residents, $55 during the week, and $70 on weekends.
All rates are cart inclusive.
Twilight rate--after 2:30, $35.
Juniors, Seniors, Guests--$40 during the week, and $50 weekends.
Practice Fac.: A
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: N/A
Pace of Play: B
Resort Hotel: N/A
Overall Rating: A
Overall Rating: 5
In order to reach Cape Charles and Bay Creek, you'll have to take the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel, carrying a $10 toll each way. A small price to pay for the treat of playing this incredible course, especially if you divide up the dough amongst a foursome!
Like for Bide-A-Wee, when planning a visit to Bay Creek, I'd suggest staying in Portsmouth at the Renaissance Hotel.
Downtown Portsmouth lies directly across the Elizabeth River from downtown Norfolk. Nothing like combining the best these two seafaring cities have to offer-in both the old-style charm of Portsmouth, and the more modern-day life of Norfolk. Norfolk is the home of the United States' largest Naval base, and there're more than enough maritime themed museums and historic sites in both cities to occupy your non-golf hours.
I'd recommend staying at the Renaissance Hotel because it's the newest and nicest hotel in the area, easily accessible to great golf, such as at Bay Creek or Bide-A-Wee, or even a short drive to some of the excellent tracks in the Virginia Beach area, such as The TPC of Virginia Beach, Hell's Point, or Heron Ridge. It's also reasonably priced for what you get!
For touring, I personally recommend a trip across the river to visit the USS Wisconsin in Norfolk-the Navy's largest battleship, which now floats retired for the benefit of the viewing public (that is, until it's reactivated again). For naval history buffs, there's no equal-where else can you stroll the teak covered decks and admire the 16-inch guns of one of the most famed dreadnaughts our navy's ever seen? Not to be missed!
For information on the Renaissance Hotel, Portsmouth, check out: www.renaissanceportsmouth.com
For general tourist information on Portsmouth, check out: www.portsmouth.va.us/tourism/docs/tourism6.htm
For general tourist information on Norfolk, check out: www.norfolkcvb.com (JR)