Williamsburg, VA - Jeff Winters, Head Golf Professional at the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club's Green Course, says "We have a tremendous course here," then pauses. "But we still can't get the respect that the Gold Course does."
After playing both, one thing is for sure - the Green course is certainly no ugly stepsister. In fact, the Green Course is a lot closer to Cinderella than you might expect - and that's no knock against the Gold Course either - it's quite a beauty in its own right.
Perhaps some of the Green course's reputation - or lack thereof - stems from the fact that it's relatively new - as classic golf courses go. Opening in 1991, the Green Course features a Rees Jones design - and clearly, the son was trying to follow in the steps of the famous father. He had his work cut out for him - but he's done a more than admirable job of tracing those prints.
The younger Jones' course is longer (7,120 yards to 6,700 yards) but more forgiving, and from what Winters says - once folks have played both - that many end up preferring the Green layout. Both courses offer a lot of attributes the same - tree lined fairways, breathtaking (literally, if you're walking) elevation changes, creative bunkering, and stunning visual vistas - but you probably will come away from the Green feeling more confident.
Despite the numerous similarities, there are some real differences in the two. The Green Course uses roughly twice as much land in its layout (about 250 acres to 125 acres for the Gold), which results in few parallel fairways - and almost always gives you a sense of solitude that the Gold Course can't.
This also can lead to more trouble for shots struck wide of the mark that manage to break through the protective mounds, as I discovered on a few occasions. Because the Gold Course's trees are often dividing adjacent holes, even drives that reach the boundaries of the cut grass are usually playable. Not so with the Green - there's an added element of difficulty here.
On the day I played the Green, I had the distinct honor of playing with, and the company of, the course's Assistant Golf Professional, Jason Fox. Jason is already quite ahead of his time at the age of twenty, and there isn 't anything about his game that makes me think he won't be out there in a couple years giving the touring pro a lesson on how to play the game the way he showed me.
Jason was precise in his description of the layout, and his tips proved invaluable to a first time player of the course. But don't get the impression that you need professional assistance to get around this track - there aren't any tricks here, and the yardage guide more than tells you what you need to know.
On that note, the entire staff of the Green deserves a commendation. They all went out of their way to make sure that everything is provided for each player - from range balls, right down to directions to the first tee. Nothing is neglected here - it's true southern hospitality combining with the luxuries of a prestigious club. The condition of the course also deserves special kudos.
This summer has been extremely wet in Virginia, but the fairways and greens were in outstanding shape. It is obvious that a large amount of attention to detail is given here - and the golfer is the recipient of the gift.
The course itself is no postlude to the experience - it's the main attraction. Rees starts you off with four relatively straightforward par fours, the longest being the first at 429 yards from the tips. The fairways are generous so as to give a wide berth to those who have first tee jitters - or haven't warmed up quite enough yet. Second shots will test your iron skills - short, medium, and long.
The greens are big targets and offer any number of pin positions - usually guarded by sculpted sand or grass bunkers. A fair test for an opening set of holes (and offers a couple good birdie chances - at least for Jason), but the real challenge lies ahead.
After surviving a long dogleg par five in the fifth, you come face to face with the number one handicap hole, the 450 yard sixth. It's imperative that you tee it well on this hole, because trouble lurks on both sides of the fairway in the form of bunkers - and trees to the extremes. Once again, mounds may help you here, but if you find yourself on one instead of receiving a generous kick back into the fairway, you'll have an extremely awkward lie to try the second.
The second must fly a ravine - no gorse here - but if you're short, the ball could very well roll quite a distance back down the hill and leave you a blind third onto the green. Do yourself a favor and take enough club so as to avoid the problem all together - short is not an attractive option on this hole.
The second par five on the outward nine, the eighth, is also a bruiser. Like the first three shotter, it's a dogleg to the right. Tee shots must carry a ravine - and you'd better get enough air under the ball to carry it on to the plateau and first cut - or you're looking at four strokes minimum to reach the putting surface.
Any hopes at all of trying for it in two requires a pinpoint tee shot that hugs the right side of the fairway and successfully avoids bunkers on the right hand side waiting to swallow the ball. The green is also well protected by bunkers in the front and to the left. Running the ball up isn't really an option - better summons the TightLies and hit it high.
Headlining the backside is the par three 11th, the Green's signature hole. Tee it up high above the green (195 yards from the back) - and choose the right club, as you'll have to carry a pond, but stay short of the bunkers that are waiting to trap anything too strong.
The green itself is at the bottom of an impressive amphitheater - and you feel not unlike you' re trying to hit onto the stage of the Hollywood Bowl. Hit one dead stick and you might even be the star of the show. Whatever the outcome, it's a hole that you won't soon forget.
Practice Fac.: A-
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: A
Pace of Play: A
Resort Hotel: A+
Overall Rating: A