Williamsburg, VA - On the way to the golf course the other day, my wife and I discussed the changing nature of real estate development in our ever-evolving society. Population growth mandates gobbling up big chunks of open space in favor of new homes and businesses-but you can't stall progress. Likewise, we noted, golf course development has also experienced a similar and equally drastic evolution. More and more, we're seeing great golf courses designed by name architects being constructed-but with housing developments springing up around the fairways.
Face it, folks like to live near the grand and ancient game of golf. Can't say I blame them, nor the developers who build these new communities as fast as they sell them. They've got a good product to peddle, and I wish them Godspeed in their efforts to develop their businesses. I probably will even live in such a community one day-they're great places.
But these newer housing development courses lack some of the old style serenity that an unaltered piece of land brings. Whereas in the old country, the first golfers shared their courses with livestock-today, golfers share their layouts with patios and backyard swing sets. The game's still the same, and in many ways it's better to smell the residuals from an outdoor grill than a field full of cow patties-but there seems to be something missing in the transition.
For those seeking the country feeling the game once offered (minus the organic land mines, of course)-I've got a suggestion. Go to Kiskiack Golf Club. Kiskiack is located approximately fifteen minutes from Colonial Williamsburg and thirty-five minutes from Richmond, Virginia, but it's centuries away from your typical house golf course.
You get the 'country' feeling right away, even exiting the interstate. You head north towards a hamlet called 'Croaker,' and all that surrounds you is farm fields. You just sense this place is different.
Kiskiack Golf Club boasts a John LaFoy design that plays to 6,775 yards from the championship tees and a par of 71. In addition to the beautiful parkland setting, it's an incredibly playable golf course. There's very little not to like about Kiskiack-it's the way golf was in the old days when a 'country club' truly was in the country.
Kiskiack's Head Golf Professional, Brian Tarrant, perhaps puts it best when he says "The thing that's unique about our course is its setting and layout. It's very player-friendly because it's pretty wide-open, and many of the fairways gently slope back towards the center, which gives all players a better chance to keep the ball in play. This, along with the tremendous aesthetic beauty of the land makes coming here a great golf experience."
In other words, even if you're distracted by the course's postcard surroundings, the design of the course will help prevent you from forgetting about your game. Even short hitters have a fighting chance here, and just about everyone will have a good time no matter what their score.
There are only three par fours over 400 yards, and none greater than 428 yards; three of the par fives are reachable in two; and many of the holes have no out of bounds to threaten your wayward shots. And, the course is very walkable.
But for those reading who've never played Kiskiack, don't get the wrong impression-the course isn't a cakewalk. It's not just a flat muni in the middle of a farm quarter. There's more than enough golf challenge and hole variety to keep you occupied, never fear.
LaFoy puts the kick of the course in the par threes, and throws in huge, multi-tiered and undulating greens along with plentiful sculpted bunkers to keep you honest.
Tarrant touches on the challenge: "I think Kiskiack's difficulty lies in our par threes and around the greens. All our par threes are pretty long--the shortest from the back tees being number seventeen at 181 yards, but even that's slightly uphill and often plays into the wind.
The others play at 200 yards or more-so you'll be hitting long irons or fairway woods into all of the greens.
"You must also-and this is true for the entire course-be precise in your approach shots to the greens. The putting surfaces are large and undulating, and provide for many different pin positions. This adds a higher level of challenge because we can tuck the pins in some difficult spots, which will force you to hit good approach shots to get your ball close-or punish you if you miss. It also helps keep the greens in good shape, because worn spots have a chance to recover."
Tarrant gives much credit to the course's superintendent for its condition, and I'd have to add my kudos in that respect also. Even though we played it in early March, the greens were in excellent shape and rolled very true. The fairways were still in their winter dormant stage, but the rough-even for this time of year-was quite thick. I can only imagine what it would be like in mid-season.
The course's player friendly nature is demonstrated by the first hole. At a straightforward 528 yards with a wide fairway, you'll have a good chance to make your first shot of the round a successful one. Avoid the fairway bunkers that frame the long-range landing area, and you've got a decent shot at going at the green in two.
There's a trio of bunkers laying approximately 80 yards before the green, but clearing those allows for a reasonable run-up opportunity. A fairly easy par builds confidence for the round.
The balance of the outward nine winds in and out of parkland and open-space, where you'll see the true character of the course unfold. There are some mild elevation changes, some generous tee box opportunities, some elevated greens and some incredible scenery. Water comes into play on the eighth and ninth holes-the left side for both the par five eighth and par four ninth.
Kiskiack switched its nines last year, making the ninth the equivalent of a round closing hole-and it's worthy of the honor.
Not long at 366 yards, you'll take a long iron or a three-wood off the tee to make sure you hit the narrowest fairway on the course. A ball hooking a tad too much will find bunkers on the left (or even the water). Slices will find the woods. Second shots call for an uphill short iron that must carry three bunkers guarding the front. If you're long, you'll face a downhill chip from thick rough to a severe sloping green. Aim for the center and hope you've got the right club.
The backside's opening holes bring the largest body of water on the course into play. The tenth is a medium length slight dogleg right with wetlands on the right and the lake in back of the green. The eleventh is the club's signature hole-a 200 yard par three calling for a full water carry to a three tiered green guarded by a sizeable set of bunkers in front and to the deep side right. Some holes look scary but aren't; some holes look tame, but are deceptive; the eleventh looks scary, and is-no deception.
The round concludes with another great hole. The eleventh gets top billing for the signature hole, but the eighteenth has to be right behind it-mainly because of the view from the tee. The tee box is elevated, and your sight line includes a large pond in front, with landing areas to the right and across the pond.
Tarrant says it's 250 yards of carry to go the short route (from the back tees), but if you can make it, it'll give you a great chance to go at the green in two. In my experience, it's worth it. I took a big swing and hit a high slice-but it still landed safely on the landing area to the right.
A great way to end the round. A confidence builder for the first hole, and a round maker for the last. But that pretty much sums up the entire experience at Kiskiack. Make a trip out there when you need a break from modern day evolution.
Kiskiack Golf Club
8104 Club Drive
Williamsburg, VA 23188
Phone: (757) 566-2200
Head Pro: Brian Tarrant
Course Architect: John LaFoy
American Golf Corp's Website: http://www.americangolf.com
Information on Kiskiack can be found at: http://williamsburggolftours.com/courses/kiskiack/
Winter Season: Approximately 11/1-3/31
*Resident: $35, M-Th; $40 Fri-Sun.
$25 after 1:00pm
Regular Season: Approximately 4/1-10/31
*Resident: $59, Fri-Sun; $49, M-Th.
Afternoon: Non-Resident: $50; Resident, M-Th $35, Fri-Sun, $45
After 3:00pm: $25.
*Resident: Defined as between Richmond and Virginia Beach
Note: Kiskiack's brand new clubhouse is due to open at the beginning of April.
Practice Fac.: A-
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: N/A
Pace of Play: B
Resort Hotel: N/A
Overall Rating: B+