A couple of days ago I posted my review of the Golden Horseshoe Green Course. I wrote it on the airplane ride home. I’ve now had a couple of days to reminisce and look over my photos of the Golden Horseshoe Gold Course. I loved it before but the more I reminisce, the better it gets.
Designed By Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
In 1963 the Golden Horseshoe Gold Course opened. It was designed by one of the most famous course designers in golf history, Robert Trent Jones, Sr.
History is a key word because the area of Colonial Williamsburg is a goldmine of historical events, people and places. That goldmine has been preserved since 1926 thanks to the likes of Reverend Dr. W.A.R. Goodwin, rector of Bruton Parish Church and John D. Rockefeller Jr. In fact, on a few holes of both courses, a small boat house (pictured right) on the water can be seen. That boat house was owned by Rockefeller.
I’m not typically a fan of “earth mover” course designs. I prefer designs which integrate and flow with the natural surroundings and topography, and that is just what the Gold course does. Back in the early sixties golf course design construction didn’t rely heavily on big machinery and moving a lot of earth. Course designers like Jones used their great imaginations and vision to take advantage of the existing topography.
Several of the tee boxes at the Gold course are what I’d call “old school.” They are flat, straight boxes where all the different tee sets (four to be exact), differ only in yardage. Other holes have tee box sets which are separate in not only yardage, but angles and elevation. This is most profound on the par-3 holes. These varying tees really add a lot of fun to playing the course.
Tee shots on par-4 and par-5 holes are not extremely difficult. The landing areas are plenty wide, though not as wide and forgiving as the Green course. Players who can work their drives will enjoy the variety of hole shapes.
Approach shots can be quite a challenge on the Gold course. Large elevation changes are quite common, requiring some good computation skills and shot execution. It is crucial to gauge carries as well as yardage variances due to elevation. The 16th hole is a great example. This amazing par-3 island green has an extreme drop. That elevation change caused me to fly an 8-iron over the left side of the green into the water, where I’d be struggling to hit 6-irons that distance on level ground. I re-teed with a 9-iron and that was perfect.
On #17 I hit a fully crushed 3-wood to the center of the green, not common for me on a par-4. Yardage: 200. The elevation change was so steeply uphill on that hole, it was about a 3-4 club difference.
There are plenty of forced carry approaches, many over water on the Gold course. Literally all of the par-3 holes require carrying water.
Some holes use a little deception on approaches, like #7 (which I’ll mention later too). From the tee it looks to be all grass to the green. You can’t see the water short.
The greens at the Gold course are a lot of fun. They’re not crazy greens with huge tiers or anything like that. They’re challenging but fair.
The areas around the greens, green complexes in general, are less hilly and extreme than the Green course. They’re a little more natural and flowing.
Bunkering around the greens on the Gold is quite challenging. Many of the bunkers are deep and well below the greens. On hole #7 I barely cleared the bunker by about three feet and had a fairly easy chip to save par. But had my shot gone three feet shorter, my ball would have plugged into a very steep bunker face or rolled down to about 12 feet lower than the green. That would be a heck of a difficult up and down from the sand.
As I mentioned in my Green course review, there are no homes or buildings of any sort by any of the holes. Of course this excludes the pro shop and snack shop.
The courses at Golden Horseshoe are a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. As such there will be no building or deforestation around the courses, ever. The scenery is just as well preserved as the history of Colonial Williamsburg.
The primary signature hole of the Golden Horseshoe Gold Course is the par-3 16th (first picture in article). This island green is a beauty, with a fantastic elevated tee shot.
#17 at the TPC Sawgrass, which I’ve played, is a grandchild of Gold’s #16. I can honestly say that #16 is much more scenic than TPC’s 17th, and the tee shot much more fun. Don’t get me wrong, TPC’s 17 was a blast. Just read here for that confirmation.
The reason I put a “(s)” at the end of the Signature Hole heading, is that the other par-3′s deserve to be lumped into the signature category here at the Gold course. IF any of the par-3′s (like #7 pictured right) were located on another course, they would be that course’s signature hole. I’d heard about how great this grouping of par-3′s was. I’d read about it too. All the hype and golf folklore is correct. These are the best four par-3 holes I’ve ever played or seen on one course.
The smoked bacon on a heated croissant in the restaurant is killer. So too is the chicken with smoked bacon. Be sure to do what I did too, and spoil yourself with a bowl of homemade peppermint ice cream.
Not only is there a great restaurant at the Gold course, the pro shop is well stocked and staffed. The practice green is fun. The spa right next door would be a great place to loosen up the back after a cold fall day.
About the only amenity I could be critical of would be the driving range at the Gold course. The Green course’s range is full sized with great targets and real grass. The range at the Gold however, is small with the hitting area being mats.
Once again, it was my privilege to play golf with director of golf Glen Byrnes and assistant PGA Pro Greg Lynch. Check out my Golden Horseshoe Green Course review for more detailed commentary on the staff.
Awards And Accolades
- “America’s 100 Greatest Public Courses,” Gold Course, Golf Digest (2009, 2007, 2005, 2003)
- “Top 100 Resort Courses,” Gold Course, Golfweek (2007)
- “Top 100 You Can Play,” Gold Course, Golf Magazine (2006, 2004, 2002, 2000, 1998, 1996)
- “State-by-State Public Access Courses – Virginia,” Gold Course, Golfweek (2007, 2005, 2003)
- “Top Short Courses in America,” Spotswood Course, Golf Range Magazine (2007)
- “America’s Top Golf Courses,” Zagat Survey®, Gold and Green Courses (2007, 2005, 2003)
- “Middle Atlantic 100 Must-Play Courses,” Gold and Green Courses, Golfstyles Washington (2007)
- “Best of the Best Design,” Gold Course one of Jones Sr.’s top six designs, Golf Digest (2004, 2000)
- “Top 500 Golf Holes in the World: Golden Horseshoe Gold Course 16th, Golf Magazine (2004)
- “Four and ½ Stars,” Gold Course, Best Places to Play, Golf Digest (2006)
- “Four and ½ Stars,” Green Course, Best Places to Play, Golf Digest (2006)
- “World’s Best” Readers Survey, Gold Course, Travel+Leisure Golf, (2003)
- “Top 500 Golf Holes in the World,” Gold Course, 16th hole, Golf Magazine (2004)
- “Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary,” for commitment to environment (2007, 2005, 2003, 2001)
- “Best Golf Teacher,” Del Snyder named one of the best golf teachers in Virginia, Golf Digest (2005)
- “Golden Horseshoe is a must-play,” Tony Korologos, Hooked On Golf Blog (2010)
Number of tees: Four
Length from tips (Gold tees): 6817 Yards
Slope from tips: 144
Rating from tips: 73.8
Yesterday I played golf with an older gentleman whom I’d never met before. He immediately noticed the Golden Horseshoe bag tag on my golf bag and went into a 10 minute discussion love fest for the days back in the 70′s when he got to play the Gold course six days in a row. That guy was right on. I’ll be remembering the days last weekend which I played this course for years to come, because it is truly a great and memorable golf course. I can guarantee you last weekend’s experience at the Gold course won’t be my last. I’ll be back, as soon as possible!