THE GOLDEN HORSESHOE GOLF CLUB – Williamsburg, VA
A – Playability & Challenge
B – Quality of Course
B+ – Memorability
B+ – Service Levels
B – Pro Shop
A – 19th Hole Experience
B+ – OVERALL EXPERIENCE
(Written by Jim Dee – 10/17/09) … History lesson #1—Golf was invented in Scotland in the mid-1400’s. (During the mid-15th century, Scotland was preparing to defend itself against an English invasion. The population’s enthusiastic pursuit of golf and soccer to the neglect of military training (archery primarily) caused the Scottish parliament of King James II to ban both sports in 1457. The ban was reaffirmed in 1470 and 1491 although people largely ignored it. Only in 1502 with the Treaty of Glasgow was the ban lifted with King James IV (James 1 of England) himself taking up the sport).
History lesson #2—the first reference to golf at the historic town of St Andrews was in 1552. The clergy allowed public access to the links a year later. In 1754 the St Andrews Society of Golfers was formed to compete in its own annual competition. Stroke play was introduced in 1759 and in 1764, the 18-hole course was constructed which has of course become a de-facto standard. King William honored the club with the title ‘Royal & Ancient’ in 1834 and the new famous clubhouse was erected in 1854. The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews (R&A) became the premier golf club because of it’s fine course, the publication of rules, it’s royal patronage and it’s promotion of the game as a proper sport.
History lesson #3—the first permanent English settlement in America began in 1607 in Jamestown, Virginia. Some 20 years later, the capital of the colony of Virginia was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg, VA. So, since golf was invented well before the United States came into existence in 1776, and since America was settled by folks from Great Britain, you would think that golf began in some place like Virginia during colonial times, right? Well, that’s what I was thinking when I was on vacation and touring colonial Williamsburg. The colonial part of the city is preserved just as it was when the colonists lived there 250 years ago, and it’s a great place to spend some time getting a better understanding of how they lived, and what prompted them to rebel against the British crown and declare their independence.
So, what were the Virginia colonists doing for recreation when they weren’t growing tobacco, attending governor’s balls, or shouting “give me liberty or give me death”? Well, they weren’t playing golf, unfortunately.
History lesson #4—the first golf course in America was Oakhurst Golf Links in West Virginia and it opened in 1884. Hard to believe our ancestors wasted 100 years before building the first golf course, and it’s equally hard to believe that they wasted another 100 years before building a golf course in Williamsburg. But, it sure was worth the wait, I can tell you that.
The Golden Horseshoe Golf Club was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr., and was opened on September 11, 1963. Jones refers to the Golden Horseshoe as “my finest design.” And I have to say, I agree with Robert, Sr., it’s a fantastic course layout that has some of the most interesting terrain and unique collection of holes that you’ll find anywhere. Lots of elevation change, a ton of undulation on the greens, and well-manicured throughout.
Although there are only a few small ponds on the course, the design makes great use of the limited water, with the lakes coming into play on six of the holes. And boy …, do they come into play. Number two is a reachable par-5 at 470 yards, but the green lies just behind a small pond, and if you boom your drive enough to catch the downslope of the fairway, you’ll have a chance to give it a go with your second shot. That’s what I did — had about 205 yards left to the pin, but couldn’t get my shot to carry the water, so took a bogey and had fun anyway.
Hole #12 is a par-3, 150 yard shot that has water across the entire front of the green. Playing in October with the fall colors just coming out was fantastic, and the view from the tee box on the 12th was stunning. Several holes coverage in that one area, and you’ll hear the sound of balls plopping in the water from other holes around the pond as you’re putting out on the 12th.
The signature hole on the course has to be #16, with an island green that reminds you of TPC Sawgrass (on the agenda for all of us Golfestians in 2010). A sign at the 16th of the Golden Horseshoe lets golfers know that they are about to play two consecutive holes (#16 and #17) that are among Golf Magazine’s Top 500 golf holes in the world. Pretty cool stuff.
Besides the course itself being in immaculate condition, the staff was friendly and did a great job. The only knock might be that the course is a little tight, with several cart paths, fairways, and even some greens coming together in close quarters. Even the restaurant in the clubhouse is small, but they do a great job with what they have. If you find yourself on the east coast at some point, head to Williamsburg for some great golf, and even a little history while you’re at it.
And, while you’re in the area, be sure to try the King’s Arms Tavern for dinner, inside of the historic part of the city. It is there that you can sample authentic food from the colonial era, including peanut soup, game pie with pheasant, rabbit, etc., and locally brewed beer just as it was a couple of hundred years ago. It’s a great restaurant and makes for a fun evening. See you in the clubhouse!