The James River finally comes into sight on the 17th at the River Course.
This is the second of two parts on the Kingsmill Resort, site of this weekend's LPGA tournament stop. Today's discussion of the golf courses at Kingsmill follows yesterday's observations on the real estate and amenities (see above). If you have any questions or would like to be introduced to a qualified agent at Kingsmill, please contact us (see button above).
Kingsmill's three 18-hole courses are of varying character and terrains, and they run the gamut from easy to mildly challenging. Anheuser-Busch, owner of the Williamsburg, VA, resort, is conscious of the need to keep members happy, and therefore it restricts one of the three courses to member play every day on a rotating basis. If you plan a weekend visit, you might want to check the schedule so you don't miss out on the River Course.
Kingsmill's River Course is 30 years old and is the best known of the three - the other two are the Plantation and the Woods. Pete Dye reworked his own River Course design four years ago at a cost of about $5 million, all paid for by the resort with no assessment to members. The men's tees play to a mild 6,325 yards with a rating of 70.9 and slope of 133. (Note: I probably picked up an old yardage book which indicated a rating of 71.9 and slope of 138, quite a difference from what I saw.) Dye softened up the course to come more in line with its resort function as well as the switch from a PGA to an LPGA venue. In its previous design, the course had hosted a PGA tour event for 22 years. The ladies at the LPGA event this year are playing from 6,300 yards.
All in all, the River course is not tough but it is thoroughly enjoyable. It was in beautiful shape when I played it and presented food for thought on a number of tee boxes. A small bunker on the right side of the #1 fairway ran from 218 yards to 233 yards from the tee, forcing a drive down the left side. Dye tucks plenty of bunkers close to the greens, dearly penalizing any offline strikes. However, the greens are more than amply sized, 46 yards deep on a few of them, including the finisher which features nasty narrow traps along the entire left side and an even nastier one, because it is small and deep, at front right. From the men's tees, #18 is not long (362 yards) but the drive, over water and two traps 180 and 212 out on the left, must be perfect to have a straight-in approach to a narrow entryway to the green.
If there is a signature hole on the River course, it is #17, the only hole that plays along the James River. The green is enormous, a full 50 yards deep and guarded on the right side by a small bunker front right and a longer one beyond it that runs the rest of the length of the green. The only bailout area is short and left, but hit too long on that side and you will find yourself in gnarly grass with a downhill lie from a steep bank. On the card, the 17th is the easiest hole on the course, but choose the wrong club and bogey is likely.
I didn't get a chance to play the other two courses. The Plantation is an Arnold Palmer design that plays to 6,430 yards from the tips, with a rating of 71.6 and slope of 127. It is considered the least challenging or interesting of the three courses. The Woods course, a Tom Clark/Curtis Strange design, is the only layout at Kingsmill without homes in sight. It features a parkland style with some deep ravines and a quirk or two; for example, one double green features a sand bunker at its core. As for degree of difficulty, The Woods' ratings and slopes at the tips and men's tees fit between the Plantation and River Courses.
There is one more course at Kingsmill, a nine-holer that Golf Digest once called, "The most opulent pitch and putt in the country..." The Bray Links is a short course wedged between the resort's conference center and the James River. It has the best views of the river of any of the courses and is typically in excellent condition, with bent grass greens and Bermuda rough that is tended regularly by the same keepers of the other courses. It is a great place for residents and guests alike to hone their short games.
Membership fees are quite reasonable and varied for the amount of activities available. At the top of the list is the Platinum membership, which provides unlimited golf and access to all other facilities without charge (except for the spa). The initiation "deposit" is $30,000 if you choose to receive a 75% refund when you resign your membership, or a non-refundable $12,500. Members are entitled to reserve starting times up to seven days in advance, a necessity at the most popular times of the year. Dues are $4,530 annually for a full-family membership. Five other membership plans provide a range of lesser options for lower prices.
At Kingsmill's River Course, you can play where the pros play without feeling beat up. It is a fine golf course.
Unlike, say, Tom Fazio, Pete Dye makes no attempt to "bury" the cart paths in his design at the Rvier Course. Instead, he used the paths as an additional geometric element. As long as your tee shot does not land on them, they seem fine.