Ballyhack is a name to remember. The Lester George designed golf course, which opened for play in 2009 is billed as a Scottish Highland-type design, but the course at Ballyhack is nothing like anything we’ve seen in Scotland. Nevertheless it’s likeable and memorable to say the least.
Lester George knows a thing or two about designing top Virginian golf courses. He left a legacy at the Kinloch Golf Club in 2001 and his creation at Ballyhack has the potential to follow suit.
Set in a dramatic 190-acre tract of land that rises and falls spectacularly with breathtaking elevation changes, Ballyhack Golf Club is pure golf. Blow out bunkers emphasise the rugged landscape… this is a golf course on a gigantic scale with enormous greens (the 18th is 20,000 square feet).
The only downside to Ballyhack is that it’s a crippling walk – even for the fittest golfer – so Ballyhack is a cart affair which traditionalists will berate. However, the traditionalist will quickly get over it because Ballyhack is unique, compelling, fun and possibly Virginia’s most exciting golf course. Some might say it’s over the top, perhaps a little contrived in places but Ballyhack will definitively leave an indelible impression.
The following article was written by golf course architect Lester George and is an edited extract from Volume Five of Golf Architecture: A Worldwide Perspective. Reproduced with kind permission. To obtain a copy of the book, email Paul Daley at [email protected]
Ballyhack is one of the most balanced and rhythmic designs of my entire career. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to design a true, links-style golf course on a property with such naturally bold and domineering features and a panoramic view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The natural elevations of the golf course run from about 950 feet to 1,150 feet, featuring prominent elevation changes. I included a myriad of strategies into my design, all created to take the fullest advantage of the existing terrain. Incorporating the dramatic topography, I designed boldly contoured greens. The golf course can measure anywhere from 7,350 yards to 5,000 yards, with rolling links-style fairways as wide as 120 yards.
Ballyhack’s front nine is routed around, and between, several major ridges, creating the ‘high dune’ look. Between the ridges, there is a beautiful moor that we used as a prominent feature to accentuate the 1st, 6th, 7th and 8th holes. The 2nd hole is a 530-yard par five that plays from a high dune to a natural ridge, encompassing the entire ridge. In places, the 2nd fairway is over 100 yards wide. Although the green is 10,000 square feet, it is perched precariously on the ridge-top and surrounded by falloff. Another interesting aspect of the front nine is the 6th hole, a 32-yard par four, which defiantly tempts the player to drive over the moor, toward the green. Playing into the prevailing wind, such a notion will challenge even the boldest of golfers.
The back nine features a double green for the 13th and 15th holes. Players will recognize this feature from the old country. At approximately 25,000 square feet, and separated by a seven-foot swale, this feature fits into the landscape so well I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to build it. The final hole at Ballyhack, a 480-yard par four, plays through the middle of the ravine into a natural punchbowl green that is approximately 21,000 square feet. The finishing touch of the design is the use of all cool-season grasses with native grass dunes, featuring a variety of grasses on wind-blown, ragged bunker faces.
This property fell into my lap not once, but three times: when my client led me to it; when I had a chance encounter with the landowner; and, lastly – even though I could not afford to match a higher offer – when the owner called back and agreed to sell it to me. Purchasing and zoning the property before I had even a whiff of an interested partner was a gamble I felt compelled to make; I did not want to let 370 acres of developable, pristine rolling grassland in the Blue Ridge Mountains slip away. Ballyhack delivers time-honoured, traditional European golf to golfers on US soil. It also brings me a great sense of personal satisfaction, because – even though the project took a meandering path – this course has been in my head and heart for years.
A friend of mine that has played many Top 100 courses had been saying for years that Ballyhack is one of his favorite courses. I thought he was biased because he won a free golf bag from them! I was wrong.
This course is a hidden gem, one that you should plan on playing this year if you've never played it. I am usually not a fan of mountain golf, but Lester George did a marvelous job. The elevation changes are not too severe and the holes are creative and fun. The views are spectacular and so is the hospitality of the staff. I hope to play here again soon, it was a blast.