While visiting family in rural southwestern Virginia one recent winter, I felt the need to drive south out of the snow and play golf on one of the warmer days on the trip. I don’t quite recall why I chose Bryan Park, but it was relatively close and appeared to be a well-regarded course, having hosted the U.S. Amateur Public Links in the past, and the holes along the lake looked pretty interesting. (The park is located right next to a substantial man-made reservoir.) Conditioning was as expected in the middle of winter, with dormant Bermuda and soggy turf; I won’t judge the course on that aspect here. The course is long and fairly penal with big and bold features around large greens, and given the length and softness, playing the back tees on a sub-50 degree day was probably not the best choice. Needless to say, it was a really difficult golf course, and my middle-of-winter game was nowhere near prepared to handle it.
The routing was fun, but a fairly tough walk on rolling terrain with a few long transitions between holes. I imagine it was a course built primarily for cart play. The older course on the property, the Players course designed by George Cobb, weaves in between holes of the Champions course. Evidently, Rees Jones modified it in some fashion, though I do not know exactly how. My guess is that he probably took some of the prime lakefront real estate for Champions and rerouted some of the Players holes further inland. That lakefront real estate, by the way, is magnificent – you get a brief glimpse on the front nine and come back to it for a five-hole stretch on the back that is awfully spectacular.
In my opinion, the best stretch on the front nine comes pretty early on, at #2-#4. The second hole is a brute of a long par four – although with some potentially forgiving mounding at the edges of the fairway to help the slightly wayward drive. The third is a reachable par five with a nasty little bunker in the front right portion of the green to play havoc with aggressive approaches, and the fourth is a par three in which you are forced to carry a corner of the big lake to get to a large and exciting green with several distinct tiers. The back nine begins in earnest on #11, an uphill dogleg right par five that runs along the edge of a ridge towards the lake, starting the series of lakefront holes cited above. #12 is a par three over a ravine containing an arm of the lake and providing a great view of what lies ahead. #13 is simply a spectacularly difficult 1980s fever dream of a golf hole, its 472 yards bending nearly 90 degrees to the right around a section the lake to a green situated nearly at the end of a peninsula. The trees to the left side of the hole make for difficulty gauging the wind, but the green is completely exposed to it, so you’d better guess right. It’s a great long par four, one of the most unique I’ve played due to the special piece of land on which it sits. Then, after you think you’ve gotten through the hard part, #14 comes along – it’s a par three over yet another section of the lake, at 230 yards of all carry. I couldn’t even get a 3-wood to the green against the wind, but it cleared the lake and found the front bunker. #15 is the final lakefront hole, a reachable par five that unfortunately could play as a bit of a layup off the tee for longer hitters due to another arm of the lake encroaching into the fairway. Luckily the wind and softness allowed me to hit driver and walk away with a birdie, but it was my least favorite of the lake holes. Sadly, that’s pretty much where the crescendo of unique and exciting golf holes ends, as the next two holes are quite mundane before somewhat of a recovery with a solid uphill finishing hole.
All in all, I liked Bryan Park well enough – it was exactly what I expected for its era, and quite frankly it was worth playing for #13 alone (which is the only place I took any photos). I’d certainly be willing to give it another try in peak season when I have the golf game to stand up to its difficulty.
Played January 29, 2015
Date: December 30, 2020