If there is one complaint to be made about The Architects Golf Club — a New Jersey club where former Golf Digest courses editor Ron Whitten paid tribute to the history of golf course architecture with holes based on the most famous designers — it’s that it ends too early, with Robert Trent Jones providing the last bit of chronological inspiration.
Architect Tom Clark joins Whitten at Cutalong at Lake Anna, a golf club accompanying a planned community north of Richmond, Virginia, and although that designer pays plenty of homage to old-world architects of the UK, he also brings more modern perspectives to this collection of holes inspired by classic holes.
One example is No. 5, a hole that salutes Pete Dye in its incorporation of both waste bunkers and those held up with railroad ties, before finishing with a boomerang green. Among the Golden Age architects celebrated here, perhaps none gets more love than Alister MacKenzie, who receives a nod in the “Gibraltar” par three, as well as other features around the course.
The Clark/Whitten duo bust out the blender for No. 14, a par five that grabs inspiration across eras and continents alike. The tee shot presents a Lido “Channel” tee shot to multiple fairways...getting home in two means riding the left-side out-of-bounds all the way to the green (a la Coore & Crenshaw’s No. 2 at Talking Stick’s O’odham) and finally, the green itself is an obvious Road Hole acknowledgement. Bring a notebook and learn something along the way!
Cutalong at Lake Anna may be an unfamiliar name today, but I suspect that it will be cropping up in many golf course rankings over the coming years. This bold destination club in central Virginia embodies all that is right with the modern renaissance of golf architecture.
Tom Clark and the Cutalong design team constructed a course that honors the works of many great golf architects, past and present. The property is loaded with template holes and greens that replicate famous putting surfaces from around the globe. When reading the course description prior to my arrival, I wondered how a place that incorporates so many different styles could meld them together.
This concern was quelled early in the round. The routing at Cutalong hugs the natural contours of the Virginia countryside gorgeously, embracing its rustic clay exposures and the wiry plants native to the area. At no point does the player feel that features are out of place, and the holes flow seamlessly. Cutalong was built over an old mining site, and the club creatively celebrates its history by incorporating dragon-teeth hazards on the 3rd which imitate spoil mounds found in the surrounding woods.
Cutalong pays homage to the roots of the game in ways too rarely seen in America. Its turf is firm, and there is randomness to the bounces a player may experience off the tee, on approaches, or around the greens. There is far more shortgrass than Bermuda rough, leading to plenty of treachery around putting surfaces and creative options with recovery shots. Terrifying false fronts and opportunities to play run-up shots are present on almost half of the holes. Cutalong clearly embraces these hallmarks of the sport as it is experienced on so many true links.
The cadence of a round at Cutalong is like that of a Busch Gardens roller coaster. Thrilling challenges await the player at every twist and turn. The round commences with an electrifying opener. The downhill hole plays over a crowned fairway to a green that is inspired by the 4th at Spyglass. At 61 yards deep and running away from the player over three tiers, it is a sight to behold. A more unsettling prospect than being on the wrong plateau is missing this narrow putting surface laterally, as the player must pop-and-stop a pitch on less than 10 yards of workable area from a tight lie.
The front nine continues with holes that present a variety of green shapes and sizes, bunkers that lie in the ideal sightlines, and gentle elevation changes. At the par five 8th, the player is confronted with a distinct set of decisions that depend entirely on the day’s pin location. The putting surface, which roughly resembles a Lion’s Mouth template, is banked into a hill. It features six different pockets and is guarded by a set of tall trees and a creek. Choosing where and how to lay up to this hole requires strong understanding of strategy. One must avoid the parallel waterway, place their shot far enough away from the gateway of trees, and either play hyper-conservatively short or extra aggressively to the far end of the fairway for an ideal angle. It is incomparable to the overwhelming majority of straightforward three shot holes, and almost impossible to describe in writing.
The stretch from holes 12 to 15 is arguably the most memorable on the course. The 12th is a Biarritz template, angled slightly from the tee box, which begs the player to work a shot slightly with an uncomfortable long-iron. The par four 13th plays across a side-hill, blind knoll. The green has no precedent, being bisected into front and back sections by a massive ridge that rejects balls in both directions. The tee shot at the par five 14th is exhilarating. One option, to the right, presents a wide open fairway, but essentially eliminates the chance of reaching the green in two. The left option presents a more direct route to the hole, but the drive must navigate a narrow chute and cover a penal bunker. At the 15th, players are asked to hit a shot unheard of on most American courses. Sitting in a massive bowl surrounded by shortgrass, the golfer must not aim for the middle of the green, but instead, play off the banks of the collar five to ten yards away from the putting surface in order to funnel a shot near the hole. It is yet another instance of Cutalong breaking from prototypical design norms.
Thanks to some sage planning and its very wise golf leadership, Cutalong is building a consummate golf retreat. This course is a stern test for the advanced player, and new tees are being added to stretch its length to 7,800 yards. At the same time, there are constructed forward tee boxes which make the course playable for beginners and juniors. Cutalong recognizes its powerful position to help grow the game.
The Cutalong staff are fostering a welcoming, relaxed culture at the course, and it is no wonder that membership is already thriving. Cutalong also plans to have golf villas for those looking for a weekend getaway. In all ways, Cutalong at Lake Anna breaks the mold of stereotypical destination golf. It manages to be both accessible to players of all abilities while providing unforgettable challenges many golfers will have never encountered previously. Cutalong has an exciting future in store.