The Golden Horseshoe golf complex is one of the finest golfing destinations in all of the United States, featuring two formidable 18-hole layouts – the Gold and the Green – and a charming executive course named Spotswood.
A 9-hole course opened here in the mid 1940s and this served golfers until a Robert Trent Jones Senior-designed 18-hole layout came into play in 1963. The master architect also reconfigured the original 9-hole course around this time, forming the Spotswood.
His son Rees Jones added the Green course in 1991 then he returned later that decade to renovate his father’s original Gold design by thinning out trees, leveling a number of greens and adding or removing bunkers. This work was completed in time for the USGA State Team Championships when the gents played on the Gold course and the ladies teed it up on the Green.
Recognised as an unrelenting, punishing test of golf, the Gold is a tight course where narrow fairways lead to small, well-defended greens with water playing a crucial part at critical points in the round. Golfers are made aware of the challenges early in the round at the par five 2nd hole when they crest a hill after playing their first two uphill shots to find the green sits on the other side of a lake.
The quartet of par threes on the Gold form a magnificent collection of demanding short holes and their placement – at holes 3, 7, 12 and 16 – involves the need to carry water from tee to green. They’re beautiful, seductive holes but fraught with danger too. The last of these marvelous par threes plays from a hillside tee position to an island green – and the Golden Horseshoe club believe this hole was the template for others to follow such as the celebrated 17th at TPC Sawgrass in Florida.
Golden Horseshoe's Gold course was closed during 2016/17 when an extensive renovation was carried out by Rees Jones and Greg Muirhead. Known as the “Open Doctor,” Rees Jones, son of Robert Trent Jones Snr, oversaw the upgrade of his father’s original golf course design. Bunkers were reconstructed, greens resurfaced and the entire course was re-grassed, using Bermuda on tees, fairways and rough and bent grass on the greens.
Just a top notch facility in Williamsburg. Always treated well and the golf has great character. Love all of the par 3’s on this course. 16,17, & 18 are 3 of best finishing holes in Virginia
The Gold course at Golden Horseshoe has been rated in the top 100 public golf courses in the USA since opening. It sits beside one of the best “inland” resort hotels in the USA. Designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr, the most impressive aspect to the course is its routing which had to incorporate rolling land and one substantial valley. The deepest and biggest valley has sizeable man-made ponds used to front four greens resulting in forced carries. These holes are among the most memorable holes on the course.
At the time the course was built it was likely considered long enough. It is now listed at 6817 yards from the Gold tees. I have no doubt that if Mr. Jones could have foreseen the advances in golf technology that he would have added length to the front nine, which only goes to 3270 yards. There appeared to me that land is available to stretch holes 4-6 with the eighth potentially reconfigured although at a sizeable cost. These holes are listed at 421, 348 and 495 (par 5) with the eighth at 337. As they are, these holes are among the weakest on the course. The back nine comes in at 3547 yards despite having only a single par 5, albeit one that is 634 yards in length.
The course is defined by the narrowness of the driving corridors due to the tight tree lines, with some of the trees pinching into a few of the fairways. Many of the greens are elevated with deep greenside bunkers. The course is made memorable by its collection of par 3’s, all of which involved a carry over water. Unlike Medinah #3 where the par 3’s over water seem visually similar, the par 3’s at Golden Horseshoe Gold are quite varied both in their visual look as well as how one plays them. The par 3’s are easily the most memorable holes on the course and by themselves justify the green fee that higher end resorts charge.
Holes 16 and 17 are listed in a book called “The 500 World’s Greatest Golf Holes” published in 2000 by Golf Magazine. One could make the case for 16, a par 3 playing substantially downhill over the pond to an island green at 169 yards. The case for inclusion is not as clear for 17, a gentle uphill par 4 at 435 yards flanked by trees to a raised green with deep bunkers on both sides pinching the front of the green.
On the negative side, we found the three par 5’s to be the weakest part of the course. The best of the par 5’s is the second hole at 498/476 which can be easily reached in two by longer hitters who get a lot of extra roll if they catch the substantial downhill. While the second green is hard against the water at its front, it is a sizeable green. The sixth and the fifteenth par 5’s are not as interesting.
I also thought the green’s surfaces to be too similar in character, more defined by slopes than by mounds or swales.
1. Par 4 – 402/383. This gentle dogleg left goes slightly downhill. On the tee one faces immediately the requirement to be able to hit a tee shot straight due to the tightness of the fairway.
2. Par 5 – 498/476. All of us chose to lay-up on our second shots rather than try to be a hero and carry the water from downhill lies near the crest of the hill. The green is slightly tilted towards the water making the green receptive to shots. It is a very large green with two fronting bunkers between the water and green. It is a visually attractive hole.
3. Par 3 – 201/174. From an elevated tee one plays over a sliver of a pond that fronts the green. The green is angled to the right with a front and rear bunker. This green is also sloped to the front making a ball hit towards the back of the green unlikely to go through the green. On any other course this the might be the best par 3.
4. Par 4 – 421/403. This hole is a dogleg left with an inner corner bunker and flanking middle bunkers at the green. It is a standard hole.
5. Par 4 – 348/337. There is a long bunker down the right side of the fairway in the landing zone. The green has a single long bunker on its left side and has the semblance of a tier. It is a definite birdie opportunity.
6. Par 5 – 485/471. All of us thought there should have been a new back tee placed behind the cart path as one leaves the fifth. It would require the removal of some trees. This hole is another tight driving corridor but if one hits it long enough they will catch a downhill slope and be able to go for the green in two. The hole rolls up and down with a significant valley fronting the green placed on a higher point. There are two front corner bunkers and the right side of the green is shallow. One could have a good chance at a birdie or even eagle, while the trees present an imposing thought in one’s mind and an errant strike could result in a score of double or worse.
7. Par 3 – 206/186. From an elevated tee one plays to an elevated green but slightly downhill from the tee. This hole plays over water but the water ends 20 yards in front of the green, although it does continue off a steep hill on the right side. The green is fronted by a bunker and has a left side bunker. From the tee it is hard to spot the rear bunker, the first time it is used on the course. This hole is very dramatic.
8. Par 4 – 337/323. The hole doglegs gently to the left with thick trees on the left side and two fairway bunkers on the right. If one tries to draw a ball around the fairway there is a tree that is hard to spy on the left side that can potentially block one’s shot to the hole. The fairway is very narrow between the trees and those fairway bunkers. The green again uses front flanking bunkers but is not difficult once on it.
9. Par 4 – 372/360. This hole is almost a copy of the eight, although slightly longer with a green that has a smaller front. Eight and nine are the least impressive holes on the course.
10. Par 4 – 466/450. My favorite hole on the course is the tenth which plays as a sharp dogleg right as you near the green. From the tee the hole seems open but is not. The hole then spills down ending in another raised green. The trees are thick on the left side. I greatly admired how the hole seemed to open up the closer one got to the green.
11. Par 4 – 403/386. This hole perhaps is the tightest off the tee with land falling away down the tree line on the right side. I liked this green which is elevated on its left side with a deep fronting bunker.
12. Par 3 – 186/169. This hole also plays from an elevated tee with a carry over water. Much like the par 5 second, the hole is backstopped by higher ground. The green complex also uses a rear central bunker. It is another dramatic and visually attractive par 3.
13. Par 4 – 363/350. The fairway is once again very narrow for its front half. The hole is shaped such that the tee shot should favor the right but then goes slightly back to the left. Identical “c” shaped bunkers are at the front of the green with another central rear bunker. If one can find the fairway, one has a good chance for birdie unless the pin is located on the shallower right side.
14. Par 4 – 445/429. This is a long dogleg right with a green having a narrow front and two wings. The narrow front has flanking bunkers. I liked this hole a lot due to both its length and the green shape with has more undulations than other greens.
15. Par 5 – 634/613. Other than being very long, there is not much interesting about this flat hole. It ends with a green that goes right to left adding an additional club to a pin on the left side. A bunker is also placed on the left front making that pin the most difficult location.
16. Par 3 – 169/159. We had a back right pin so the hole played another 15 yards longer. From another elevated tee this hole plays to a generous sized green although balls that land in the middle will roll to the rear of the green. The green has subtle movement in it. It is hard to pick the best par 3 on the Gold course as one could make an argument for any of them.
17. Par 4 – 435/422. This hole plays slightly uphill to a green placed on higher ground with fall-offs on all but the rear. This green also seems to have a bit of a horizontal tier but like many greens on the Gold course is more defined by its slant.
18. Par 4 – 444/431. This dogleg left has an outer corner bunker. Once must hit far enough to clear the dogleg to have a look at the green. The green sits on lower ground with a pond off its left side. The greenside bunkering is different here with a front left bunker and one on the right middle. It is a good finishing hole although a bit out of character to the other par 4’s on the course.
I liked the Gold course at Golden Horseshoe. It is definitely a course that one should seek out if they find themselves within a 4-5 hour drive of Williamsburg, Virginia. It is a course that they will remember, primarily for the par 3’s but also for three-four other memorable holes.
One of the best courses in the Williamsburg area. Worth the price for an all around fun round of golf
Very nice course with a lot of variety. Challenging layout which requires all of the shots. Green complexes cover several styles and demand varied approach styles. Conditioning was good, not great. You know and feel you are at a fantastic course but then you encounter a damaged bridge and restroom. They were damaged not recently.....The place was packed. Hmmmm If in the area, it's very worth a day.
Unrelenting would be the best way to describe this course. Tight, requires all types of shot shaping from run-ups to high fades. The landscaping is top-notch. The holes have a lot of variety, minus the Par 3s- when each par 3 is a guarded by water and marked by elevation changes it gets a little stale. 16 and 17 are signature holes but loved the Par 5 second with the risk-reward second shot over the water.
Overall a great course
Solid course layout with a downhill, island green Par 3.
For my “Golden Jubilee” course review on this great site – you know, the one that gets you the big red ribbon – I’m not sure there is a more appropriate course to write about.
First off, I don’t believe I’ve ever played a Robert Trent Jones Sr. layout that has such a great sense of “place” and fits so naturally into its environment. The routing takes advantage of the gently rolling terrain and the man-made lake in the central portion of the property. All four of an excellent set of par threes are located in the immediate vicinity of the lake – only #3 doesn’t require players to carry it – and act as sort of a transition between the northern and southern portions of the layout. These short holes are generally the highlight of the round, though that’s not to say the other ones aren’t good holes.
My favorite holes, as always, are listed below:
#2 is a highly photogenic risk-reward par five that plays downhill and requires either a long carry over the large central lake to reach the green in two shots or a layup over 100 yards short. This hole is the only one where that lake comes into play that isn’t a par three.
#3 is the first of those fantastic par threes, playing downhill over a small pond to a multi-level green tucked into a small valley.
#5 is a great short par four, forcing the player to choose whether to lay up or attempt to hit into or carry the valley short of the small, elevated green.
#7 is the second par three and the longest of the four, playing slightly downhill to a thankfully fairly receptive green, but one with trouble on almost all sides except short.
#11 is a mid-length par four with a very cleverly deceptive approach shot after driving over a ravine – it plays slightly uphill to a green that falls off into the valley behind it, which makes it appear less uphill than it actually is.
#12 is a visually intimidating par three, playing downhill to a green that despite being fairly large, slopes left-to-right towards the water that also wraps around its front and rear. As you head down towards the green, you get a great look at the island green of #16 still to come.
#13 is another fun mid-length par four, forcing players to decide again whether to lay up and be able to see the green on the approach or attack and play a semi-blind pitch from the valley below to a severely sloping green.
#15 is a massive beast of a par five, playing 600 yards even from the third-farthest tee box! The fairway is plenty wide and there’s not much trouble immediately off of it, but the green is quite deep and has a fun little shelf in the back, behind which it falls off severely towards the woods.
#16 is truly a beautiful downhill par three – the last of the four – with its island green framed nicely by trees from the tee. On a personal note, I had a particularly unique experience on this hole; with a right-to-left wind slightly behind me and playing to a back pin, I slightly overdrew the ball and watched it tumble off the back of the green towards the water... and onto the bridge, where it stopped! Despite the stroke of luck that prevented a penalty, after taking relief I was left with a nearly impossible pitch and was thankful to get off the hole with a bogey.
#17 is a fantastic long and uphill par four, one of my favorites on the course. It plays up a valley with a creek on the left side of the fairway. Both the tee shot and the approach appear tighter than they actually are, due to some forgiving bounces from the slope to the right of the fairway and the two bunkers pinching the front of the green. The green itself has a massive back shelf and a bit of a false front.
Finally, #18 is a solid finishing hole. The tee shot is fairly mundane, but the approach is delicate and may require a shot from a right-to-left hanging lie to a smallish green that sits precipitously above a pond to the left and is surrounded by bunkers on two other sides.
Golden Horseshoe’s Gold Course is easily my favorite RTJ Sr. course among those that I’ve played. (I’ll note that the list includes places such as Bellerive, Firestone South, Spyglass Hill, and several of the Trail courses in Alabama – and oddly enough, I’d put The Rail, a severely underrated and playable layout near Springfield, Illinois, as my second-favorite.) The harmony of the routing with the site is second to none, and despite its typical difficulty, this Jones creation feels a little bit softer around the edges and more playable than most others. Despite my playing it in December, it was in excellent condition with still-quick greens.
Williamsburg is a severely underrated golf destination, with Kingsmill, Royal New Kent, and Stonehouse among other destination courses in the area along with the sister Green course at Golden Horseshoe (which I sadly didn’t get to play). In fact, having played all of what are ranked on this site and generally considered as the best three daily-fee courses in the Commonwealth of Virginia – the other two being Cascades and Primland – I would boldly consider Gold to be the best of the bunch.
It’s fitting to have a historical golf club in such a historical part of the United States. I didn’t realise that so many world-famous golf trophies were designed at this venue, one of them being the trophy for the Ryder Cup. Even before you strike a golf ball, it is important to take a tour of the history room and you’re guaranteed to learn many new things about the history of our great game.
In the town of Williamsburg, VA – the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club has a variety of courses for all levels, but it is the Gold Course that stands head and shoulders above the others.
RTJ Senior laid out the 18-hole course in the early 1960s and in the past couple of years Rees Jones led a spirited team to renovate the course. From speaking with the golf executives at the club, Rees brought a high level of care and passion to this project to uphold the design merits of his esteemed father. It was a personal journey to restore and renovate.
It’s well documented that RTJ Senior courses are capable of severe use of huge bunkers, ponds, creeks, and undulating greens in order to defend his layouts from attack not just by the world’s greatest players during the US Open but also from the evolution of modern golf equipment and the golf ball. The Gold Course exactly follows that model and is a golf course that embraces the natural flow of the land with wonderful changes in elevation where every hole is “a hard par but an easy bogey”. As expected, the course has those trademark long tee boxes which look like a runway.
The short holes get all the documented attention, and for very good reasons, but there are plenty of holes to celebrate in this renewed layout. The playing corridors are delightful through the tall trees as the land rises and falls, and there is no shortage of heroic carries over water to devilishly placed greens, some of which seem to be floating up in the sky.
While only 100 trees were removed during the renovation (which really surprised me), everybody walks off this course highly satisfied. It’s such a treat and I certainly recommend getting a tee time if visiting the town.
I played this course about 10 years ago and loved it. I played with a couple of old lads that lived on the course and had been members for years. They helped me with my 'where to hit it' the par 3's are the stand out and the finishing three holes are very memorable. We had a few thunderstorms come through and instead of returning tot he clubhouse we stayed on one of the gents balconies and sipped a few buds. It is a terrific old style club that go out of the way to deliver you an enjoyable golfing experience. I would play it again without question. the Par 3 16th island green is one of the best par 3's in around.