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.
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.