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.
Date: April 23, 2020