Willard Byrd accomplishes a rare feat with his Willow Creek course at High Point Country Club: His 18 holes at the club are typically more celebrated than Donald Ross’s earlier, nine-hole contribution (the Emerywood course).
Ross wrote in 'Golf Has Never Failed Me' that golf courses should be afforded just a few water hazards but, perhaps by ignoring this stricture, Byrd emerges the victor. He wasn’t brazenly attempting to defy one of golf’s finest designers, of course. As the title suggests, the waterway imposes itself upon many parts of the property.
Consider No. 12, where players must drive over the creek’s bend before heading back over the creek to complete a dogleg. Now the pond that sits on the left side of the green on that same hole...that may have been Byrd’s doing. Players will need to play to the inside of the dogleg to get the safest angle to the green but a centerline bunker guards that position off the tee. The hole can play as a par 4.5, even at just 427 yards!
Ross was certainly not a “heroic” architect per se, but it’s reasonable that he would approve of such tactics when employed in a strategic manner, such as what Byrd has done at Willow Creek.
With its excellent use of the topography and natural hazards, the Willow Creek course at High Point Country Club presents a variety of challenges, engaging the player from start to finish. This memorable piedmont design is rich in history, and its membership’s dedication reaffirms the compelling nature of the architecture.
The front nine at High Point flows over some very rolling terrain while the back nine snakes through a more flat portion of the property, incorporating a range of water hazards. With two mixes, no single type of player is favored throughout the round. Additionally, the course features three fantastic practice greens which provide ample opportunity to work on awkward length shots.
Among the more memorable holes at the Willow Creek course to me include:
• #1: Golfers are mentally stretched from the very first tee shot at Willow Creek. This hole plays straight before turning right down a very sharp hill at the green. From the tee, players must be aggressive towards the end of the fairway to have a clear second shot, and while left may present the best angle, one must avoid thick rough and bunkers. This tough green is guarded on three sides by bunkers and on one by a pond. Already, options and challenges abound.
• #4: The landing zone is pinched by a pond at this par five which may force players to lay-up off the tee. The green is also guarded by bunkers left and a creek short, again providing difficulty.
• #5: The tee shot at the par four fifth is short and over a river to a wide landing area. However, finding an exact yardage and proper angle is essential as the putting surface is perched well above the players’ line of sight. This hole captures its environs gorgeously!
• #7: The brawny par five seventh is a blast to play. From the tee, the hole bends slightly to the right and starts to creep uphill, potentially stunting drives. One can only cut off so much corner before also having to challenging a nasty bunker on the right. Going for the green in two may be possible, but one must avoid another long, deadly bunker on the right side if they play to run the shot up.
• #8: The long par three eighth may seem completely brutal playing over a pond to a shallow green with bunkers short and long. However, bail out options are present short right and long left suggesting that the strategic play is a slight draw.
• #9: The turning hole at Willow Creek is a fascinating puzzle. A dogleg right, the more conservative player can easily take an iron or wood off the tee to the corner, but risks leaving a mid to long iron to a tough green over a pond. A more aggressive player can actually cut off quite a bit of the corner but must hurdle trees and a fairway bunker on the right, in addition to avoiding the water previously mentioned. The risk/reward opportunity here is thought-provoking and daring.
• #11: The long par three eleventh is guarded by bunkers short, right, and left of the deep putting surface. It changes the challenge relative to many other holes as just a little long will quite frequently be better than short.
• #12: The fairway at the twelfth is essentially an island as the player must carry a brook which then runs right and long of the landing zone. Additionally, a masterfully placed bunker guards the best angle into the putting surface which itself is peninsula like. The way in which the hole weaves through this waterway is delightful.
• #17: The entire corridor at the seventeenth is narrow, guarded by a pond right and a brook left. This hole begs the player to keep the ball as close to the pond as possible for the shortest distance and best angle into the putting surface, demanding a well struck metal or long iron to bravely reach the green in two.
The Willow Creek course at High Point Country Club is no doubt a difficult test of your game, but with options present on a number of holes, your strategy on how to attack a pin might change day-to-day. Masterfully routed, the course captures the beautiful rolling terrain well while also highlighting some of the natural creeks in the area.
Our hosts at the course were two members who were retired and had travelled the country playing golf. Despite having the means to live just about anywhere, they had remained steadfast members at High Point for decades. They took great pride in walking us through each hole and welcoming us warmly to the club. If that is not enough testament to what a joy this property is to play on a daily basis, I do not know what is!