Kinloch Golf Club is situated twelve miles north west of Richmond, Virginia and it’s a beautiful parkland course set in 274 acres with a 70-acre lake as its centerpiece. Opened in 2001, Lester George and Vinny Giles designed the course and it’s mandatory to use a caddie when playing Kinloch.
Astute observers will note the St Andrews cross and US Amateur Trophy on the club crest – these relate to the amateur record of design consultant Giles who won the US Amateur in 1972 (and its British equivalent in 1975) as well as competing at St Andrews in the Walker Cup for the winning USA team in 1975.
The Kinloch course is routed through hardwood and pine trees and the natural look was retained with minimal earth moving and mound creation. Greens are subtle and understated with seamless transition from fairway to putting surface, enabling good old-fashioned bump and run approach shots to be played if so desired. Bunkers are shallow faced and not intended to be overly penal.
The front and back nine holes differ in appearance but complement each other – holes 1 to 9 are constructed through forest with a cliff running through the 6th, 7th and 9th whilst holes 10 to 18 are played around the lake with water in view at every hole. The signature hole is the 8th, a 437-yard par four, which invites a draw off the tee over the crest of a hill then an approach to a green, positioned at a 45 degree angle behind a pond. Many think this hole resembles the 11th at Augusta but then many are also of the opinion that the conditioning at Kinloch matches that at Augusta too.
One unique feature at Kinloch is the 19th hole and no, it's not the clubhouse. It's a 188-yard par three, better known as the “settle-the-bet” one-shotter which is played over the lake to decide any ties after 18 holes.
In summer 2019 Kinloch Golf Club closed to
implement the second phase of a master plan devised by the original architects,
Lester George and Marvin ‘Vinny’ Giles. The renovation includes bunker
modifications and turf repair and the layout is scheduled to reopen in 2020.
Kinloch is a very good golf course and certainly deserving of being considered the best in the state of Virginia and among the top 100 modern courses in the USA. While I do not hold it in as quite a high regard as others, it is a very well-maintained course with a decent routing that incorporates a fair amount of land movement. For me, it is the second best course in Virginia (I have not played two of the other leading contenders), but I can see the merits of those who consider it the number one course.
From a conditioning standpoint, it is one of the best conditioned courses I have ever played. As such one does get a benefit from the rolling nature of the land and the putts roll very true to the lines that one takes.
The course is known for a high degree of decisions as well as several holes that are risk-reward. Because the summer climate in Richmond can be both hot and humid, the fairways and rough on most holes are generous so that sunlight and air can get to the course. There are numerous split/double fairways here offering alternative routes to the greens. It generally favors a lower index player as one can run into a high score particularly if they choose the wrong tees. One wonders if Lester George was very influenced by his co-designer, Mr. Giles, a very noted and accomplished amateur. There are some very difficult holes mixed in with slightly more forgiving holes. However, if one is reasonably straight off the tee and a has a decent short game, they should play close to their index due to wider fairways and fairly easy to read greens.
The greens are sloped more than undulating but are in excellent condition.
There is not an overuse of bunkers and they are placed correctly giving the routing and terrain features.
It is an ideal course for walking due to its setting, conditioning, the trees more so on the front nine, the lake more in view on the back nine, and various streams. Other than the carts one takes to get from nine to ten and then after eighteen back to the clubhouse, it is one of the better walks one will take.
The course is long at 7366 yards from the Black tees, par 72, rated 74.8/139. From the Gold tees it is 6866 yards, rated 73.0/136. From the Blue tees it is 6464 yards, rated 71.2/132. There are three tees of lesser yardages. We played the 6464 tees.
1. par 4 – 447/420/383. A wide fairway where the left side gets a favorable bounce and you can’t see where the ball runs out. It then plays slightly steeper downhill. There are two bunkers right and one farther down on the left. At the green there is a bunker front left. The green is sloped back to front with a lot of room near the green for recovery. It is a pleasant starting hole.
2. par 4 – 407/375/340. The first of several split fairways due to three cross bunkers right in the center. The hole plays gently downhill. Longer hitters will want to favor the left side as the land on the right will propel a ball towards trees that will block the approach to the green. The right side also brings a right greenside bunker into play. This is another back to front sloped green with adequate room near the green for recovery. There are some nice slopes to this green. I like this hole as it is visually pretty and requires decisions and execution.
3. par 5 – 617/540/523. This dogleg right has three bunkers on the inner corner that bigger hitters can carry from the Golf and Blue tees. The line is to the left of them. Farther down is a bunker right and another 40 yards on the left is the final fairway bunkers. The green sits behind a small pond and has two bunkers to either side. The green is angled oddly right to left with a higher back and the lowest area front left. It is a visually pleasing green complex but a little too tricked up.
4. par 4 – 334/319/310. A second split fairway is on this risk-reward hole downhill short par 4 but this time the split is due to a stream which minimizes the possibility of driving down the left side. If trying to go left to shorten the hole you can either hit the stream or three bunkers placed almost in the woods. The right side has a single bunker. To get to the green from the right you cross the stream and two fronting bunkers with a large bunker at the rear. Many think this hole offers a lot of different options, but for the average index this hole is a 200 yard tee shot and a wedge to the green. Therefore, I think this hole is poorly designed.
5. par 3 – 194/175/165. There is a single bunker on all sides of this uphill par 3. The green slopes to the left. The hole is above average.
6. par 4 – 450/410/385. Whereas many like the fourth and I do not as much, many do not like the sixth and I do. This hole plays sharply downhill to a ravine with a winding stream at its bottom. Despite its length, longer hitters might take only a 5 iron off the tee due to the severity of the slope on the fairway. You are then left with a steep uphill approach shot to a green that is shaped like a hot-air balloon and two bunkers left built into the side of the hill and one right. The bunker on the right is sloped towards the green leading to a difficult sand shot. The green is fairly long and there is higher ground to its right and a steep fall-off to the left. It is one of the better greens with several ripples in it. This hole requires thought and execution for players of all abilities.
7. par 3 – 237/217/199. This hole is visually very pretty. It plays downhill yet plays to its yardage. There are two bunkers right to a green angled and sloped to the left. The two left bunkers catch a lot of tee shots. The left bunkers and the second right bunker are very close to the edge of the green. I like this hole.
8. par 4 – 457/437/407. For me, the second best hole on the front nine is the eighth with a blind tee shot where the left side will have a shorter approach shot to the green as the green is set off to the left. There is a single bunker on the left of the green. You must cross a pond fronting the “hooked” green. The bank from the green to the pond is closely mowed so coming up short will mean a penalty.
9. par 5 – 586/565/540. This is another hole where people either like it or do not favor it. I like it. A meandering stream divides about 75% of the fairway. The longer hitter will try to play down the right side but has to carry the trees that pinch in from the right. The safer play from the tee is down the left where one can still reach the green in two if they have length. There is a spot of much higher ground to the left after the stream that becomes a play for many people, although others hit a 100 yard wedge, leaving 170 yards to the uphill green. Other players hit the approach shots to the right fairway. If going right at the green from the lower left, one has to consider a tree there as well, wetlands, and three fairly deep fronting bunkers placed on the hill before the green and then a flanking bunker on either side. If one plays to the upper plateau for the second that is on the left, there is a single tree that often blocks the line to the green. The green is very undulated and angled oddly to those laying up either left or right on the higher ground. I find the hole to be a lot of fun and takes complete advantage of the stream and the land movement.
10. par 4 – 450/422/405. After a very long cart ride near the lake you reach the tenth tee on the other side of the lake. The hole plays uphill with a fairway bunker to either side. You have to cross a stream that splits the fairway where this stream is more of a straight diagonal line going right to left. There are two bunkers on the right after the stream placed short of the green. There is a large bunker on the left. I like this hole.
11. par 5 – 542/521/500. This hole plays steeply downhill and is generally the easiest hole on the course yielding eagle and birdie chances. There is another split fairway with the stream running vertically most of the way before peeling off to the left. There is a single bunker left of the left fairway and one placed right on the right fairway. As long as you avoid those, you should be good. There is another stream about 35 yards before the green with has a bunker left. The green is longer left as a bunker in the middle cuts the green in half on the right side. The green seems to slope to the back. The hole is “okay.”
12. par 4 – 455/432/415. Arguably the hardest hole on the golf course, this hole plays uphill and almost 1 ½ clubs longer. There are two bunkers right and one on the left of the fairway. The fairway thins out as you approach the bunkerless green. There is good contouring of the land fronting the green.
13. par 5 – 579/540/520. I like this hole that has a single bunker on the left. This is followed by two on the right about 100 yards further. There is good mounding on the left side of the fairway. The lake sits behind the green and is somewhat thin with a deep bunker middle left. It is one of the flatter greens on the course.
14. par 3 – 152/140/130. With the lake on the left this is a beautiful hole. A long, deep bunker left protects balls hit short and left side of the green. The green has bulges to three sides and is steep towards the water much like a redan sloped to the left. There is good contouring of the land near the green, particularly near the front where there are hollows on the right. The lake continues behind the green so one cannot go long. The “safe” miss is short or to the right but it is a tough up-and-down.
15. par 4 – 328/310/300. This hole plays uphill and has the most sand on it, mainly down the left side of the fairway but also five large bunkers near the green. There is a small valley left front of the green after the fairway bunkers. The green is two-tiered and nearly impossible to get close to a bottom pin if putting from the upper tier. The wise play is to play out to the right and hit wedge in. The hole would be better if it were 60 yards longer, but then one would have to build a tee out into the lake.
16. par 4 – 471/440/390. The finishing three holes are quite good with sixteen likely the best hole on the golf course. The tee shot plays downhill with the lake coming into play from the left. Big hitters can easily carry the first natural area and get an additional 50 yards closer to the green. The green is set off to the left with a bunker placed about 40-30 yards short both right and left. There is another bunker left of the green. The approach shot is uphill and somewhat of a blind shot typically playing from a lie where the ball is above your feet. The green sits about 20 feet above the lake and has a fall-off behind the green. This hole takes perfect advantage of the lake and the change in terrain for the tee and green sites.
17. par 3 – 213/203/175. A stream runs across diagonally right to left to this slightly uphill green. The green has good back to front slope in it. It has a slight false front. In my match there, I had come back from 4 down on the front nine to draw even with my opponent who was running out of steam. He hit his ball well short and hit the rocks in the stream propelling the ball onto the green for an 8 feet putt which he made to close out the match. That’s golf and that is what can happen on this hole. I like the hole.
18. par 4 – 447/400/377. The lake plays down the entire left side, wrapping itself behind the green. You have to play the tee shot over a bit of the lake, aiming inside the two long bunkers on the right of the fairway. There is a single bunker left of the green which is placed both near the lake and below the rising ground to the right. The better play into the green is from the middle or left as the right side makes you play towards the lake. There is a horizontal spine about halfway into the green which slants to the lake. It is a good, challenging hole.
For me, there are no “wow” golf holes at Kinloch. But it is a good, solid golf course that takes advantage of its natural surroundings. It benefits from many stream crossings and a large 70 acre lake. The course offers a lot of decisions and the top 1% of conditioning. It is a course that is good for the members who play the correct tees. It is also a course that is good for USGA tournaments such as the senior amateur or junior amateur (either gender). It does not offer a lot of drama in the way that the top 75 courses do in the USA such as Somerset Hills or Wade Hampton who have even better land features as well as green complexes. But one will get a thrill every time they play it.
Had the pleasure to play Kinloch yesterday. It is a fabulous course. Conditioning is excellent in all areas. They have a great facility with practice areas for all parts and state of the art covered hitting bays with numerous ball tracking digital devices. The green complexes are sneaky. They appear relatively calm but there are gentle slopes of both directions often. With average speed at 11 and ability to create 14 for a day, you best have your touch with you. The most unique part of the course are the numerous split left and right fairways. Split by creek and bunkers. Pin position defines which side seems best for the day. There are 5 holes like this. The Redan par 3 has a feature I have never seen. Over the green which is quite easy if you challenge a back pin[which I did] the slope is shaved to a pond. While this course is superb all previous ratings are 6 and that is a tad overzealous. Definitely drop everything if you get an invite.
I was lucky enough to play this twice on a member's invite within the first year or two of it opening. Still remains the best course I ever played and possibly ever will play. I believe those that know, compare it favourably to Augusta National..
Where else can you watch the greens crew cleaning slime from rocks in water hazards? Kinloch Golf Club features a number of artificial streams. Water is pumped from the large lake that separates the two nines to the beginning of the stream and it then flows naturally back to the lake. When it’s time to remove the algae buildup, the water is turned off and the rocks are cleaned.
Earthmoving was not limited to the creation of artificial streams. The lake around which the back nine plays was enlarged to its current size. But the rest of the property has plenty of variety and architect Lester George took full advantage in his routing. He’s built multiple split fairways and caused plenty of thinking on one’s tee shot on most of the other holes.
The course has a reputation for fine conditioning and in June 2017, superintendent Trevor Hedgepeth’s work was on fine display. I did find the green complexes a bit dull, with too many greens that could have used more contouring……but that’s a small complaint for an overall fine golf experience.