The Lakeside Park Club got involved in golf prior to the onset of the 20th Century with a nine-hole design from Willie Tucker, but it’s another Scot who left his mark on the course that is celebrating its centenary during 2021: Donald Ross is responsible for the current course.
The course is another example of Ross using his routing expertise to fit a full 18-hole course into a tight parcel; Lakeside Park plays to less than 6,300 yards from its back tees. As length was never going to be a hurdle for the biggest hitters, the importance of Ross’s bunkering comes to the fore, and thanks to a recent renovation from Kris Spence, those bunkers are playing to their peak today.
Nos. 6 and 15 are examples of short par threes (156 and 141, respectively) that rely on a wave of bunkering to keep their putting surfaces safe from invaders. Likewise, the three reachable par fives are designed to tempt the big hitter with their short distances but well-equipped to turn that eagle opportunity into a par, or worse.
There is one hole that lost some charm when Ross came through, however: Tucker’s opener, “Zoo,” once went past the membership’s collection of exotic fauna.
Richmond’s Lakeside Park Club oozes history. Its Donald Ross design has stood the test of time for a century. Thankfully, the routing is one which has been dutifully preserved. While playing the course recently, it became apparent that the entirety of the Lakeside Park community – from golf leadership, to the maintenance team, and its members – cares deeply about this special property.
Lakeside Park is presented in stellar condition. The tightly manicured fairways and extensive shortgrass chipping areas accentuate the natural topography. The wavelike undulations throughout the course play an integral role in the extensive architectural merits of the property.
The land at Lakeside Park is full of gentle, rolling hills. Ross snugly fit a compelling 18 holes on the property without any corridors feeling narrow. Many golfers try to stereotype his style, but this typically proves impossible as Ross always allowed the terrain to dictate the routing. One common misconception is that Ross always started with a gentle handshake. This is anything but the case at Lakeside Park. As one of my hosts put it, the first four holes are all about surviving, and then you can finally begin to play aggressively.
Another label Ross often receives is that the worst place to miss his greens is long. While this is true on most of the holes at Lakeside Park, I was especially struck by the unique bowled nature of many of its putting surfaces. A round at Lakeside Park is truly a game of inches. Catch the left or right edge of a green, and your ball may funnel down to the center. Miss laterally, and you will be chipping upward to a downslope from a tight lie. Lakeside Park features additional crowned, terraced, and volcano greens as well.
In my opinion, the real star of the show at Lakeside Park is the contouring of the fairways, an attribute which must be considered on nearly all full shots. There are countless courses where a player may face risks/rewards by playing aggressively, or have benign options by playing conservatively. Lakeside Park is the type of course that provides severe tradeoffs for every route taken to the hole. There are tee shots where the ball may run after hitting a downslope, be stunted by an upslope, or bounce sharply left or right into the rough. This is true regardless of whether you hit driver or a mid-iron – the course will keep any style player on their toes.
Although there are many standout holes at Lakeside Park, the par four 13th shined as one of the most compelling. Bursting from a stretch of internal holes, the open vista and sharp curvature of the land at the 13th reminded me of the Old Town Club in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The initial portion of the fairway – which will be the target landing zone for shorter hitters – slopes heavily to the right. Wise players will aim towards the left side and hope for a favorable bounce, but they must be wary of getting hung up on the hill. Any shot too far left will be blocked by a large tree. Longer hitters may pass over this first part of the fairway and catch a speed slot, but they also need to mind their distance to avoid a creek that bisects the remaining corridor. With seemingly no dirt moved, Ross’s routing brilliance is on full display, and the hole honors the spirit of the game too rarely encountered in America.
It is no surprise that Lakeside Park members take so much pride in their course. It would be a treat to play day-in and day-out. As if the golf were not memorable enough, the remnants of nineteenth century zoo cages are in play throughout the round. This certainly seems to fit the theme, as the topography across the property is simply wild.