Located in the heart of Hampton Roads on the banks of the Nansemond River, near the mouth of the James River, the Riverfront Golf Club at Harbor View is the centrepiece of a resort-style residential development that also offers sporting activities such as volleyball, tennis and swimming.
The site is ideal for golf with tidal marshland and water bordering most of the holes. There’s also a little movement in the landscape on parts of the property – a rare commodity in this flat area of Virginia – and Tom Doak certainly made the most of what he had to work with when he fashioned the course at the end of the 1990s.
The down side is that housing surrounds the course and an unsightly power line runs through the layout, both of which present unwelcome visual distractions from what is a fine track with an exciting variety of green complexes; some of which are crowned (like holes 1 and 7) and others are canted from side to side (holes 2, 9 and 16) or from front to back (holes 3 and 14).One of the best holes on the front nine is the 485-yard, par five, 3rd hole. When the facility first opened this was a brutal par four, which proved too tough for the members, so it was turned into a three-shotter. The hole sweeps elegantly to the right around tidal marshland to a long, narrow green. A favourite of many on the back nine is the 185-yard 13th where the green is protected front and left, forcing many to end up in the sand trap to the back right of the pin.
Riverfront is a good public course. Conditioning is good. The variety of holes is good. The green complexes are nice. Nothing dramatic or overly challenging. The course works thru a housing development so it's not per se walker friendly. Only once does the development intrude on 16 a good par 4...But the houses are definitely in play. There are a few back tees which offer great angles vs the regular tees and they aren't back lots of yards so you should play them regardless of tee box being played. 1, 5 and 15. It's a fun play. Will work your whole bag and a Tom Doak design. It fits in well with the development, but could have been better. But some of the best land was given to house sites vs the course. One understands that.
I played Riverfront today (November 2, 2019) with two people, a friend and a person paired with us whose “ringer” score at the course is -26 (one ace, one albatross, and five eagles while birdieing the remaining holes). We played the back tees of 6735 yards while the forward tees are 6210.
This is a public course placed in the middle of a huge housing development of single-family and town homes. It actually has very few views of the river. This is a design by Tom Doak, who I believe has done more public golf courses than private courses.
The course feels like two different courses moving from the front nine to the back nine. The front nine is 3310 as it has a short par 5 while the back nine is 3425 yards. The front nine is visually a bit confusing as the fairways are pretty wide but the houses have smaller backyards so it feels more cramped than the back nine. Yet the back nine fairways overall feel tighter yet the houses infringe less. In any event, the back nine has both the better holes as well as it plays more difficult than the front nine.
This course is all about the greens which is typical for a Tom Doak design. There are only a few that are a bit overly done, but they are not overly undulated like some of the greens at Old Macdonald. In the case of Riverfront, I was impressed by the undulations in the greens as they present a lot of pin options.
The green speed was pretty low, below 10, and maybe that is by design as they would be very challenging to even two putt some of them from within 15 feet if they were kept at a higher speed. The bunkering near the greens is adequate. I felt some of the fairways could have used more bunkers to provide better definition, not necessarily to increase the challenge. There are markers in several of the fairways to provide the proper line for the tee shot.
The first hole is 421/387 and is the second hardest on the golf course. My playing partner birdied it. The green has a swale in the front. One feature to notice is that part of the green has a slight ridge around the edge that will stop a chip. You have to clear these very slight ridges; you can’t try to bounce a shot short of them and have them still get to the green. This is more a feature on the front nine than the back nine but it is throughout the golf course. The fairway is very wide on this dogleg right as you hit through a chute of trees from next to the putting green. I like the hole as I thought it is a good combination of fair but having some challenge. The green has a swale in the front and is large and tilted back to front.
The second is a par 3 of 204/168 to a green that has a swale in the middle. The pin was in the swale for us. The ridge line to the swale can make a ball go in slightly different directions. It is a difficult par 3 due to the green.
The third hole is the short par 5 of 48/472. The fairway again is wide with a few fairway bunkers to avoid. Obviously big hitters are going to go for the green in two which sits behind a wetland off to the right. The green tilts left to right so hitting your second shot to the left to avoid bunkers will leave a shot that has to be well judged to get close to the pin due to the slant going away from you. Our third player once had an albatross here.
The fourth hole is a par 3 of 175/159 requiring a carry over marsh with a large bunker left front and one in the rear as well as a grass bunker on the right. There is a bowl at the front of the green which one can use out of the bunker either hitting it short to release or using it as a backstop. I chose the backstop out of the sand and saved par. This was the second best par 3 on the course; a good hole.
The fifth hole back tee goes from the rear of the fourth with the “member” tee off to the left to make it a slight dogleg left. There are trees down the right side but plenty of fairway. The green has a tilt in the middle to the front right of this 353/342 par 4. This hole would have been better with another 40 yards although I did like the construction of the green.
Six is a par 4 of 410/352 and is the number one index on the course with two bunkers about 40 yards apart on the right side of the fairway and a pond down the left. The player who joined us said that when the fairways are dry in the summer a ball hit in the middle of the fairway with a slight draw can bounce left into the water. The green has a large bowl in the front middle that eats deep into the green. The green has a bunker right and a couple of bunkers left of the green but pretty far away. This is the best hole on the front nine.
I felt like there is a chance Mr. Doak had to compromise on the seventh hole to provide for housing both behind where the tee should have been (another 40 yards) or off to the right (but a house was built that would have come into play on the right). The hole is only 333/312 and again has a bowl at the front. There are bunkers down the left of the fairway that can catch a lot of balls. I loved the green with its many rises and falls and felt it presented so many choices for pin locations. However, I think the hole would have been better served being closer to 400 yards than a driveable par 4.
Eight is a par 5 of 534/502 that has a tighter driving area due to trees on the right and houses on the left. It is a dogleg right with fairway bunkers on the left side to capture the second shot. The green is tilted substantially left to right which helped me as I holed out from 28 yards off to the left. It is a “nice” hole, but not one to rave about.
The ninth is a nice finish at 396/387 hitting to a very wide fairway on this dogleg right. There are large fairway bunkers on the right and at the green which has a big fall-off on the right side and front.
In summary, the front nine is where one tries to score and it offers many chances to do so.
The back nine begins with a straight away par 4 of 370/312 with wetlands on the left cutting into the middle of the fairway followed by fairway bunkers on the left side. The green has a bunker front middle and is tilted left to right. The green is pretty difficult and once again provides a lot of pin locations.
You finally see the water, but its not the river, on the next hole, a par 3 of 148, 135 with bunkers on either side. It is actually a lake. It’s a pretty hole and the green tilts back to front and right to left. It is not a remarkable hole.
The longest par 4 is next at 460/406. I was told this was originally a par 5. It has large bunkers well short of the green. The lake on the right comes into play on the approach shot if you hit a weak shot to the right. A tee shot missing the fairway to the right will find heavy grass. The green has several ridges to it, is very large and is perhaps the most difficult green on the golf course. This is a really good golf hole.
The best par 3 on the golf course comes next at 183/170 requiring a carry over wetlands/marshes to an elevated green well protected by bunkers. There is a tree on the left that overhangs and influences the type of tee shot. I did not think I could hit the branches, they looked so high, but I did and found the wetlands. It has a good green on it. This is another good golf hole.
The longest par 5 comes next at 552/546 and there is a very wide fairway followed by a second shot that needs to avoid large bunkers center and left. If you go left short of the bunker on your second, you will have a blind third shot. The green has a big ridge on the right side and is very slippery. The green is not overly done but it is very tricky. It is a good hole.
The tee shot on the par 4 394/360 should not try to cut the corner of this dogleg right. Just hit straight over the wetlands requiring a carry of 180 yards center but 210 down the right. In addition, you don’t want to go right because the trees on the right are still in play. The green is fronted by a large bunker and is thin. Going long means going down a bank behind the green into the taller grass or wetlands. Hey, it’s a view of the river! This is a well-conceived golf hole.
Sixteen is another log dogleg right par 4 of 444/393 with an elevated green after avoiding the fairway bunkers on the right side. There is plenty of room in the fairway to the left but obviously it adds to the yardage coming in. It has another good green with lots of choices for pin locations.
Seventeen is a tight driving hole with trees lining both sides of the fairway. The green was slanted in two directions. It is another good hole.
Eighteen is a short par 5 of 500 yards but the second shot needs to clear the wetlands. The green that awaits you has two/perhaps three mounds in it and slants several ways. Two of our approach shots ended up on the right side of the green only ten feet apart but the putts required were completely different. It is another good hole.
This is not Mr. Doak’s best work but to be fair, this is in the middle of a housing development and not located on a coastline. The greens are very good. I can’t give it a high rating because of what it is, a serviceable golf course that tests your short game. However, I believe Mr. Doak did as much as he could with the land he was given.