Victoria National Golf Club rose like a phoenix from the ashes of an old coal mine and it was laid out in 1997 by Tom Fazio who made the vision of the founder, Terry Friedman, an exciting reality.
With ravines and almost as much deep water to negotiate as tumbling fairway, Victoria National is an exacting and spectacular test. It’s one of the most visually alluring courses in the USA and its tee to green conditioning is truly magnificent with greens and tees of bent grass and blended bluegrass making the rough not only very difficult from which to play, but also strikingly attractive.
Select your tee carefully, with six tee blocks to choose from, it could be either be a day of sheer enjoyment or a day of the watery golf ball grave.
Tom Fazio commented as follows in Golf Course
Designs: “In 1997, we designed Victoria National in an abandoned strip mine
near Evansville, Indiana. Trenches fifty to seventy feet deep had been dug, and
tailings from the mine operation had been piled on the site leaving berms and
mounds along with pits and deep ravines, the sort of terrain one would never
expect to find in southern Indiana. Every hole had potentially a dramatic
setting, and it would have been easy to make each one a ‘finishing hole.’ The
hard thing was to make sure we didn’t.”
For many years I had heard from several people who have played most of the great golf courses in the world/USA that Victoria National was the one course on the top 100 in the USA (Golf Digest) that should not be on the list. In sum, they considered it to be the most over-rated golf course in the USA. I had also met a smaller number of people who thought it was good, including a few players on the pro tour.
The criticism came from its difficulty where many felt it is a course designed only for the very best players, scratch indexes who can hit it as least 280 yards off the tee. In this age where playability has become one of the primary factors in evaluating a course, Victoria National was deemed to have placed excessive challenge as a priority in front of enjoyment and the possibility of recovery. The course was considered to be out-of-balance: too many long holes, too many hazards, rough too high, too many trees, or some fairways too tight. Even the shorter holes were felt to have excessively undulated greens.
I was intrigued by people’s assessment of the course. Two of the most difficult courses I have played in the USA are Bethpage Black and Butler National. Please note I am not including wind conditions, as nearly any top course can become difficult if the wind is high or it is raining hard. I wanted to play it to see if it was designed to be so difficult as to be unfair. Over the past four years I had watched on tv the mini-tour (Korn Ferry) event held at Victoria National and listened to the announcers describe how difficult some of the course is. Victoria National typically serves as the final event of the season for players on the tour to achieve a top finish to advance onto the PGA Tour.
What I found was not quite what I had heard. Victoria National is difficult, but it is also fair. As pointed out in the other reviews, one should begin by playing the correct tees. By doing so, the course is very much right in front of you and if you keep it on the fairway or close to the fairway, you should not run up a big score. The course offers an interesting mix of holes with the first four holes on each side being easier holes. The other ten holes do require a higher degree of execution, but all of them offer a reasonable chance for par for anyone with an index of 10 or lower. I do think higher index players above 10 need to move to a tee one less than they would normally play. On these ten holes, they can be very punitive for a poorly executed shot. Perhaps some people do not like that, but I did not find it overly annoying.
I accept that if I hit a truly bad shot that I am going to drop a stroke. That is golf.
I have played other courses where I thought I hit a good shot only to find out that I did not. At Victoria National, if you hit a good shot you will be rewarded, not negatively surprised at the result.
I think the course strikes the right balance in terms of challenge, difficulty and playability. I also think it should be considered as a top 100 golf course in the USA, even if Mr. Fazio’s designs have fallen out of favor with the minimalists. The course feels very natural to me, albeit built around an abandoned strip mine for coal. There is water everywhere and rolling hills. There are views across fairways, some fairways tree lined, and some ravines 50 feet deep. But it all looked natural to me. Mr. Fazio did an excellent job of routing this course to take advantage of the prime spots for tees and greens, bringing water, ridge lines, valleys, and smaller hills into play or to define the playing corridors of each hole.
The course is difficult as indicated by its ratings. The course is a par 72. The Victorian tees are 7242 yards, rated a whopping 77.7, slope 152. The Tecumseh tees are 6848 yards, rated 75.4, slope 150. The Chinook tees are 6404 yards, rated 72.8, slope 145. There are three additional sets of tees beginning with a combo set that will place one at roughly 6100 yards. I played the Chinook tees, which due to the heavy rain the days before, made the course play closer to 6650 yards. I was able to walk and play the course twice as a twosome the same day, going off at 8:15 with the second round starting at 11:40. I will reference only the Victorian and Chinook tees.
1 – par 4 442/413. This hole plays downhill. From my tee it is a straight hole but from the back tees it is a slight dogleg left. There is a generous fairway with the long and somewhat deep bunker on the left side to be avoided. The fairway pinches in as you get closer to the green and is located between higher ground on both sides. The left side has a tree about 60 yards short of the green that is problematic with taller grass near it. At the green there are two bunkers on the left side with a green sloped back with a horizontal ridge line and different smaller shelves on it. Perhaps due to the rain, balls landing short of the green will not make it onto the surface. I think it is a good starting hole as one can make birdie or a double bogey, but should have a good chance at par.
2 – par 4 374/323 – playing over one of the lakes to a fairway angled to the left, one decides how much they want to challenge the water off the cliff down the left side. Going further down the left gives one the best view of the green, particularly if the pin is on the higher shelf on the right side behind the bunker. However, there is a bunker on the right side of the fairway and two trees on the higher ground on the right that need to be avoided. I made birdie and par here by finding the middle of the fairway. Longer hitters can easily fly the bunker on the right but if they stay right they can catch the tree or get stuck in taller rough. Visually this is a very attractive hole and a good risk-reward short par 4.
3 – par 5 578/508 – the lake from the second hole has now snaked its way down the entire left side of the third. However, you do not really notice the lake after the tee shot as it sits below you. This fairway appears to be narrow but is pretty wide. The safe shot is down the right but the better shot is down the left side if one can stay out of the three bunkers on the left. On the right side is higher ground and various trees on the higher ground all the way to the green. The second shot should try to be as left as possible as the green is set off to the right behind a hill. If coming in from the right one will have a blind shot to the green over the ridge line. The green slopes away from you and has a substantial left to right break away from the lake. It is another visually attractive hole. Some might not like the potential blind approach shot on a par 5 but I did not find it to be a problem if one knows the course or knows the yardage to the green. If one misses their second shot way to the right they could be down a 50 feet steep chasm.
4 – par 4 355/311. Another short par 4 with water off to the left. There are two bunkers down the right side for those people trying to be too conservative. Longer hitters will try to hit it as far as possible. There is a single bunker front middle of the green which is elevated and has two tiers with the lower half having a substantial back to front slope. I think the hole to be one of the more fun ones on the golf course.
5 – par 3 212/170. From the back tee this is a brute as it is all carry over the lake to an elevated green. From any tee one has to avoid the water on the left, a small pond on the front right and the lake behind the green. The green is very narrow at the front and wide at the back. There is a small bail-out area to the right. I was in the bunker and in the bail-out area and nearly made par both times. The hole is beautiful from the tee and at 170 yards is very fair. The green is subtly sloped and I over-read the breaks both times.
6 – par 4 – 474/427. While the first four holes are the scoring holes with the fifth being one that tilts towards challenge versus straightforward, the sixth hole is the number one index on the front nine and certainly one of the four most difficult holes on the course. It plays over the lake to a fairway with higher ground on both sides. It plays as a gentle dogleg left with the fairway narrowing. The green is one of the most undulated on the golf course with a false front and a swale on the front half and all sorts of borrows on the back half. My playing partner and I were 0-4 on trying to save par as the green is tricky. Perhaps the green is a bit much but I think if one knew it better it would be fine. Our misses were due to issues with the pace, not the line, and perhaps that was due to the rain. I like the hole.
7 – par 3 183/152. This hole played closer to 175 for us due to the back left pin location. The green is long and thin and has a long bunker down most of its left side. The green sits in a hollow with higher ground on all sides that has very tall grass. This hole is difficult due to the narrowness of the green which has a vertical smaller spine in it as well as a decent slope to the left. For me, this is a “what-if” hole. If I had a less intimidating pin placement it would have felt easier, but instead of playing to the middle of the green, I tried too hard and paid the price by trying to steer a shot. Perhaps the green should be five yards wider or perhaps I simply need to be a smarter player for tough pin locations.
8 – par 4 425/391 – This hole is the #11 index but I found to be visually confusing as it plays a half club longer than it looks. It is straightforward with a single fairway bunker to the right and then two front right and one front left to a green that angles off to the left at its back half. There is a big drop-off and valley down the left side that one must avoid as it leads to a blind shot. It is a fair hole but one I regretted my poor chipping as the green is less receptive than it looks. I tried to avoid the false front but if one lands near the pin the ball will roll out quite a ways.
9 – par 5 558/508. This hole also seemed to play longer than it looks. There are three large bunkers down the left side with a bunker on the right set off opposite the last bunker on the left. The fairway is pretty wide. Longer hitters will fly all of these bunkers. For the longer hitters they can have a go at the green or try to hit to a split fairway that begins about 110 yards short of the green with the right fairway having the better angle. To the right and behind the long green is the lake. The split fairway is bisected by a large bunker. There is a center bunker fronting the green. The green is difficult to read, breaking less than one expects if one is parallel with the water on the right. It is a very nice par 5 that also offers a wonderful view of the clubhouse and lodging across the lake.
10 – par 5 543/508. We go back to four easier holes again with the tenth being perhaps the easiest hole on the course. There are flanking fairway bunkers and higher ground on both sides of the fairway. Another fairway bunker is on the right about 100 yards from the green. At the elevated green there is a large bunker front right. This is definitely a breather hole.
11 – par 3 233/176. From the back tee this is all carry to the green from an elevated tee. From the Chinook tees, the water is on the left where there is also a bunker to provide a chance of survival. Unlike the fifth, one can hit short of the green and not be wet. The green has a hump middle right and overall slopes a bit towards the water. Visually this is a very pretty hole but it is the weakest par 3 on the golf course.
12 – par 4 357/317. This short par 4 is a reasonably sharp dogleg left that has a 40 yard long bunker down the left side. The green is elevated. The tee shot plays from an elevated tee across a valley. Go too far right and you will be down a hill, possibly into trees, but more likely into tall grass. Two trees are on the right side of the fairway yet the fairway is wide enough that it should be easy to hit. The green has a steep fall-off on the left side. It is another one of the “fun” holes.
13 – par 4 395/345. The final “easier” hole has two options to either play over a lake to make the hole a dogleg right or walk across the bridge to the tee to make the hole straight. I played it from both tees with the same score. Off the right are two trees and a bunker placed against the side of a small hill which I found both times leading to a blind shot. The fairway is certainly wide enough to hit but I hit poor shots. Farther up the right are two bunkers well short of the green spaced about twenty yards apart for the longer hitters. The green has two bunkers left with the lake off to the left. The green is one of the more benign ones on the course, but we were 0-4 again to try to make pars.
14 – par 4 471/406. The back tees requires a relatively long shot over water to a narrow fairway set between heavy trees on both sides. There is also a long bunker down the left. While the tee shot is daunting, the second shot is more challenging as the green has a deep, long valley fronting it. If one is short coming in from the right side, it is an uphill third shot that can be blind. Go too far right on the second shot and you will be either stuck in tall grass behind a ridge or bounce into the trees. Anything hit short from either side will not make the green. The green is wider than it appears but from the fairway seems to be only ten yards deep. It is a very difficult golf hole, ranking among the most difficult I have ever played. While the sixth hole has a more difficult green, this hole has a more difficult tee and approach shot. This hole kicks off a very challenging run of holes.
15 – par 5 548/530. Thick trees and tall grass line both sides of the fairway with a single bunker on the right on a rise. The fairway then angles off to the right. Longer hitters will try for the green with sits behind the end of the lake with a bunker on the left side. The green goes right to the lake set in a bowl of higher ground. There is a 30 yard long bailout area to the right side of the green. For those not going for the green in two, the second shot is a layup shot as the fairway goes downhill before it reaches the water. One needs to hit their layup shot far enough down the hill to get a flatter lie. I liked the risk-reward nature of the hole.
16 – par 3 208/161. Perhaps the most talked about hole on the course, this downhill par 3 plays to a green that is elevated about three feet above the water on half of its right side and then the entire left side. The green is relatively narrow and gets even narrower on its back half. The back half sits on a second tier. From the tee it is one of the most visually intimidating shots I have ever seen. On my first round I hit short, hit the stones short right, then hit the stones right of the bunker, but kicked into the bunker. I narrowly missed the par putt. In the second round, I was slightly short of the green but made par. From the back tee in a tournament, this hole must be terrifying. This is a visually spectacular hole which I like but I can see where others would criticize it.
17 – par 4 454/395. This is the second hardest hole on the back nine. The tee shot plays over the lake with the lake continuing down the left side. There is a long bunker down the base of the higher ground from the fairway that connects it to the lake. The ground rises to the green with a substantial slope away from the front of the green with three deep bunkers fronting the right side. The green is multi-tiered and steeply sloped. This is another difficult hole from tee shot to the green. The tee shot does offer a wide fairway but if one goes too far left off the tee, they will have a blind shot into the green. Perhaps the hill on the left side of the green should have been shaved down because if sits very close to the edge of the green.
18 – par 4 432/390. The final daunting tee shot with water down the entire left side to the green. The fairway looks very thin but is wider than it appears. This dogleg right has two fairway bunkers on the outer corner. The fairway does pinch in a bit at those bunkers. The green sits slightly above you and is steeply sloped back to front. There is a left middle bunker that pinches into the green which has two tiers. The green is long but not very wide. I find this to be a very good finishing hole, both visually and in playability.
As indicated I like Victoria National. I find it to be difficult but fair. If one plays smart and executes, they can avoid a big score. One will likely shoot 2-4 shots higher here than normally if they do not try to over-think or over-power the golf course. If they are not smart or have a bad day with the driver or longer clubs, they could shoot 5-9 strokes higher. Does it really matter what one’s score is unless one is playing in a competition? I believe people criticize it for its final five finishing holes, which is as tough a stretch as I have played in golf. While the front nine has four difficult holes, one can forget them due to holes 10-13 being easier. But after you walk off of eighteen, you could have in your memory the pain of the final five holes.
What I admire the most about the course is the uniqueness of each hole. I never got the sense I was playing the same hole. There is a good mixture of long and shorter par 5’s and par 4’s. There is a good variety of easier and harder holes. One steps on a tee and gets excited about the hole that is before you. Due to the presence of water and the solitude of the location, it is a very peaceful and comfortable setting despite the difficulty of the course. You might lose some balls in the water on the par 3’s but you will still be excited by the views.
The conditioning is excellent.
The greens are not overly contrived except for perhaps the sixth hole.
There is not an excessive use of bunkers. The bunkers are placed where they should be and of the appropriate size and shape.
It is a very good golf course and rivals the best work that Tom Fazio has done.
If you have ever watched a zombie movie you'll always remember the tenacity of the zombies to get their victims. They never stop -- never. That's what lies in store for those playing Victoria National. Unlike the usual Tom Fazio designs which are heavy on the make-up and sometimes short on the substance -- the shotmaking challenges at Victoria National are relentless -- especially off the tee.
The most important decision comes very early in the round -- be sure to play the appropriate tee markers or be prepared to make a healthy ball donation. Being able to hit consistent tee shots -- with sufficient distance and sound placement is essential. There is no way around that element when playing the course.
The course is played over 418 acres of a reclaimed coal mine. There are pockets of water scattered about and the juxtaposition of the verdant playing areas with the wild and wooly off-course grounds makes for an eye-catching presentation.
It has already been stated about the need to get out of the gate quickly in order to reap some opportunities for low scores -- both on the outward side and inward half.
Beyond the prowess one must have the driver -- the greens are also a quality mixture of varying contours and the manner by which pin positions can be placed in the corners. Be forewarned -- when you go flag hunting be prepared to execute flawlessly or be just as prepared to face a demanding recovery play. There are few "gray" areas at Victoria National -- the requirements are a constant black and white determination. In my mind, such extremes take away from what would have been an even higher course assessment. When golfers are placed in countless extreme situations the senses can be simply overwhelmed to the point of exhaustion. One person's fun can easily be another's slog.
When you have back tees sporting a 77 course rating and nearly 150 on the slope scale -- the slightest miscalculation can mean some serious pain as you wince at the numbers placed on the scorecard. One other thing -- be sure to have enough ammo when you start play -- because ball sacrifices are a likely certainty.
The collective nature of the par-3 holes at Victoria National is well done. Ask yourself this how many courses have a 233-yard par-3 with water skirting the entire left side and the 11th is the 18 handicap hole?
The 16th has been mentioned by a few people and I certainly concur it's utterly captivating to the eye. All that's needed is oxygen tanks placed on the various tee pads as you need to inhale deeply before paralysis overcomes your wherewithal to take the club back. The same can be said when you encounter the 5th. When the pin is cut in the extreme rear of either hole it takes someone with absolute confidence or madness to fire all the way to the pin position.
The only downside was having the final two holes follow the same pattern -- both moving to the right on the tee shot. The penultimate hole is extremely good -- while the 18th features a fairway width akin to what navy flyers see when attempting to land their jets on the deck of an aircraft carrier.
As I mentioned, a bit more careful planning on the day-to-day presentation would only elevate the course on the playability side. That means turning down the length and density of the rough and clearly bringing in a few machetes and chopping down off to the side the hay to a more reasonable height.
If one opts to play the appropriate tees -- and I suggest no one more than a three handicap play any total yardage beyond 6,800 yards. Victoria National is the kind of course where the slightest doubt can mean the beginning of the end as driving yips invade one's body.
Fazio deserves credit in having the gumption to create this demanding site into the 18-hole routing he fashioned. From the standpoint of memorability - Victoria National is clearly a course one can never forget once there and clearly belongs in the upper echelon of layouts that Tom Fazio has created.
M. James Ward
Like many super golf courses, the genesis of Victoria National was as a mine. This created a target rich environment for Tom Fazio to work his magic. As with many Fazio designs, there are plenty of tee options, including a why would you want to 7200+ yards, 6800+, 6400+ and just under 6k. Comparatively speaking, there are not a lot of bunkers, just over 50. We all walked that day and evidently the rakes for the bunkers are on the golf carts. We were provided a community rake. He who used it last had to carry it until the next victim fell prey. It came to be called, “The Rake of Shame”. Ultimately, we had a bet that whoever was carrying it last on 18 owed the others $5. I am happy to report that I escaped unscathed.
To the course, if you are going to score you need to do it early. The first hole is a bombs away par 4 and the 2nd is short but crafty par 4. Water left and you can drive through the fairway on the right. Utility may be the play off the tee, the elevated green is protected by a deep bunker front right. The third hole is the first par 5 and I do not understand why it is rated the #3 handicap hole. Yes, there is a river left and bunkers dot the left side, but a decent tee shot, decent second shot should give you a wedge to the green. The 4th is another short par 4 dogleg left. This also has the river left, shouldn’t really come into play, but beware of the bunkers on the right outside elbow. Either lay up or cut some of the corner. The 200+ yard par 3 5th is an interesting hole. The green is shaped like a guitar pick with deep bunkers left and right. Oh, I forgot to mention the water front, left and long. Not to worry there is room to bail out right. The 6th is a mcgilla and aptly the #1 handicap hole. My advice is a hit a long and straight tee shot and then do it again on your approach. The 7th and 8th are pedestrian, watch out for the fairway bunker on the right on 8. The front closes out with a solid par 5, bunkers right, waste area left. You are forced to pick a side for your second shot, left is better.
Similar to the front if you are going to score, do it early 10-13. The back starts off with another par 5. Pretty straight and uphill, big hitters can get home in two. The 11th is rated the easiest on the course, mid-length downhill par 3 with a carry over water. The 12th is a slight dogleg left that is driveable. Having said that, it also means you can drive it through the fairway. The 13th is pretty straight, albeit with a quasi-split fairway on the left. Take dead aim at the green from the tee box. If the pin is right, it is green light, left play more conservatively. The left bunker well below the green is not user friendly. I do not recall playing five tough finishing holes than Victoria National. How does the 471 par 4 14th sound? Wait, there is more, elevated green, water left off the tee and woods down the right. The reverse S par 5 15th starts with a blind tee shot up a chute. It is reachable, but you must carry the water hazard that extends left of the green. The greenside bunker left actually integrates into the water hazard. If you are a hooker aim at the hill right of the green and it should feed down to the green. Don’t overcook it like me. Most folks consider the par 3 16th the signature hole. It is downhill with a creek in front, bunker right, water right and left and a tricky green to boot. The last two holes are long par 4s dogleg rights. The 17th is uphill, longer, difficult but not nefarious. When you get to the 18th tee box, it is hard not to say “wow”. The water hazard overwhelms the senses off the tee and forces most folks left. This sets up an extremely long approach. While intimidating, if you can hit a drive 220, you can and should cut some of the corner. Par is a good score on this demanding finishing hole.
Sadly, when we played we were experiencing a drought and the greens were stressed. This is a super track, if you can get on you gotta go.
Victoria National is one of Tom Fazio's best works. It is challenging off the tee, approach shots are not easy (due to the thick rough), and the greens are tough in spots. The par 3s get a lot of the attention, but the par 5s are even better.
Victoria National has only 52 bunkers, but it has 114 different tee boxes. Relatively small amounts of dirt were removed here, and water comes into play on 15 holes, so sand bunkers become less relevant under those circumstances. Many of the holes run parallel to the spoils mounds, which creates lots of privacy from hole to hole. The cart paths are almost invisible (due to Fazio’s great skill), and people paths make this a very walkable course. The course is not connected with any housing development, which is unusual in golf course construction today…
I didn’t play my best at Victoria National, but I remember standing on the 16th tee after I hit my tee shot into a stripper pit and declaring proudly that it was the first ball I had lost that day. Terry made me feel a little better when he said that the first time he played Victoria National he lost seven balls. Today, Terry shot two under par... I loved this course, and it is easily in my Top 10. Larry Berle