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.”
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