Yesterday was an unusually warm day with temperatures in the low 70’s and some sun. Because of this I couldn’t pass up the chance to play two new courses. I have seen the Gauntlet on Golfnow for $45 in the morning during the off-season which I think is a decent deal. During peak season the same time would be ~$60 and because it is an hour and 20 minutes away it has been a bit too far for me to go for just one round. For the last part of the drive I split off of the highway onto some back roads which went by some farms. The rays of sun from the sunrise hit a couple of the properties in a way that I think would make anyone content. I got to the course at 8am which was 2o minutes before my tee time and had a pleasant experience with the proshop. The guy in the proshop explained that the course is pretty involved for the first timer with some blind shots and multi-tiered greens. He also threw in a free yardage book which was a bit help as I am in between GPS units and let me out a bit early. Finally, he came out on the 3rd hole to see if I was being held up which I’ve had happen before. So as far as the service goes, it was outstanding.
The course is a PB Dye design so it has some crazy features that most Dye designs have and I figured that going into my round. For those that don’t know, PB Dye is the son of the famous golf course architect Pete Dye. Pete Dye’s designs are controversial as people either seem to love or hate his work. I looked through a list of PB Dye designs and I don’t see any that I have played, but I did played Kearney Hills in Kentucky earlier this year which was co-designed by him and Pete. PB seemed to have a calming influence on that course so I was curious to see what he did here.
The course has many of the features that I expected including mounding, blind shots, severe slopes in the greens, false fronts, and chipping areas. Because of this the course forces someone to play shots that they wouldn’t normally play in order for a good score. For example, there was a pin or two located on a knob and I had no idea how to get an approach close in that case. I am neither good enough to hit the low shot that skips up the hill or the full shot to the exact yardage with the correct spin to keep it on the knob. There were pins tucked on a sliver of green or just over ridges too. Through the first six holes it felt like the course was forced on me. By that I mean I felt that there was only one way to play each shot, the way P.B. Dye designed it. The 6th is a 174 yard par 3 with a skinny green that slopes from left to right. Any miss right will kick off the green leaving a tough chip but there is not a place left to miss it as there is a bunker and another fall off left of the green. So the only option was for me to try for a high cut. As the round progressed I felt that I had more options on each hole to play any way that I wanted. On many of the holes on the front nine I thought that they had the “risk” but without the “reward”. Much of the risk on the front was due to the six or seven blind shots and I think I scored a lot better on the back because it only had a couple.
I played the Dye Tees at 72.8/140/6723. The course starts out with a blind tee shot on the 1st (a 368 yard par 4). I found the fairway, but apparently needed a few more yards off the tee and had to hit a hook into the green. I am a 4 or 5 handicap and can work the ball on occasion, but I don’t see how many amateurs would enjoy having to hook an 8 iron approach 15 yards from the fairway. My thought is that since I found the blind fairway, I should not have another tough shot. The 2nd is a 468 yard par 5 with another blind tee shot. I found the fairway and went for the green with a long iron. I had to be mindful of the trouble short and left and ended up pin high in a deep grass bunker off to the right. This is the type of thing that the Dye’s tend to do. I avoided the trouble and took a conservative line only to have my ball end up in some trouble that was hidden. The 4th is a 364 yard par 4 that moves left around the edge of a lake. If the fairway were wider it would have been my favorite hole on the course. The 8th is a 470 yard par 4 that played tough because of the yardage and the 9th is another one of those holes that could be frustrating to play. I made sure to miss my approach right of the green to avoid the water left and had an impossible chip over a mound down to the hole. It is another example of why I generally don’t like Dye designs as my ability to recover is limited. The 10th is a short 477 yard par 5 that is narrow but it does allow for different ways to make a birdie. The 12th is a 141 yard par 3 that plays to an angled green which tricked me. I played pin high 15 feet right of the hole where I thought there was green, but there wasn’t. The 15th is a 245 yard par 3 that is the opposite of the 12th. It is over 100 yards longer but has enough space for someone to miss it and still make a par. I think the 17th is the strangest hole on the back. It is a 369 yard par 4 that plays downhill off the tee and then back uphill to a green with a rear level that is 5 or 6 feet higher than the front level. The 18th is memorable because of its green which has three levels and is 50 or 60 yards deep.
As far as the maintenance goes, I think it is reasonable for this time of year. The pictures won’t be too aesthetically pleasing because of the overseeding that takes place for winter. I don’t think of the color yellow when I think of grass so it is hard for me to appreciate the beauty of a course this time of year. However, I think that the course would look great during any other time of the year. The course is located on a lake and maybe a third of the holes have views of it. The course has some elevation change so that adds to the fun. The overseed came in nice on the tees and fairways and I had a good lie with the ball sitting up. The greens and low spots on the fairways were soft from I think may have been some melting snow, but I am not sure. We haven’t had any snow stick on the ground for more than a day or so here, but I think areas north of Charlottesville had a couple inches in recent weeks. Because the greens were wet they held foot prints, were a bit bumpy, and showed ball marks. They were a bit on the slow side which probably was good because of the big slopes. So the course was in winter shape, but I’m not expecting pristine conditions this time of year.
I found the course to have some interesting and fun holes to play all while being a little more open than the normal Virginia course. There is no doubt that the course is unique and therefore worth a play. However, if comparing The Gauntlet to other courses in it’s class regarding unique design features I would recommend Royal New Kent or Stonehouse. There is no hiding the fact that I love Mike Strantz designs which have many blind shots and massive ridges in the greens. However, Mike Strantz seems to be more in favor of the average golfer with wider fairways and slopes that feed the ball towards the flag.
#2 from the fairway:
#7 green looking back:
#17 green looking back:
#18 green looking back: