I called a couple courses from the parking lot at Riverfront and it looked bleak to get in another 18 holes as everyone was out playing. I didn’t make an afternoon tee time anywhere because I wanted to use my VSGA card for a discount somewhere. Certain courses have limited play on weekend afternoons and there were a handful off of I-64 that I called. The best I could get was a 2:20pm time at Colonial Heritage or take my chances going out as a single somewhere. I didn’t think it would be busy on a Sunday afternoon as sometimes people start winding down the weekend. I had to decide either to endure a slow round or pack it in for the day. Knowing me, I decided try to squeeze in as many holes as possible before dark. One of the courses that I called was Newport News which is a 36 hole facility. The proshop told me that they were busy, but they should be able to squeeze me in somewhere. It was 1:15pm when I pulled into the packed parking lot and I was on the 1st tee in just 15 minutes so kudos to the staff to get me out. The VSGA card is setup so that someone just pays the cart fee and I think it saved me maybe $5 or $10 in this instance. The savings vary from one course to another and it is something that I will be looking to take full advantage of in 2014.
As I drove into the parking lot I passed by a few holes and immediately got the impression that at least one of the courses could be walked. After spending so much time stuck to the cart path on this trip I welcomed the opportunity to carry my bag after being told that I was playing the shorter of the two courses there. Therefore, I opted to walk and it turned out to be a friendly course to walk except for the separation from the 16th green to the 17th tee. I didn’t do any research on Newport News Golf Club and it didn’t looked like anything special from what I could see before starting play. In the end, “nothing special” is what it turned out to be and I don’t say that with any regret as I enjoyed walking the back nine by myself as the sun was setting through the trees. As the round went along it became clear that the course wasn’t meant to be one of the greats in the area like the courses at Kingsmill or Golden Horseshoe. It struck me as a course that someone passionate about golfing could afford to play on a regular basis and there is a lot to be said for that with the high cost of green fees at many courses.
The Cardinal course is the shorter of the two courses (I haven’t played the other one) and only plays 6645 yards from the Black tees. The course didn’t have those tee markers out and I didn’t want to mess up the mushy tee boxes by just playing all the way back so I played the Blue tees which play 70.8/123/6343. The course is a compact layout with mostly flat holes separated by trees. There are plenty of pine trees which I like seeing this time of year because they are still green and full unlike the many deciduous trees in the Mid-Atlantic. The course has plenty of doglegs and many of the holes on the front are short enough to hit a long iron layup off the tee to the neck of the dogleg. The course allows someone a chance to put together a great score early on before it takes on a different, tougher character on the back nine. The front nine plays on 2930 yards and there isn’t much that can go wrong except at maybe the 5th and the 8th holes. All of the par 4’s on the front nine are 343 yards or less and the par 5’s offer good birdie opportunities too. The front isn’t overly tight either and could be the type of holes where someone could shoot a career low nine. I don’t know what the designer was thinking but the back nine is completely different as it plays 3413 yards and doesn’t have a par 4 under 374 yards. Maybe the difference is caused by the amount of land available for the front nine, who knows. The back nine is tighter too and it was as much of a challenge as I wanted. I had to change my mindset from trying to make birdies to trying to make pars once I got to the 12th hole. It is one of those places where someone would just have to try to hold onto a good front nine score and reminds me of Manteca Park in California in that respect. Besides the distance on the back nine, the main challenge of the course is finding the small putting surfaces. Even with short irons, I found some of the greens to be very small targets.
I am not going to go into detail about many of the holes here as there aren’t too many interesting ones. I think that the 5th, 173 yard par 3, is the first hole of note on the front nine. It plays over water to the green and felt like the only hole on the front where I “needed” to hit a good shot. The 8th, a 486 yard par 5, is the best hole on the course. The hole could be reached in two shots, but in order to do that someone will need to challenge the trouble on the left side off the tee. Driver probably isn’t the play as the fairway runs out straight in a straight line from the tee and then again on a line farther to the left. The 12th, a 430 yard par 4, played as a par 5 for me as it was into the wind and rose a little from the tee to the green. The last hole is a 193 yard par 3 and I always like ending on a par 3. I think it adds some drama for a final hole as someone standing near the green can count every shot of the person teeing off, unlike a par 4 or par 5.
I actually made it around the course in about 4 hours and 15 minutes which is amazing because it took 2 hours and 40 minutes to play the front nine. The gentleman that I was paired up with left after nine holes and the threesome that we were following did the same thing. Apparently that was a popular idea as I cruised around the back and didn’t have to wait on a shot until the 17th. There isn’t much to say about the conditions besides they were pretty rough. Actually, that is the nice way of saying that the conditions will most likely get ranked among the worst five maintained courses I play this year. I am not going to get into too many specifics, but even without the recent rain there would have been plenty of bare spots, thin tees, and patchy rough. I will say that the greens rolled well even though they were a bit slow and some had foreign grass growing in them. While I am glad that I ended up getting to play one last course on my weekend getaway, I don’t have any desire to head back here to play the other course because of the conditions and average layout. Keeping in mind the cheap price that I paid, the course is a place to play and a place to make a couple birdies but not too much more.