I scrapped a bit of frost off the windshield on my car Sunday morning before the half hour drive over to Riverfront from where I stayed in Chesapeake. Riverfront, like Nansemond River, is in Suffolk but it is a easier to get to as it is located about 5 minutes off of I-664 where the Nansemond River empties into the James River. Riverfront was supposed to be the premier course of my short weekend trip. I booked a 7:38am tee time for $49, but I got confused thinking that it was closer to 8am so I got there late. It didn’t matter though since there was a short frost delay and I was in the first group off of the 10th hole.
I was hoping that the course would have some time to dry out, but it was still very soggy considering that the rain blew through about 36 hours before I played. I was very surprised that the course didn’t drain better considering that it is not unusual for the Mid-Atlantic region to get a lot of rain in one day. That kept our group to the cart paths only and as a threesome we went around in four hours. As we got to the last few holes the rough was starting to dry out but the fairways still were not allowing for any roll. The pictures don’t really tell the story of how wet the course was because all the brown grass does when damp, is turn a darker color! The greens were cut tight and rolled with some speed and were by far were the best conditioned part of the course. I found them tricky to read and had a couple double breaking putts so a putt needed to start online from the beginning to drop. The greens had some big slopes and because of the slopes some parts of the greens were unusable for a pin location. In a situation like this, the greenskeeper can be forced to use the same pin locations in the flatter areas of the greens which causes more stress on those spots from foot traffic. Another option for him is to put pins on the slopes. I counted four suspect pins where my putts or chips with decent speed trickled an extra 5 to 10 feet past the hole. So, I would have liked it if the greens had more usable square footage. The fairways and tees were in nice shape and the course turned out to be the nicest conditioned course of what I played during my trip.
I played the Blue tees which play 72.5/129/6735 and feel that the course plays tougher than that. I think a couple rounds here would benefit me as I struggled to pick lines off some tees and there were carries that I had to guess on even after looking at my GPS. Some of the holes dogleged so I couldn’t always see if there was trouble around the greens. The course is designed by Tom Doak and for those that don’t know, he has worked on some of today’s best known courses. He has worked on Old Macdonald and Pacific Dunes in Bandon, Oregon that I have played and one of the Streamsong courses in Florida that is on my list to play. Just about all of my reviews are typed up after playing a course one time. So, at courses like this one, I miss out on the genius of the designer’s work because I play it just one time. There are greens that feed the ball to one side but I don’t realize that until I see how my shot lands and there are parts of the fairway that give a clear view of the green. Fairways pinch at certain distances so driver isn’t always the play. I think that details like these create a great course because in order to score well someone has to think his or her way around the course and plan a couple shots ahead with the current one.
The front nine here is the easier nine, but there still some tricky holes. The 2nd is a 204 yard par 3 with a green that sits down just enough from the tee to put doubt in my mind about where I needed to land my long iron. The 3rd is a 484 yard par 5 that gives a chance for someone to get a birdie but there is trouble right that comes into play on a bad shot. The 4th is a 175 yard par 3 that plays over a marsh and was my favorite hole on the course because of the scenery around the green. I lucked out and made a putt to a suspect hole location, but even with that it is a peaceful hole in the middle of the marsh. The 7th is a 333 yard par 4 where some strategy is required off of the tee. A layup is the play and because the hole moves left an aggressive layup challenges the fairway bunkers. There is a lot of fairway to the right to bail out but that leaves a longer shot into the crazy green. Besides the 4th hole, I found the setting for the front nine to be very bland with homes lining most of the holes. The back nine works its way out to the rivers and has some more interesting and scenic holes. The 11th is a pretty par 3 that plays maybe half a club down the hill and then the 12th is a long par 4 that runs along a lake. The 12th is one of those holes where I couldn’t figure out the line that I needed to pick off of the tee to get to the fairway. I pushed my tee shot and ended up in a perfect spot before facing 200+ yards into the green which is guarded by water all down the right side. The 13th is a 183 yard par 3 that has a green that narrows if trying to get to the back section of the green where the flag was when I played. It slopes off on either side so the smart play is to the wider, front part of the green every time. The 15th could be the signature hole because it needs a big carry from the tee to get to the fairway. The drive in the cart then goes over two long bridges before the green is down by the Nansemond River. The course goes from one of the more scenic holes, the 15th, to one of the least scenic holes on the 16th. The 16th is lined by condos on each side. The only hole that I don’t think was designed very well is the 18th which is a closing par 5. The tee shot needs to be hit solid or someone has to lay it up short of a hazard which cuts across the fairway from around 150 to 100 yards short of the green. It felt like Doak forced everyone to play the same shots and penalized those who cannot carry it very far on this hole.
In the end, the course is a community course and the homes were noticeable all throughout the round. It is a nice course, but I ended up a little disappointed because I was expecting a more natural setting. I see the nice conditions and strategy involved to play the holes as the reasons to play here.
#16 green looking back: