The Williamsburg area is a popular vacation area and like most vacation destinations (Lake Tahoe, Myrtle Beach, Orlando, etc) it has some very good golf. I would argue that the Williamsburg area has the best golf courses in the state considering that there are at least 10 championship courses all within a short drive of each other. Some of the courses (Kingsmill, Golden Horseshoe, and Royal New Kent) get ranked as top courses in the state each year and that doesn’t even include other quality courses like Stonehouse, Viniterra, Kiskiack, or Brickshire. My first taste of golf in the area came in 2010 when I stopped in Williamsburg to play Royal New Kent and the Gold Course at Golden Horseshoe and I really enjoyed the area. I wasn’t doing my blog at that point so all I have is some pictures to remember those courses but I will say that they were special and that Royal New Kent might be on my radar to play again later this year.
Now that I live a little over 100 miles from Williamsburg I’ve chipped away at my list of courses there since moving as it is close enough for a day trip. Colonial Heritage, an Arthur Hills design, was one of those courses on my list. Since I’ve started to recognize names of golf course designers I’ve become an Arthur Hills fan. A quick count shows that I have played six of his designs and enjoyed them all. The most recent courses of his that I have played are The Ocean Course at Half Moon Bay and Maryland National, both of which I liked a lot.
Now that we’ve changed the clocks, it is light out until almost 7pm so I don’t need a really early morning tee time in order to complete 36 holes. That is nice because I am not one of those golfers who enjoy being out on the course with the dew getting on everything and wolfing down my breakfast in order to make a tee time. The normal rate here is $55 on a weekend morning this time of year, but I found a time for $39 on EZlinks (now called TeeOff) which is more in line with my preferred green fee. If you thumbed through some of my posts you will find that I’m not one to easily spend more than $50 for a round of golf. I’ll do it on vacation but if I am playing within a couple hour drive of home the course would need to be highly ranked.
I got to the course 30 minutes before my tee time and was told that I had time to get loose as range balls are included with all green fees. I always think free range balls are a nice gesture by a course and considering that Colonial Heritage is tougher than most courses, it might speed up the pace of play. I finished up at the range and headed over to the 1st tee to wait for my group. The proshop told me that I was paired up with a threesome but no one showed up after I waited for 5 minutes. There were other golfers warming up at the range when I left, but the course wasn’t crowded based on the number of cars in the parking lot. Knowing that I had plans for an afternoon round, I darted off by myself as all I could see was a twosome putting on the 1st green. I finished the 1st hole and saw my threesome on the tee but it ended up working out great as I played in 3 hours and never ran into the group in front of me.
I had heard that the course was tough and played the Blue tees which are only 6385 yards but have a high slope of 141 (rating is 71.8). The Black tees play 6889/74.3/147 so I avoided them as I didn’t have any desire to be hunting for my golf ball all morning in the woods. The course has a good mix of holes with some playing through the community and others out in the woods with some scenery. Right away, the course made me pick a line and distance on the opening tee shot and that was a common theme throughout the round. Because of the yardage that I chose there were a lot of layups off of the tee. That was probably a good thing as I wouldn’t have had a chance to land a driver on some of the narrow fairways. The narrow fairways are made even tighter by some of the slope in them and it is a course that I could have benefited by playing before. The emphasis all round is a tee shot in play on what is a target golf course with lots of trouble off of the fairway. Blind and semi-blind shots add to the difficulty as there are many holes with elevation change.
The course didn’t get much easier once I found the fairway as I was faced with a short iron into a small green. Some greens had false edges and I was always guessing where to hit it because I couldn’t see the bottom of the flag. Some greens had subtle breaks while others had putts that broke 18 inches from 20 feet so there was no telling what someone would get. I started to warm up to the course on the back nine because I started to appreciate the genius of how Hills used angles. Something else that I liked was that he used mounding on the sides of some of the flat holes to separate them from the homes, the range, or other holes.
There isn’t anything special about the 1st through the 3rd holes except that the tee shot on the opening has to played in-between bunkers on each side of the fairway that starts to angle at the landing area. The 4th hole is where I had to buckle my seatbelt as the course got very involved. The 4th is only a 352 yard par 4 but it has trouble all around. It is a dogleg left par 4 with a fairway that slopes from right to left and the woods are left. It plays uphill and was into the wind when I played so I couldn’t get my drive up to the top of the hill even with my driver. That left a blind shot to the green which sits maybe 30 feet below the fairway. The 5th is a 491 yard par 5 which is the toughest hole on the course. The tee shot is played to a sliver of fairway that slopes towards the trouble on the right before the layup is played to another section of fairway. It reminded me of something that might be found at a course in the desert. Finally, the approach is into another blind green, but this one is elevated. The course becomes a little more normal until the 12th hole, but it still has some tricks. For example, the 8th is a mid length par 3 to another semi blind green and the 10th is a par 4 with a sea of bunkers. I carried one bunker off the tee and my ball almost ended up rolling into another one that I couldn’t see off of the tee. The 12th, a 289 yard par 4 with a bunker all down the left side, is my favorite hole on the course. If it was downwind it could be drivable but it was into the wind when I played. I hit a great 3 iron trying to find the narrow fairway, but I missed a little left and it kicked off the slope into the bunker. The hole tests someone’s ability to get it in play and then hit a precise short iron into the narrow green. The 13th is a quirky par 4 with another blind shot and a narrow green so I could see it being a problem hole for many golfers. I know it wasn’t my favorite. The 14th is a 158 yard par 3 that is in a natural surrounding and was peaceful to play. The 17th, a 159 yard par 3, has to be the most controversial hole on the course. It plays a bit uphill to a narrow green that slopes off into trouble. The green is almost 60 yards deep so I could hit anything from a 9 iron to a 4 iron depending on the pin location. To further complicate things there is a huge rise in the middle of the green that is maybe 5 feet high. The closing hole is a good risk-reward par 5 that can be reached in two but it has water in play.
For the average golfer the course is just going to be too hard even from the shorter tees. Williamsburg is a vacation area and I just cannot see couples or families golfing here on a regular basis. Colonial Heritage seemed out of character with the other courses of Hills that I’ve played. I don’t recall as many unconventional holes at his other courses so I wonder if the unique designs of nearby Royal New Kent and Stonehouse influenced Hills when he designed Colonial Heritage (it was built after those two courses). He may have wanted to take away play from the others with some competing design characteristics.
It amazes me how nicely conditioned the course was considering that it is the offseason. The fairways were tight and gave a lie where I could cleanly contact the ball first on full shots and chips. The greens rolled nice, were receptive, and I had a couple putts get away from me when I got careless with the speed so there was some fire in them. The course was well worth the $39 that I paid but it had a “copycat” feel to it. Even with that, I’d say it a quality mid-level course.
#3 green looking back:
#5 green looking back:
#16 green looking back:
#17 green looking back:
#17 green with the big rise: