Well I was back at it again this Saturday for another 36 hole day. Every so often I take a look through my VSGA discount booklet to see if there are any deals that I need to take advantage of before they expire. When I first got the card I saw that there are many discounts during the offseason so I knew that I would probably be playing a lot of golf in March and then hopefully the same in October and November. The first couple weekends of this month were rough weather wise, but I am working my through some of the lesser known courses offering discounts. Piankatank River is a course that I never even knew existed and only found it by looking through the booklet.
I called over to the course on Thursday and they let me make a tee time as a single. I did identify myself as a VSGA member so maybe that is why they put me on the tee sheet, but it is always nice not having to wait around to get out to play. I doubt that I would have driven all this way just to end up taking my chances to play. I had to go with a really early tee time here in order to take advantage of the 12:15pm time that I booked at Golden Eagle Golf Club on Golfnow for a great rate. Ideally I would have liked a 2:00pm time for my afternoon round like last weekend, but the cheap rate was only advertised at 12:15pm so I couldn’t be picky for the deal. All of this planning basically got thrown out the window when I overslept so I didn’t end up leaving Charlottesville until 5:45am. I called the proshop and told them I was going to be about a half hour late for my tee time and the gentleman running it that morning was very accommodating. I was impressed with the course in both of my calls to them as they were helpful and understanding.
I paid my $25 (which is quite the savings compared to the current winter rate of $49 on a weekend morning!) and headed over to the first tee on this very pretty course. I wasn’t the first person out on the course because I got there late, but ended up making good time and played in 3.5 hours behind a few other groups. The course is located in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula (sometimes called the Middle Neck) which is a very scenic area. I have been over this way once before to play King Carter which is about 20 minutes from here over the Rappahannock River. The course sits on the edge of the Piankatank River which actually drains into the nearby Chesapeake Bay. So there is the geography lesson for those who aren’t familiar!
I played the Black tees which play 72.7/132/6658. The front nine and back nine here differ quite a bit. The front nine is hilly, plays through the woods, and is what I would describe as your typical Virginia golf course. The back nine is flatter as it works it way out towards the Piankatank River and has holes that are more open. The front nine is all about position and I did whatever I could just to find my ball. There are certain spots where a miss could turn out alright, but most of the front nine is target style golf. I got lucky and found a couple shots that ended up in the woods but I don’t see that happening on a regular basis. The holes are carved into the hills, and since it was my first time here, I had to take my best guess to use the contours to get it in the fairways and on the greens. There are a lot of doglegs on the front, but thankfully the only blind shots are on the 9th so it is tough, but straightforward. The back nine is on the other side of the clubhouse and is a little more forgiving as it plays through some farmland to get down by the river. The 13th through the 15th have nice views of the river and make the earlier lost balls or big number worth it. There are a good mix of short and long par 3’s and par 4’s and I never was bored hitting one shot throughout my round. Even though the back nine is a little wider there are some very tight tee shots so I only ended up hitting my driver four times throughout the round. I personally like to hit driver on most non par 3 holes as I tend to “guide” the ball laying up all day long off of the tee.
Besides the views of the river, I think that the greens are the course’s most outstanding feature. Most of the greens are on the small side and I counted maybe a third that are designed in odd shapes. Some are very deep and thin, others have sections tucked over bunkers, and two greens horseshoe around a lake. This created very awkward angles when trying to chip. Others have wild slopes and ridges in them that would feed the ball either closer to, or father away from, the flag. I ran into a few putts and short game shots where I could not get it inside 10 feet from no more than 30 feet away. Because of the greens, the pin location will dictate the approach (high, low, spin, no spin, etc). It is rare that I would say this, but there are times here where intentionally trying to miss the green will result in a better score than playing to the fat of the green. All too often in amateur golf it is indicated that we should play to the center to the green, but I wouldn’t subscribe to that theory here. I had some shots where I was trying to land my approach 20 feet away and use the slope to get it close. I really enjoy trying to get creative when selecting my shot, but it came across as “tricked up” by the end of the round.
Most of the holes here have something that makes them interesting, so I will try to hit the highlights since I have gotten long-winded with this review. The 1st hole is a mid length par 4 that moves left and climbs a hill. I enjoy a wide fairway to begin the round and that is exactly how the course starts. The 4th is a 344 yard par 4 that has a tee shot that slides right with trouble on either side and then an approach uphill to a green separated into two sections. I missed it left of the flag and had an impossible shot to get inside 10 feet from the upper tier. The 8th, the most difficult hole on the course, and the 9th are good risk reward holes. I hit a nice drive on the 461 yard, par 4 8th but still had 220 yards into a small green that was guarded by trouble. I laid it up from there to 115 yards so it is a hole that tested my decision making. The 9th is a shorter par 5 with a blind tee shot that must navigate a tree in the fairway. I had the distance to get to the green in two from where I was in the fairway, but there was another tree in my way. The 13th is a 314 yard par 4 with a green that sits right on the river. Someone can hit a driver off the tee to get a good angle into the green or something like a 5 iron and still have a short iron approach. The 14th is a 126 yard par 3 which plays to one of the horseshoe greens that I described earlier. I wish that I had some better pictures of the hole, but because of where the sun was in the sky I didn’t couldn’t get anything to turn out. The hole offers many different pin locations and is a great, short par 3. The 16th is another par 5 that challenges someone to give it a go and I actually reached it from 230 yards on my second attempt. The 18th has one of the strangest greens on the course. It looked innocent enough when I used the slope left of the green to get my approach to 30 feet for a birdie putt. When I got up to my putt, I realized that I’d have to hit a great putt just to keep it on the green. I actually putted off the green and the ball almost took the downhill slope into the water. I tried it again just for fun with almost the same result. Because of that the end of the round had the clown’s mouth and windmill feel to it.
The course was in decent shape and actually much better than I expected considering that I had never heard of the course. The fairways were a bit long with maybe five fairways that were wet, but that isn’t shocking since they got some snow last week. The tees were a mixed bag with some being nice, others beat up, and others not being level. The greens rolled very nice and had some speed on the downhill putts. I’d call them medium fast and I got fooled badly on the break two times when I completely missing the read. As long as someone knows that they are probably going to be forced to play a conservative game and hit some good shots that end up in bad spots I’d say that it is worth a play. It certainly is a course that will generate some discussion after playing it.
#7 green looking back:
#8 green looking back:
#9 from the fairway:
#16 from the fairway: