Last weekend it was cold and rainy so I didn’t want to battle the elements just to use my VSGA card. I had a couple courses in mind that I wanted to try to hit before April but I’ll have to wait until October when the discounts start back up on those courses. I decided to try out Mariners Landing, which is about two hours south of Charlottesville, as I thought that it could be a “hidden gem” because it is in a pretty remote spot. The course is located between Lynchburg and Roanoke in a very beautiful part of the state. The last 40 minutes of the drive was through rolling hills and farmland with views of the nearby mountains. What is funny is that hills just rise out of nowhere in this area, almost like something that would be found in Arizona or Nevada. The only difference is that the hills here are covered in trees. Besides the views of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the course, it also offers views of Smith Mountain Lake which is a popular place for watersports in the summer. There is a decent sized community designed around the lake and the course so there would be plenty of family oriented activities. As usual, I am only there for the golf though.
The course is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design and when posting these reviews I always enjoy looking through the list of courses that a designer has worked on. RTJ Sr. is one of the more prolific designers throughout the world and I’d venture to say that a lot of casual golfers have played one or two of his courses. I would also say that the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama is his best know collection of public courses. I haven’t been there yet, but it is on my long list of golf vacation ideas. I don’t pay much attention to the private courses but he has designed some big name courses where the professional tours play from year to year. Personally, I enjoyed playing his designs at Golden Horseshoe, The Dunes Club, and Winchester. I never walk away with a good score because his courses are tough to play but I do enjoy how he uses the terrain to create some interesting holes.
I played the Blue tees which play 72.5/135/6594 but there is a set of tees farther back which play almost 7000 yards so someone can torment themselves as much as they want. The course features two different sets of nines with a shorter, more hilly front nine and a longer back nine with a couple flatter holes, but only just a couple. Position is very important on the front, but someone can get away a couple wayward shots on the back. The front nine plays only 3083 yards from the Blue tees and has a driveable par 4 and reachable par 5’s depending on the direction of the wind. All of the par 4’s on the back nine are mid length and play between 383 and 416 yards so there isn’t much variety. It would have been nice if some the par 4’s were mixed up between the front and the back. Many of the holes dogleg and have severe slopes in the fairways which made them narrower so I had to play to certain spots of the fairways. If I got a shot scooting offline there was hardpan off of the rough which brought the woods into play so I had to be very careful and conservative off of the tee. The course has some blind shots which seem to come with territory when playing a hilly course, but there weren’t an annoying amount of those shots. One thing that bugged me off the tee was the location of some fairway bunkers which seemed to be 210 to 240 yards off the tee. They were on holes that needed a driver, but the bunkers narrowed the fairway considerably so that I either had to swing for the fences to try to carry them or lay up on a long hole. The course seemed difficult enough for an amateur without having the fairway bunkers on say the 10th or the 18th. Other than that the bunkers had a rugged look to them and the sand was nice to play from.
The course has some fun, thought provoking holes and the 3rd, a 497 yard par 5, is one early on the in the round. Someone can try to blast a driver down the left side, hoping the slope doesn’t take it into the hazard on the right, which would allow for a chance to get home in two. I had to lay up and was left with a 100 yard approach straight uphill to a green that sloped with the hill from back to front. The 4th is a 386 yard par 4 with a blind tee shot before the next challenge is getting to the 5th tee from the 4th green. The 5th plays down by the lake and is the signature hole, but I had to drive around a bit through the community to get to the tee. The sign by the 4th green for the 5th hole points in the general direction of some condos, but I just couldn’t see driving through the condos to get to the tee. I’m directionally challenged so I am used to getting lost and finally figured it out. The 5th has some nice views, but I thought the hole itself was a pretty bland par 3. The back nine has some decent holes including the 10th which is a longer par 5 with water short and left of the green. The 15th is a downhill par 4 where I had fun trying to bomb a driver and the 16th is a 195 yard par 3 which played a little downhill. The 16th was my favorite hole on the course and I think it has some similarities to the 15th at Winchester.
I would have enjoyed playing here much more if the conditions were even halfway decent. I didn’t know what to expect as this isn’t doesn’t seem to be a heavily played course in Virginia. As I drove in I saw a couple holes and knew right away that the poor conditions were going to be the story of the day. In the course’s defense it is still very early in the season, but I’ve played enough golf in the state during the off season to know that it could have been a lot better. I think the fairways are transitioning from the winter grass to the summer grass, but there were bare spots next to long patches of grass next to a nice lie. And all that was going on within a few square feet. Plus, there were weeds in various spots. The greens were furry and slow to putt which probably wasn’t a bad thing considering some of the slope on the greens. There were spots were I couldn’t have stopped a putt if the greens were fast. Because of the long greens, it was tough to judge a long putt and took a bit of luck in order to lag it near the hole as the putt had to go through longer and shorter grass. The greens rolled fine and I made some putts, but I had to adjust to hitting the putts firmly. The tees were mixed with some in good shape and others in poor shape. I drove by London Downs on the way to Mariners Landing and that course looked like it was in great shape and very green. So, a nicely condition course is possible this time of year. London Downs wasn’t on my list for this trip because they just aerated the greens, but I’m hoping to play there this year.
I played in about 3.5 hours and I was motoring after playing through a group on the 2nd hole. I never saw a group in front of me after playing through them until the pace came to a halt on the 10th. On the 10th there was a foursome teeing off and a twosome in the fairway and I think they might have just started their round. I say that because I think I would have seen them on the 8th or 9th so I ended up jumping around between holes on the back trying to finish before them. Since the course is a community course I drove around a lot in the cart and found that all the holes in front of them were open. I didn’t have to wait on a shot once I jumped in front of them, but because I had to drive around so much I ended up right behind them again on the 18th tee. I used the satellite image of the course on my phone to figure out what holes to play before and after that foursome so that was fun. The course was probably worth the $23 that I paid on EZLinks even with the poor conditions, but I wouldn’t drive more than 15 or 20 minutes even for $23. I was hoping that it would be in better shape, but that is one of the unknowns when playing so many different courses.
Signs of spring!
#3 green looking back:
#8 green looking back:
#14 ladies tee box: