Playing a Pete Dye course stirs the same emotions for me as taxes or a neighbor’s dog barking uncontrollably. It just seems that there is a lot of extra effort required and no matter what, I’m not going to be happy at the end of the day. I’ve made it to maybe a dozen Dye courses over the years and many times he seems to ruin a beautiful piece of land with his design. I’ve enjoyed a few of his courses (Riverdale Dunes, TPC New Orleans, and the Paiute course that I played), but most of the time he seems to confuse the words “test” and “unfair”. I think Dye could get ranked as one of the most controversial designers as folks either seem to like or dislike his courses, there isn’t much in-between.
That said, the River Course was the reason for my golf trip to the area as it is ranked among the top public courses in the state. I had booked a 3pm tee time and no how much time I tried waste after my morning round, I ended up at the course about 2pm. Thankfully the course wasn’t busy so I was able to get out early and played in a little under 4 hours. The River Course is one of the courses in my golf booklet that is offered for a large discount. The normal weekend rate here is $80 before 3pm and $64 after but with my discount book it only cost the cart fee which is capped at $29 this time of year. The course is ranked in the top 10 public courses in the state and most of these courses are at least $100 to play. Since I was able to play it for so cheap I’d say that it gets ranked as one of the better values that I’ve run across in all my years golfing.
The course is nestled along the New River and I could feel the temperature drop in the short amount of time from when I drove into the community until I parked the car down by the clubhouse. The first thing that I noticed when checking in is the stunning property on which the course is built. The clubhouse sits maybe a hundred feet above the course and offers panoramic views of the course, river, and the gorge. Besides Primland, I think that the course offers the best setting for golf of any that I’ve played in the state. The views continue all throughout the course as Dye cleared out all of the trees to open it up when he redesigned the course maybe 10 years ago. Apparently some folks associated with Virginia Tech knew Dye and asked him to re-do the course. However, I never played the old course.
In addition to being one of the top public courses in the state, it is also ranked as one of the top collegiate courses in the nation. The course is the home of the Virginia Tech golf team and it is apparent that Dye wanted to challenge the best college teams. The nice thing about the course is that it is flat so it is an easy walk which is unusual for a newer course. Many holes have a links feel to them as the course only has trees along the perimeter holes. Mostly mounding and fescue divide the parallel holes. Each nine makes a loop on one side of the clubhouse with a few holes early on along the river. Then each nine closes with holes along the river. All in all, eight holes run along the river and almost every hole has a view of it. The river can come into play if someone hits a squirrely one at the wrong time. All of these things make it anything but the typical Virginia golf course so it was a nice change from my normal round.
If I was blind folded and dropped off at the first tee knowing nothing about it, I would have figured out that this is a Dye design after about six holes. In fact, three of the first six holes have a striking resemblance to holes at other Dye courses that I’ve played. I’ll touch on this more when I go through each hole below. Even without those similar holes the course as a whole is still full of typical Dye features. Mounding, bunkers the size of bath tubs, and greens that slope off in all directions tested my patience as the round went along. I got tired of hitting a decent shot just to watch it land on the edge of a green and roll off into a chipping area or into an impossible spot from which to get it up and down. The course, like many other Dye designs, allowed for very few good bounces. Many of the mounds create blind shots and I’m just not a fan of blind shots. Because of its location, the course is a bit cramped for spaced. To help fit the course into the area down by the river Dye made the fairways narrow and the greens small. Plus, he seemed to pinch the layup areas around 100 yards on the par 5’s which caused me some problems. It just seems like the course could have used some more land. I played the Maroon tees at 74.7/141/7088 and I had to double back to get to a few tees so I’m sure the Blacks, which are nearly 7700 yards, have the same problem. Speaking of tees, I could have used a combo set as the Whites, at 6495 yards, are too short for me.
I’d call the condition of the course good, but not great. I say that because it was over watered which made it play longer than the yardage, the fairways were on the longer side, and a couple tee boxes were being re-done. Some of the edges of the rough were starting to turn a little brown too so I would have been disappointed if I had paid the full rate. However, for the price that I paid I don’t have any complaints. Because of the longer grass in the fairways, I don’t think the course played as Dye intended around the greens. If the grass was shorter then that could allow someone to putt it up onto the green or chip a lower faced club into the mounding. But, I just had to fly my lob wedge onto the edge of the green. The greens were the nicest maintained part of the course as they rolled great and I’d guess they were maybe 10 or 11 on the stimp meter. They were the nicest greens of the trip and had some fire to them.
When I got my VSGA card in January I put this course towards the top of my list and I was able to check it off. I’m glad I did because the property on which the course is built is spectacular. The course isn’t the toughest Dye course that I’ve played, but it isn’t the easiest either. It was fun seeing folks fishing on the river and seeing and hearing the trains on the other side of the river.
Here is the view of some of the back nine holes from just outside the proshop:
#1 (393 yard par 4):
I’d say that this is one of the easier par 4’s on the course. It reminded me a lot of the opening holes at PGA West and TPC Louisiana which are mid length par 4’s where someone can make a birdie. There are a few coffin type bunkers, but it is a generous opening hole.
#2 (452 yard par 4):
This is a tough par 4 because of the length and the water left. I suspect that only the bigger hitters can carry that lake on the left and even after a good drive, I was left with a long iron to a narrow green with plenty of slope.
#3 (556 yard par 5):
I’d like to play this over again. I hit a driver into the fescue left and actually found it, but I think driver was the wrong club off the tee. The fairway narrows the farther that someone hit it so I think to do over I’d hit a 3 wood to try to keep it short of some bunkers. I probably couldn’t even go for the green after a great drive because of the length. I had a blind layup from where I was at so I’d try to favor the right half of the fairway off the tee for a clearer view.
#4 (450 yard par 4):
This hole is cut into the edge of the hill and made me think of some of the holes at the Mountain Course at La Quinta. Obviously trees are on the side here, but I’d guess that the hillside is the same steepness. This long par 4 doglegs left. I thought there would be some fairway over that rock outcropping on the left, but it is mostly rough with quite a bit of mounding. Because the long second is played over water, I doubt someone would want to chance trying to knock it on the green unless the lie and stance were perfect. There is a little room short of the green that isn’t water so that is nice.
#5 (198 yard par 3):
This is a long par 3 to an elevated green. There are chipping areas all around the green and anything hitting on an edge most likely will roll down into one of them. I think it would be a better hole with a mid or short iron, but it shouldn’t be a disaster either.
#6 (381 yard par 4):
The first step here is to pick the proper line off the tee. The hole moves a little left and depending on the wind those bunkers on the left could be carried. I played down the right center where there is plenty of space and had a short iron into an odd green. The green is not very deep and there is a big grass bunker short of the green. It looked like someone started to dig a hole to the other side of the world and stopped. I hit it in there and it wasn’t as bad as I expected when playing from it partly because I got a good lie. Farther to the right there is bunker short of the green. The approach reminded me of the 5th hole at Kearney Hill.
#7 (149 yard par 3):
This green is similar to the 5th and it is a good, short par 3 because it is a mid iron to a smaller target. There is a chipping area left the green which isn’t the worst spot to end up as long as the flag isn’t tucked on the left side of the green.
#8 (410 yard par 4):
This isn’t the longest par 4, but it plays a little uphill. The river is to the left and any shot over to the right in the mounding leaves a blind approach into a narrow green. A thin chip from the chipping area right of the green runs the risk of ending up in the hazard so every shot here is tough.
#9 (561 yard par 5):
There are fairway bunkers on the right which force the tee shot left to challenge the trees and the river. Because of that I think it brings trouble into play when it really isn’t needed on an already tough hole. I would clear out those trees near the tee to make it more friendly and open up the views. Playing down the right side leaves a blind layup. If that is done it is a mid or short iron to another small green.
#10 (355 yard par 4):
This is the shortest hole on the course and a birdie chance. Someone should hit whatever club they want to get it in the fairway and that leaves a short iron into the green.
#11 (451 yard par 4):
This is similar to the 4th as it moves a little left and has water that comes into play.
#12 (548 yard par 5):
There isn’t anything too tough about the tee shot and someone just needs to avoid the river and a couple bunkers. However, it gets tricky after that. The layup is played to narrow neck guarded by small bunkers. I hit it in one of them and had a tough stance. The green might be the most elevated green on the course and I couldn’t see any of the green surface even from 80 yards out in the fairway.
#13 (377 yard par 4):
I’d say this is a birdie chance based on the opportunities that the rest of the course offers. It is a layup off the tee and a blind shot into the green. If someone hit a good short iron the last then they should have some confidence for this one.
#14 (166 yard par 3):
This is another good par 3 and the hole is on the edge of the property. There is a big fall off left of the green so someone needs to miss it right. There is a chipping area and plenty of room over to the right.
#15 (453 yard par 4):
This is another long par 4. The tee shot moves a little right to left before the hole straightens out. I fanned a long iron short and right of the green and was left with a short game shot that was way above my ability. I needed to drive a low chip into the hill and try to figure out how it would bounce.
#16 (539 yard par 5):
This is probably the other really good birdie chance on the back nine (besides #10). It is a par 5 with plenty of room off the tee before it pinches the layup around 100 yards from the green. So it is probably best to lay it back to 115 to 130 yards for the third shot.
#17 (219 yard par 3):
This is a long par 3 with the river on the right coming into play. A shot right of the green can kick into the river so someone should favor the left side.
#18 (430 yard par 4):
The closing hole has a nice view with the river on the right and the clubhouse on the hill behind the green. This fairway is another one that gets narrower the farther that someone hits it and my drive down the left ran through the fairway and in a small bunker. To do over I would have a 3 wood off the tee to try to keep it short of the bunkers. I think that it is one of the better holes on the back nine.