Caverns Country Club Resort (Luray, VA on 09/01/14)

I was looking to play Waynesboro Country Club which only offers play to VSGA members on weekdays, but I wasn’t able to get out there today. One of my other options was Caverns Country Club which also only offers play to VSGA members on weekdays. The course is located about 45 miles north of Charlottesville but it took about an hour and twenty minutes to get there because the drive is through the mountains. Normally I would be looking to play 36 holes if I am driving that far, but my back has been bothering me so I didn’t want to push it. The drive is scenic and there are other nearby activities for almost anyone, including exploring Luray Caverns, so someone could plan on being in the area for a day or two. As usual, I’m just there for the golf but the long drive for just one round didn’t bother me and it has become part of the experience of playing a new course.

I couldn’t find much about the course online, but the few pictures that I saw had me expecting a mountain course. The course is in the Shenandoah Valley but there isn’t much flat about the area where it is located. It is near the Shenandoah River and although there weren’t many river views, the views of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains and the valley are impressive. I expected a lot of target golf which isn’t my thing, so I was out there just to enjoy the scenery.

The clubhouse is set back from the road and on the drive in I passed by a few holes. Much to my surprise these holes looked wide open compared to the pictures on the website. As the round went along I found that there was a nice mix of wooded and open holes with stretches that alternate. The wooded holes made the course feel like a mountain course while the open holes made it feel like a parkland course so I’d say that it was a blend of both. I’ve played my share of mountain courses over the years and while I enjoy the views, I struggle to put together a good score. All too often there are hundred foot drops which make it tough to club and narrow, tree lined fairways which are penal.

After playing Caverns for the first time there certainly are holes that look almost impossible to play, but the course is very fair with plenty of room to miss even on the tighter looking ones. It was an intimidating looking course to play the first time, especially from the tees. There are plenty of blind shots, fairways that play at angles from tees, and slopes which can feed the ball from the center of the fairways. However, there wasn’t much hidden trouble and many times I hit a conservative club off the tee only to find out that I could have played more aggressively. The course isn’t long, even from the Blue tees (70.9/135/6499) where I played, and I only hit four drivers. But, it could have been eight if I had played here before. Parallel holes, some wide fairways, and some cleared out areas keep the lost balls down and open up the views of the area. I found the layout very playable for the terrain.

Besides being a tough course visually, the other main challenge came from the green complexes and uneven lies. Some greens are cut into the side of a hill or built on knobs so an average shot could kick away from them. Depending on the hole, it could kick into trouble but there was normally a forgiving side or two which allowed play. I found the greens very tough to putt because of the many ridges and slopes. I had a handful of putts moving sideways at the hole so I wouldn’t predict too many low putting rounds when playing here. Many times I was just happy to two putt from 20 feet so I wouldn’t have minded the greens being less severe.

I had plans to use my VSGA card but the course was running a summer special for $26 which was a great rate considering the conditions. The tees weren’t very good as some were just dirt and many were cut long but the rest of the course was nicely maintained. The greens were fast and rolled well so they rewarded good putts. I noticed a couple small holes in different greens which I think were nests of ground hornets so that might be a problem that the course has to fight. If someone is playing here make sure watch out for those. For the most part the fairways allowed for a nice lie but there were some patchy sections on the holes that didn’t get much sun. I’ve run into that situation a bit in my travels so it didn’t bother me.

Besides putting over some crazy slopes my only other minor criticisms are that three of the four par 3’s play 150 to 155 yards and that I couldn’t tell where the flag was located on many greens. For those who carry a  range finder that shouldn’t be a problem, but I play with a GPS so the traditional red, white, and blue flags would have helped me out. No matter what, the course has plenty of positives so I think it would be a good stop off of I-81 if passing through the area.

#1 (509 yard par 5):

The opening tee shot looks dangerous. The woods down the left are marked as a hazard and the fairway slopes from right to left which feeds it towards the trouble. I had a long iron out and was ready to play it as a three shot hole when I walked over to the left to see if the group in front was clear and noticed that the second hole runs parallel down the right side. It looks like trouble down the right, but the second picture indicates there is plenty of room so I hit a driver and tried to favor the right side. It is a good birdie chance with a good drive, but make sure not to miss the green long or left as that can end up as a lost ball.

1-1 1-2

#2 (385 yard par 4):

This hole is pretty straight and an aggressive tee shot might get to the top of the hill in the fairway. I laid it up and had a blind second shot to a green that sloped off in many directions. It could be a tough green to chip to.

2-1

#3 (350 yard par 4):

This is a position hole as there is trouble all down the left side and the green needs to receive an approach with the proper spin. I hit my 200 yard club off the tee and ended up with a short iron into a green that slopes severely from right to left. I made sure not to short side it with the pin tucked on the left and had a downhill 40 footer. I played my putt to only go 20 feet and it still rolled 10 feet past. I’ve never been to Augusta National, but hole reminds me of the the 3rd there from watching the telecast each year.

3-1 3-2

#4 (155 yard par 3):

This is the first par 3 on the course and its a good one. The green is large and there is room to miss right and still have a par chance. Anything left of the green should get a bounce left and end up in a bad spot. It is only going to be a mid iron for most, but there is a back level where the flag was at when I played. I had a 40 foot putt that pretty straight overall, but it moved three different ways on its way to the hole.

4-1

#5 (527 yard par 5):

This is a fun par 5 because it has so much slope in the fairway. It moves a little right and the fairway flattens out where the cart is in the picture. The tee shot most likely is going to land on a downslope and run out. The longer hitters can take a line more to the right and possibly end up near the green in two. I think this is one of those par 5’s where getting as close to the green in two is the best play. Being 30 or 40 yards short and right of the green opens up a clear view of the green with a good angle.

5-1 5-2

#6 (376 yard par 4):

It is easy to get distracted with the views on many of the holes and this is one of them. The landing area for the tee shot is blind, but anything down the left center of the fairway should end up in nice shape. From there it will be a downhill lie into a green that slopes from back to front. It is a good birdie hole if the approach ends up below the hole.

6-1 6-2

#7 (152 yard par 3):

The entire green isn’t visible from the tee box so I wasn’t confident with my club selection. The green is larger than it looks from the picture and there are some simple places to chip from around the green so it shouldn’t be a big number.

7-1

#8 (380 yard par 4):

This is a straightaway par 4 that plays slightly uphill. The green is large and it is flat around it so even a missed green can yield a par after a chip close.

8-1

#9 (372 yard par 4):

I had a feeling that this could be one of the tougher holes on the front when I was standing on the tee. After playing it, I would say there are plenty of things that could go wrong here even with an average shot. The fairway is narrow and maybe only 20 yards wide at 225 yards off the tee. It plays narrower than that because of some slope off to the left and the right. There is out of bounds down the left side and some vegetation down the right so I played my 200 yard club off the tee and think that would be my normal play. There is a neck in the back of the green that narrows so an approach back there is going to have to be a laser.

9-1

#10 (382 yard par 4):

The back nine starts out with the most difficult hole on the course. The tee shot is semi-blind and plays downhill to a fairway that slopes off in both directions. I think the 200 yard club is good because it will probably end up 225 yards or so down the fairway before the trouble starts. From there it is a downhill lie to an elevated green that falls off on the left side. It is a hole that needs to be respected.

10-1 10-2

#11 (373 yard par 4):

This isn’t a long par 4 but it requires some thought and execution on all of the shots. The hole actually plays shorter than the yardage because it doglegs almost ninety degrees right. The best line is out over the center of that dried out grass with the 225 yard club. The ball might kick right, but that is fine as that will kick it closer to the hole. The approach needs to be judged carefully because it plays downhill to a green that falls off on all sides.

11-1 11-2

#12 (169 yard par 3):

This is a mid length par 3 that plays uphill to a green with plenty of ridges and slope. I think it plays about half a club uphill.

12-1

#13 (523 yard par 5):

This is another tee shot that had me worried, but I found that it is wide open down the left side all the way up to the green. The fairway plays at an angle so a left to right shot is best. A tee shot starting over that bunker with a cut is the best shot and the bigger hitters can try to cut the corner. I had to layup and I favored the left side which worked well as the ball kicked a bit to the right.

13-1 13-2

#14 (353 yard par 4):

The key here is to find the fairway but that is easier said than done. The landing area is blind and the narrow fairway slopes from left to right. There is a good chance the ball is going to be below the feet of a right handed player for the short second. An average approach should find the green as it is large, but that might leave a long putt over a ridge.

14-1

#15 (150 yard par 3):

Distance control is important on this par 3 because the green isn’t very deep and slopes from back to front. I hit it pin high but was 40 feet to the left and my putt broke about 5 feet.

15-1

#16 (551 yard par 5):

This is a long par 5 that plays downhill on the tee shot to a valley and then slightly back uphill to the green. I don’t see too many people giving this a go in two shots because the second would have to be hit high or right to left to get past some trees that are left of the fairway.

16-1 16-2

#17 (385 yard par 4):

I think this is the simplest hole on the back nine. It is pretty open and the only challenge is that it plays a few extra yards uphill. The tee shot should favor the right center of the fairway to allow for a possible kick left.

17-1

#18 (407 yard par 4):

The closing hole is a fair one. There is some trouble down the left side but an approach from the left side of the fairway leaves a better chance for the right to left sloping green to receive a shot. I missed my tee shot to the right over the bunker which left a difficult angle. An average shot is playable but won’t lead to an easy par which is how I think a hole should play.

18-1 18-2

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