I took the day off so that I could go golf on my birthday! I wanted to play someplace special while still being able to get back to Charlottesville at a decent hour because my family was in town. I figured that today was the perfect day to see what Mattaponi Springs was all about!
Mattaponi Springs is one of those courses on what I’ve dubbed my “Mid-Atlantic wish list”. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to use my VSGA card, which is only valid during the week. The course, which opened in 2004, has an impressive pedigree and gets ranked as one of the top public courses in Virginia each year. It even shows up on some top 100 public listings from time to time. Because it is so well known, it does carry a higher than normal price compared to most courses in the area. Because I’m so far behind in my reviews, I don’t know the exact peak season green fee but it is ~$100. As mentioned, I used my VSGA card which allowed me to play $55. My dad tagged along as a rider, and they didn’t charge anything extra for him which was very nice!
One of the drawbacks about Mattaponi Springs is it’s location. While it is conveniently located near I-95, it is inconvenient from many parts of the state! It took us over an hour and a half of interstate driving to get to the course from Charlottesville, just because of how the roads are laid out. The course is about 45 minutes north of Richmond, in a rural area. The location just doesn’t make sense, at least to me. The course isn’t close to Richmond and it’s a trek from Washington, especially with the awful traffic on that section of I-95. It is one of those courses where I don’t see how it survives financially, unless it does a bunch of weddings and events. As expected, it wasn’t busy when we were there and I made it around in three hours playing through two groups. If someone is passing through the area (maybe on a golf trip!) then make sure Mattaponi Springs gets considered as it would be the perfect place to stop.
The piece of property that the course occupies is spectacular for golf! It is secluded, peaceful, and out in the middle of nowhere with plenty of scenery. There aren’t any homes around so even if the score is bad, there is still an opportunity to enjoy nature! The course plays across some rolling hills with many holes weaving their way through some pine trees. I love courses with lots of pines and Mattaponi Springs seems like it was picked up from the Pinehurst, NC area and dropped up here, a couple hundred north! Mattaponi Springs is one of my personal favorite settings for golf in the state, behind Primland and the Pete Dye River Course!
As far as the design goes, it’s tough. I played the black tees which play 6890/74.2/147 and shot millions. The slope of 147 is the highest I’ve played all year! The course isn’t much easier from the other tees either as the slope is still 136 from the white tees. While I was playing I kept thinking that it seemed like Bob Lohmann, the designer, went out of his way to make Mattaponi Springs difficult! There were a bunch of blind shots and forced carries which are two of my least favorite design features and I struggled to locate the best spot for a miss. The greens had some crazy slopes which required a level of precision that I don’t have, even as a low handicap. I got what I deserved on my bad shots, but it seemed that I got plenty of poor results on my average shots. Not my cup of tea on the playability side of things, but I’m sure some people like that sort of thing. I’ll add that the course was fair off the tee and that the yardages were mixed well!
I had no idea how nicely conditioned that Mattaponi Springs would be! I tried to keep my expectations reasonable considering that the course’s location might hinder its ability to generate revenue, but it is clear the maintenance crew gets the funds they need. The fairways were the best fairways that I’ve played on all year! They were cut tight and an added bonus is that they are Zoysia which means the ball basically sits up on a tee. Zoysia fairways are my favorite! The tees were full without any bare patches and the greens were quick and smooth.
I liked a lot about Mattaponi Springs but it isn’t a course that I’ll play frequently because of its location, challenging design, and premium price. If you are on the fence because of the drive, then know that it is worth a day trip!
#1 (443 yard par 4):
The round begins on what I think is one of the most scenic holes on the course. It is a long, downhill par 4. The tee shot drops quite a bit to a large fairway that slopes from left to right. I don’t think the tee shot is too difficult, but the approach sure is! The approach is a long carry over a hazard to the green. My tee shot ended up in the rough and I couldn’t get enough club to carry it over the water, even with a decent strike so playing out to the left would have been a good idea as that is a shorter carry. Unfortunately, missing left of the green could leave a chip from well below green level.
#2 (553 yard par 5):
The 2nd is the course’s longest par 5 and the #1 handicap. It is a tough hole no doubt, but I think a tricky layup is the main culprit for its rating. Off the tee, the fairway snakes its way to the right in-between some bunkers. As you can see, it isn’t the most intimidating tee shot. The layup is where things can go wrong though! It is semi-blind and there is plenty of left to right slope in the fairway. I’d try to land the layup on the left side of the fairway. In addition, a hazard comes into play starting around 125 yards to the green. There doesn’t seem to be a good layup area inside of 125 yards so I’d hit less club than normal. From there I added a club on my third shot into the green which has a small bowl in the front.
#3 (147 yard par 3):
The 3rd is the shortest par 3 on the course and a chance for a good score depending on the location of the pin. It played about a club downhill to a green with a back tier. The green drops off over the back so I’d make sure to have the perfect club before trying to get a shot close to a back flag.
#4 (464 yard par 4):
The 4th is the longest par 4 on the course. The tee shot plays to a fairway with some side boards so finding it isn’t the toughest task. However, even after a good drive it will leave a long approach into the green. I hit a good drive and hit 3 wood for my second shot. I don’t mind hitting that long of a club, but what made it tough is that it is all carry to the green. It is a bit uphill and any shot landing short of the green could roll back. Plus, if forced to layup there is a hazard that cuts across the fairway. Missing left of the green is best because lost ball trouble is all down the right. Some 460+ par 4’s can be played by an amateur, but this one felt designed for a pro hitting a mid-iron into the green.
#5 (310 yard par 4):
The 5th is the shortest par 4 on the course and one of the easier holes. It doglegs left so a draw is the best play off the tee. The fairway is narrow, the landing area is blind, and there is a long bunker on the left. Therefore, I’d play out to the right side of the fairway and hope for a bounce left from the slope. The approach plays to a green with a higher right side and it falls off over the back. Depending on the pin location, a short iron could end up close!
#6 (523 yard par 5):
The 6th is a straightaway, potentially reachable par 5. I don’t have the distance to get there in two, but some of the bigger hitters will. It is another narrow fairway, this time with some fairway bunkers starting ~240 yards on the right. A draw is the best play again here. My layup was blind and then I played the third into a crazy, bunkerless green. I cannot being to describe all the slope in this green as there are four different sections! Short of the green is a better miss than long.
#7 (208 yard par 3):
The 7th is a long, downhill par 3. It played about a club less for me and I was worried about about there being hidden trouble short of the green. I’m happy to report that there is just a couple bunkers and fairway short of the green! Most of the green should be accessible, even with a long iron, except for an elevated section at the back center.
#8 (360 yard par 4):
The 8th is a short, uphill par 4 that presents a good opportunity to score. Off the tee, bunkers to the right need to be avoided. There are enough bunkers that they could come into play if hitting driver or laying up. My drive went ~20 yards less than normal and I added a club on my approach, which was blind, so the hole plays longer than it looks. There is a back tier on the green that looked impossible to get to, but most of the green feeds towards the center.
#9 (454 yard par 4):
The 9th is what I would call a “goofy” hole. It is a long par 4 that doglegs right and plays downhill. The fairway slopes severely downhill and to the right so ideally the tee shot should land on the very left edge. There is a tree with a large trunk in the center of the picture which seems to be the perfect spot to land the tee shot. Anything leaking to the right can catch a fairway bunker that is ~235 yards to get over. The second shot (which could have a crazy lie in the fairway) is at least a club downhill over a creek and onto the green. Personally, I wouldn’t mind chipping over the creek on my third in hopes of my short game giving me a chance at a par.
#10 (367 yard par 4):
The 10th is similar to the 8th, when it comes to both distance and direction. The 10th doglegs right, but I think the tee shot is easier than the 8th. There is a bunker off in the distance (~275 yards) that is a good spot to aim. The green is guarded by some bunkers, but it is larger and there is some slope to the left which can yield good kicks. The green has a ridge which creates an elevated back tier.
#11 (417 yard par 4):
From tee to green I think the 11th is a brilliant hole! The fairway is split with the left side being easier to find. However, the second shot has to carry more lost ball trouble from the left fairway. Playing the tee shot to the right fairways offers a better angle into the green and probably a better chance to use the slopes to get the ball close. Both fairways run out ~260 yards so it could be a layup off the tee for some. I played conservative to the right side of the green and was faced with a double breaking putt influenced by two ridges. Come to find out there are three sections to the green and each requires a precise shot to find. The green is a bit much for me given the other shots required, but just my $0.02!
#12 (528 yard par 5):
The 12th is the #2 handicap and it is a target golf hole. Off the tee, the landing area is blind which could be a problem because the fairway runs out into a ravine. It is a shorter hit to get to the ravine down the left than it is to the right so it was an uncomfortable tee shot, especially with woods to the left. The layup needs to carry the ravine and avoid a bunker on the right side of the fairway. Over the ravine, the left side of the fairway is higher so that’s a good target. Finally, the third is uphill to a blind green with a tabletop tier on the left side. Like most holes out here, there is quite a bit going on.
#13 (417 yard par 4):
The 13th is one of the prettier holes on the course with the lake off to the right. The fairway is out to the left of the lake but it could be carried by the longest hitters (~250 yards to carry). From the fairway, I couldn’t see the green’s surface and got lucky missing it short of the green. The green is higher on the left side with a collection area on the right. Hitting it in the bunker to the left of the green could leave a very tough shot if trying to stop it around a left pin.
#14 (234 yard par 3):
The 14th is the longest par 3 on the course and the #4 handicap. It plays slightly downhill with a forced carry to a green with a huge false front. I misjudged the distance, came up a bit short of the green, and my ball rolled backwards 20 yards. That left me with a blind pitch to a stepped green with multiple tiers. Even from the white tees it plays 189 yards so I think the green complex is a bit much for the average golfer.
#15 (347 yard par 4):
The 15th is a short par 4 and a pretty easy hole. I made a mess of it, but I hit a bad short iron. The hole doglegs left and is slightly uphill. The best piece of advice I can give is to avoid the big bunker left of the fairway. It is another semi-blind approach but the green is flatter than most at the course, so this could be a birdie chance!
#16 (505 yard par 5):
The 16th is a short, reachable par 5 that moves ever so slightly left. I’m not the longest hitter, but managed to end up just short of the green in two. The tee shot is blind and plays over a rise to a skinny fairway. Off the tee, I’d suggest moving it right to left or hugging the left tree line. After a good tee shot someone can go for the green in two but they will have to avoid water to the right of the green. The green sits a bit below the level of the fairway beyond a bunker so some of the water will be hidden. In addition, the left side of the green complex falls off into the woods so it needs an accurate shot. When it comes to short, risk/reward par 5’s this is a good one!
#17 (177 yard par 3):
The 17th is a scenic par 3 that brings the pond into play again. The green angles from front left to back right along the water so it sets up best to receive a fade. You can find the ball if missing the green to the left either in or near some bunkers, but it could require some short game magic to make a par. I hit it in the left rough and had a speedy, downhill chip over a ridge.
#18 (436 yard par 4):
The 18th is a long, downhill dogleg left. It is similar to the 9th, just moving the opposite direction and a bit more playable. The fairway is completely blind from the tee and there is a bunker that narrows the landing area considerably. It is ~225 yards to carry and if someone can avoid the bunker then the ball can roll a long way down the hill. I ended up with a flatter lie and was able to make clean contact to carry a creek short of the green. The green has a higher tier on the back right section.