November is typically one of those months where my VSGA card offers some great deals! Rock Harbor is a 36 hole facility that offers expanded play in November and its a place that I’ve been looking forward to playing! I took a day trip to Winchester, about two hours from Charlottesville, to check out both the Rock and Boulder courses.
Besides 36 holes, Rock Harbor caught my eye because of its location. The golf course is located adjacent to an active rock quarry and both courses have a “rock” theme to them. The history of the courses can be found on the website and is actually quite interesting! The designer of the courses and the quarry owner, Denny Perry, wanted to build a golf course. He had access to the machinery and excess rock which allowed him to easily create plenty of “uniqueness” to the courses. I love stories where someone follows their dream and wish that I would have read up on the history before playing!
My morning round was on the Rock course which is Perry’s original creation. It opened in 2003 so it isn’t very old at all! Therefore, it probably shouldn’t be a surprise when I say that it is a “big” course. It can stretch nearly 7300 yards and was still a monster from the blue tees, where I played, which are 6808/72.8/132. Considering its distance it isn’t very spread out and isn’t your typical modern course where you play a hole and drive across a residential street repeatedly. In fact, the courses are tucked on a piece of property between a major road and the quarry without many homes around. Another thing that I liked about the layout is that the courses aren’t made up of all tree-lined holes, which happens all too often around the state!
Considering that the designer isn’t a mainstream name, he did a fantastic job with the design! Don’t expect anything pedestrian because there are plenty of progressive design features at both courses, including great aesthetics. To me, there seemed to be a touch of Mike Strantz in the design of the Rock course. There were some completely blind shots, greens in odd shapes, and even an island green! I had fun trying some of the shots here, even if I didn’t pull them off and there are multiple ways to play so many shots. It is the type of course where some will think the design is a refreshing change from normal while others will think it is a bit contrived!
In my opinion, the Rock course plays tougher than the rating and slope indicate. I’d even say that it has a split personality with a mix of very tough, and surprisingly easy shots! There is plenty of elevation change so I was always adding and subtracting a club. I think this strengthens the design, but what I didn’t like were all the blind shots. I don’t mind a few if there isn’t any hidden trouble but there were times when it seemed like the designer was just trying to hide trouble. All too often I couldn’t see the surface of the green which affected my ability to visualize the perfect shot. I wouldn’t expect to play great here (at least the first time around), but there are some carefree shots and large greens that can yield good scores. Work on those five to ten foot putts as I three putted a bunch!
I’ll make a quick comment about the conditions before summing things up. Unfortunately, the gloomy weather spoiled my pictures but the course was in very nice shape, for any time of year! The tees were recently aerated, but that never affects my game. They looked very full and lush, just a little funny with holes all over. The fairways were full too and I could cleanly contact the ball to generate some spin. The greens rolled great and had some speed, but I was still able to be aggressive. I’d call them a good holing speed, at least for amateur golf.
I’d definitely recommend the Rock course, even though there are a few “funky” holes. I had a blast playing the par 3’s and the 17th is one of the best par 3’s in the state! I’ll give the nod to the Rock course as being the better of the two courses at Rock Harbor, but only by a little bit. It has a couple more signature holes than the Boulder course and was in better condition. If someone is looking to break up a drive then Rock Harbor is convenient to I-81 and it was well worth my drive to play both of the courses.
#1 (373 yard par 4):
The 1st is an easier hole to begin the day. The fairway is much smaller than it looks from the tee, but there is plenty of room left and right to spray it. Off the tee the only trouble probably is going to be hitting it up on the hillside to the right which has a couple volcano bunkers. From the fairway it rises up to the green, so the landing area is blind.
#2 (176 yard par 3):
The 2nd is a mid-length par 3 that doesn’t have any tricks. Like many holes at Rock Harbor, the green is large so trying to two putt from long range can be tricky. It slopes from right to left which should influence the ball after it lands. The best place to miss is short because that avoids the bunkers and should leave a clean lie from the fairway. Oh, and while around the tee box be careful of sliced shots coming from the 3rd!
#3 (359 yard par 4):
The 3rd is only 359 yards, but it plays longer because it is uphill. The wind was hurting when I was there so it didn’t play like the #17 handicap, that’s for sure! The tee shot is demanding with out of bounds to the left and possibly no chance to reach the green if missing right of the cart path. The hole goes almost ninety degrees right beyond the bunker (~250 yards to reach) and some tall trees could block out second shots. The second is blind and plays at least a club uphill. The best place to miss is short and left of the green to avoid a bunker.
#4 (409 yard par 4):
The 4th doglegs left and continues to climb uphill. The fairway is wide but it blends in with all the rough on either side of it, which made picking a line difficult. Plus, there is some slope from left to right so someone really will want to land the ball on the left side of the fairway for a bounce right. The approach plays uphill and over some bunkers to a green that has an elevated back tier. It is another approach that is semi-blind.
#5 (595 yard par 5):
The 5th is one of Rock Harbor’s many long par 5’s. It is a dogleg right and plays from an elevated tee. It is on the narrow side as trees are to the left and water to the right. For someone who likes to fade the ball (me!), the fairway should sit at a comfortable angle because it is a longer carry to get to the fairway the farther right someone goes. It is ~215 yards to get to the fairway and ~270 yards to run through it. After a few easy drives to begin, this tee shot could pose some problems. Depending on how far the drive goes, the layup will be played short of, or on top of, a rise in the fairway. I played a shot from ~150 yards and that rise blocked my view of the large green. Any shot missing the green right or long could end up in the water.
#6 (377 yard par 4):
The 6th, at least for me, was tougher to play than I would have guessed. The hole isn’t too long, but it doglegs left around some trees while the slope goes from left to right. As a fade player, I had to skirt the tree line. Further adding difficultly to the tee shot is a pond off to the right. A draw or a layup (the tee shot drops down to a valley) is the best play off the tee. The approach plays back uphill and I’d favor the higher, left side around the green. Try to hit the approach cleanly to hold the green as it drops off severely over the back.
#7 (152 yard par 3):
The 7th features one of the few island greens in Virginia, so make sure to enjoy it! It is basically either a green in regulation or a drop on this par 3 as just some rocks and a ribbon of rough surround the surface. The wind was blowing pretty good when I was on the tee so there wasn’t much room for error with my mid-iron. The green is narrower at the front and gets wider towards the back. Someone doesn’t have to hit a small bucket of balls either as the drop area is on the island. Hit a good one!
#8 (521 yard par 5):
The 8th is actually one of the shortest par 5’s at either of the two courses, so it could yield a par or birdie. Even though it plays slightly uphill from the fairway, it could be reachable. It was downwind and to do over, I would have tried to hit 3 wood near the front edge. It is a narrow fairway and out of bounds runs down the left side of the hole, so a provisional is recommended for anything heading left. If someone goes for the green then it will be a blind shot that needs to carry a cross bunker. Make sure not to go over the green as it is another one that drops off.
#9 (421 yard par 4):
The 9th is a long par 4 and the #1 handicap. I’m not quite sure why it is ranked so tough as the only difficultly is a blind landing area on the tee shot. It is open enough that I wasn’t too concerned about finding a crooked drive. The green has an elevated, back right tier that I couldn’t completely see from the fairway.
#10 (369 yard par 4):
The 10th certainly isn’t the longest par 4 on the course, it did play longer than the yardage on the scorecard because it plays uphill. The fairway is narrow and snakes its way around a bunker. I’d take an extra club on the approach and favor the left side of the green. There are a couple hidden bunkers short and right of the green and the right side falls away.
#11 (395 yard par 4):
The 11th is another uphill par 4 where you will need to be careful! It is a difficult drive because a pond is hidden off to the left of the fairway and everything falls away to the right. The approach is blind as a rise across the fairway blocks a view of the green. The green slopes from back to front. Make sure to bring the straight ball off this tee!
#12 (580 yard par 5):
Besides the long carry off the tee, the 12th is a wonderful par 5 with plenty of fun and craziness! It’s a long carry to the fairway (~230 yards) which can make it a dicey tee shot, especially into a breeze. I’m generally not a fan of forced carries and that’s the case here. If you can get over the water then it becomes an interesting hole! There is a waste bunker that narrows the area for the layup and you can play left of or over it. The more conservative play is out to the left, which is where I hit it, but then I faced a completely blind third shot from 125 yards. You’ll see in the second picture that some rocks block the view of the green! Laying up out to the right will leave a much better view of the green. The green has some tricks too as it has a huge bowl in the front center (where the pin is located) that rises up five feet to a back tier. That back tier does a semi-circle around the bowl! Sometimes I find long par 5’s boring to play, but that isn’t the case here!
#13 (157 yard par 3):
The 13th is a unique par 3. It isn’t too long on the scorecard, but any number of clubs could be hit depending on the pin location. The massive green is actually shared with the 12th hole on the Boulder course as it horseshoes around the lake to the left. This shot needs to be accurate as the green is deep and gets narrow in the center. It slopes from back to front and has a ridge just short of that white flag which caused my tee shot to roll back. If the pin is in the front right then it could be a good birdie chance!
#14 (384 yard par 4):
The 14th is ranked as the easiest hole on the course and that should give an indication of what the other holes require! The starter told me about this tee shot but it didn’t help as I was hurrying and just hit it down the center of what I thought was the fairway! Remember what he says because there is a waste bunker in the middle of the picture! I got a clean lie so it wasn’t a huge bother. That waste bunker is almost larger than the two sections of fairway which sit off to the left and right. The landing area is blind so make sure to use the two aiming flags! The approach plays into a slightly elevated green that is almost shaped like a cloverleaf. Bunkers surround it.
#15 (561 yard par 5):
The 15th is one of my favorite holes on either course, at least strategically! It is downhill and was playing downwind so I actually had the distance to reach in two, which made it even more entertaining! The fairway snakes it way to the green and actually gets wider the farther that someone hits a drive. If you decide to layup then the fairway is off to the right and playing the third shot from the very right edge leaves the best angle to the green. I was ~250 yards out and decided to go for the green. You can see in the second picture that I had a completely blind shot because the green sits down in the bottom of a dug out area, which I’m assuming is an old part of the quarry. There isn’t much lost ball trouble if you decide to go for the green, but you do have to carry a huge bunker and plenty of rocks! There are more bunkers over the green and some rock walls. I don’t think it is going to the most difficult task to get around the green the in two, but you could have a very awkward chip! The green has some roller coaster slopes in it too.
#16 (315 yard par 4):
The 16th is a short par 4 that could have been a great hole, but the wacky green makes too much for me to like. Options are available off the tee as someone can go directly at the green or layup to the right, where most of the fairway is at. The second shot needs to be controlled because the green slopes off into a couple bunkers and has a false front. I had a putt from 20 feet above the hole and actually putted it into the front bunker. It wasn’t a good putt, but it wasn’t awful either!
#17 (216 yard par 3):
The 17th is the signature hole at Rock Harbor and one of the par 3’s that I’ll remember most from 2015! It is long, but plays at least two (maybe three) clubs less because of the drop to the green. You’ll notice that the green is in the shape of a heart (outlined by bunkers) which makes it unique! The green is large without any crazy slopes so it is fair to putt. In case you didn’t know, the state’s slogan is “Virginia is for Lovers”. I found a lot to love about this par 3!
#18 (448 yard par 4):
The 18th is the longest par 4, but it plays shorter than the yardage because it is a severe dogleg right. In fact, the fairway runs out straight ahead as the hole doglegs 90 degrees. The best drive is somewhere just left of those fairway bunkers before the approach plays over a valley to the green. The green is surrounded by bunkers, which is good because they can catch shots before they go too far down the hill (long and left of the green).