I love this time of year for golf in Virginia! Off-season rates are in full swing, the courses are still green, and there are fewer golfers out because of the cooler weather. After some gloomy weather last weekend, the sun was shining and I was back at it for another 36 hole day!
Instead of heading into the Shenandoah Valley like I did last weekend, I went the opposite direction to Williamsburg. I’m starting to whittle down my remaining courses in Williamsburg and I always enjoy the town! It has so much history and is arguably the best golf destination in Virginia. I had an 8:40am tee time on the Blackheath Course at Ford’s Colony Country Club. This wasn’t my first time golfing at Ford’s Colony as I played the Marsh Hawk Course last year. There are 54 holes here and I was hoping to play Blackheath in the morning and then head over to the Blue Heron course to complete my “sweep”. The great thing is that I could use my VSGA card and play for $31 this time of year!
If you browse through the pictures that I’ve posted of all three courses without reading a word that I type, you’ll probably think that the courses look similar. For the most part, that observation would be spot on! There’s no theme or stand out design feature for any individual course like you might find at other 54 hole facilities. All of the courses are lined by trees with homes set back behind them, have multiple lakes in play, and feature some minor elevation change. The courses have a mix of holes where maybe half offer a traditional Mid-Atlantic feel while the other half seem like they could be found in Myrtle Beach. The similarities stem from the fact that the same designer, Dan Maples, drew up all the courses. I’ve played about a half dozen Dan Maples courses and I generally like them, except for one or two holes per course where I scratch my head trying to figure out what he was thinking!
From everything that I could find online the Blackheath Course is regarded as the top course at Ford’s Colony. Now that I’ve played all three courses (my next course review will be about the Blue Heron course), I agree that Blackheath is the best of the bunch. The Blackheath course stands above the Marsh Hawk and Blue Heron courses to me for two reasons. First, it seems to have the most risk/reward holes and second, it has the most memorable holes. The holes to highlight here are going to be the ones with water. The 1st, 3rd, 12th, and 18th are my favorites and the 18th is brilliant fun with water all down the left and an island green!
Blackheath is a par 71 with three par 5’s and I played the black tees which are 71.9/135/6621. It isn’t overly long, but there are some combo tees available which is something that I love! There are numerous dogleg left holes, and as a fader, I struggled the most on those. I had to skirt the trees on the left to let my normal flight bring the ball back to the right. I clattered a couple shots around and lost one of them, so you might want to consider a provisional in those cases. As you can imagine, on the dogleg right holes, I felt just fine! If you can avoid the water, you generally should be able to find the ball, but it isn’t a course where you can score if you hit it offline. The greens are just constant slopes so you will need to know where to land the ball with an iron to get the ball close. That’s going to be tough to do your first few times around here because the surfaces of many greens cannot be seen from the fairway. I’d say the design is on the harsh side towards average shots.
Besides being very wet, the course was in nice shape. I’m surprised it wasn’t cart path only! The tees and fairways were full and the fairways were cut down more than I expected considering their softness. Unfortunately, the wetness affected play a couple times around the greens as I wanted to take less loft (so I wouldn’t chunk or thin a chip), but then the fairways wouldn’t allow that lower shot to release. That wouldn’t be any different at another course with some recent rain though. The greens were beautiful, speedy and smooth! All I had to do was get a putt started online and it had a chance to drop.
I played the front nine with a couple fun guys from Pennsylvania who where in town for a reunion and they dropped off after the 9th. For what it’s worth, the course doesn’t return to the clubhouse until you finish the 18th. I played in about four hours which left plenty of time for me to check out the Blue Heron Course. To me, Blackheath is a good course but I just didn’t have any passion for the course while playing it. There’s no doubt that Blackheath is the best course at Ford’s Colony though! That said, if I was going to pick a course at Ford’s Colony to play everyday then I’d go with the Marsh Hawk Course. There seemed to be a better chance to recover there and the back nine had some interesting holes.
#1: (540 yard par 5):
The 1st on the Blackheath course is a pretty good starter! It is rated as one of the tougher holes on the course and probably for good reason. It plays from an elevated tee and has water to the left that runs all the way up to the green. The tee shot is made extra tough because the fairway angles right and bunkers narrow it. My drive hung in the air for a long time so driver might not be the club of choice for everyone. There is a bit of room short and right of the green which is a decent spot to play from. The green is tricky because it looks like it slopes towards the back, but my putt broke towards the front.
#2: (362 yard par 4):
The 2nd is a short par 4 that is a bit of a breather after the 1st. The fairway is wide and because of the yardage, driver isn’t needed. It is a good tee shot to get loose. There is some slope in the fairway so landing one in the right half would be ideal. Most golfers will be left with just a short iron into a treacherous green. A ridge in the middle causes the front to slope towards the fairway and the back to slope towards the cart path over the green. Make sure not to miss over the green!
#3 (187 yard par 3):
The 3rd is a scenic par 3. It is pretty playable considering that there is a healthy forced carry to get to land. I misjudged the wind, hitting a club less than I needed, and still carried the hazard without a concern. The green is pretty large and slopes from back to front. Bailing out right is no bargain as that leaves a quick chip!
#4 (583 yard par 5):
The 4th is a monster par 5, and at 583 yards, it is the longest hole on the course. It is the #1 handicap, but I think a lot of that has to do with a goofy angle for the third shot. The hole is straight until it doglegs hard left around the 150 marker. When laying up I’d suggest playing out to the right towards the fairway bunker. That will leave a longer third, but anything on the left half of the fairway will be blocked out by some trees guarding the corner of the dogleg. Even after two solid shots someone might have to kick a field goal through the trees or layup from 150 yards in the fairway.
#5 (393 yard par 4):
The 5th is a good driving hole! It goes slightly right so an aggressive tee shot that challenges the water can result in a shorter approach. The approach is uphill, maybe a club, into a green that can feed shots towards the back left portion.
#6 (316 yard par 4):
The 6th is the shortest par 4 on the course. It doglegs left and can be a good par or birdie chance. Out of bounds creeps in on both sides of the left to right sloping fairway. If you typically play a left to right shot (like me!) this could be an uncomfortable tee shot! Driver certainly isn’t required. Like on the 4th, I was blocked out by trees left of the fairway. Therefore it is another hole where I’d try to get the ball to the right half of the fairway. Adding a club on the second might be a good idea.
#7 (420 yard par 4):
The 7th is a long, straightaway par 4. The best tee shot is a draw or someone might have to hug the left tree line. The left third of the fairway is an elevated shelf that won’t be too easy to find. There is plenty of space around the green to find a poor second shot. Missing short and/or right will leave the easiest chip.
#8 (183 yard par 3):
The 8th is one of my favorite holes at Blackheath, at least visually. I’d like to see it be a little more playable though. It plays uphill into a green that is cut into a hillside. The green slopes severely from right to left with the hillside. It wasn’t too tough a shot with my cut, but some might have to challenge that front bunker just to keep the ball on the green. Any shot landing near the left side could get a nasty bounce. One guy in my group was above the hole on his putt and it was virtually unplayable.
#9 (418 yard par 4):
The 9th is a long par 4 that has a blind landing area. The drive plays slightly uphill to a fairway that slides to the right. A couple fairway bunkers can come into play depending on how far the tee shot goes. The second goes over a valley of fairway to a smaller green that drops off to the left.
#10 (408 yard par 4):
The 10th is a mid-length par 4 that plays a bit longer because it is uphill. It is straightaway to the green and some fairway bunkers (about 160 yards from the green) should be avoided. The green is narrow and has some slope from right to left. I thought that it was tougher than the scorecard indicates.
#11 (379 yard par 4):
The 11th is a par 4 that has a Carolina feel to it with all the pine trees! It is ranked as one of the easier holes on the course and I had a chance to hit my short iron close after finding the fairway. Try to hit a good drive and make par here!
#12 (182 yard par 3):
The 12th is a pretty, downhill par 3. It plays about a club less to a wide green that is guarded by bunkers. The water is set back from the green so it shouldn’t come into play, except on an awful shot.
#13 (390 yard par 4):
The 13th is the #2 handicap. The length shouldn’t be too overwhelming but the hole doglegs left about 165 yards out. That means a draw or layup is best to keep from running through the fairway and into a bunker. If someone hits a big ball then they need to careful as the fairway ends around 135 yards with water then coming into play. The approach has to carry a tongue of water. I had an average lie in the rough and still was able to hack it over the water into the front bunker.
#14 (170 yard par 3):
The 14th requires a very precise mid-iron. The green isn’t overly small, but it slopes towards the back. I’d suggest landing the ball a few yards shorter than you’d think. You might have to play here a couple times to correctly judge the release on the green.
#15 (533 yard par 5):
The 15th is the only par 5 on back. Depending on the wind it could be reachable in two. There is a forced carry to a wide fairway on the drive before the layup gets tighter. The layup is blind and plays to a narrow fairway that is guarded by a hazard left and bunkers and trees to the right. The green slopes from back to front.
#16 (386 yard par 4):
The 16th is the #4 handicap and I struggled to hit two solid shots because it was into the wind. The drive plays from an elevated tee to a fairway that narrows. There is some trouble if someone misses wide right. On a calm day I would have considered my 3 wood off the tee. Missing short and left of green should leave an easier chip.
#17 (415 yard par 4):
The 17th is the longest par 4 on the back. The green is straight ahead and the fairway is wide. Water starts to creep in (short and left) on the second shot. The pin was located on a small, back right tier that was tough to access.
#18 (356 yard par 4):
The 18th is the signature hole on the Blackheath course. It is a short par 4 with plenty of water in play. All the water looks intimidating for tee shot, but the fairway is wide. The tees were back maybe 15 yards when I played and that created an uncomfortable angle for my fade. Second shots play into one of the few island greens in the state. I think I read there are only about a half dozen island greens in Virginia. This requires dealing with some nerves to end the day!