Slowly, very slowly the weather is starting to get consistently better! It seems that we are in a pattern where it is nice during the week and then a cold front blows through on the weekend, bringing weather that isn’t great for golf. I’ve had plenty of time to review my VSGA book and saw that Fawn Lake Country Club was added for 2016. The course is private, but offers some public play and I decided to brave a gloomy day to take advantage of off-season rates ($31). My pictures turned out better than I would have thought and it actually was a somewhat comfortable temperature. It was ~60 degrees all afternoon without much wind. Pretty good for scoring!
The first thing that I’ll mention is that I never got the “cold shoulder” from anyone at the course. Sometimes private places can be a bit snobby but I didn’t encounter any of that here. The proshop was a pleasure to deal with and I tried to minimize any disruptions to the members. I intentionally golfed on the holiday which helped as there weren’t too many members out and about. Whenever I read about someone joining a country club, it seems they do so for a handful of reasons. I often read that they want to play quickly and on a course that is in excellent shape. That’s exactly what I experienced at Fawn Lake, a speedy round and superb conditions!
Everything about the course was in wonderful shape and one of the main reasons that I’d recommend playing here if you get the opportunity. The gray sky and mostly dormant grass don’t flatter the course in this post, but once everything greens up it will be much prettier to look at. As you can see from the pictures, the grass is starting to grow and change color! The tees and fairways were perfect. The tees were like carpet while the fairways were cut tight and didn’t have any patchy spots. I’m pretty sure the fairways are zoysia because of the way the ball sat up in them, but I’m not 100% sure of that. The greens were smooth and fast and a pleasure to putt. I had to be defensive on all my putts and just brush the ball on the downhill putts. The rough was starting to grow in spots and I had a couple thick lies.
I played the blue tees which are 71.3/135/6446. The good news is that if you spray tee shots then Fawn Lake is playable off the tee. That’s probably not a huge surprise though if you played other Palmer designs. When it comes to the challenges at Fawn Lake, there were two things that stood out after my round. First, the course was firm, really firm. Tee shots ran out and the greens were receptive only to the most solid shots. Chips released and I had a couple irons bounce like they landed on concrete! At best, I struggled to get a feel and at worst, I was frustrated. I’m just not accustomed to having to be as precise as what was required. I needed Phil’s 64 degree wedge and a ProV1! Well, I would have needed his talent with that wedge too! The second thing that made the course difficult were the slopy greens. There aren’t any flat spots in the greens and with their quickness, I had a couple big breaking putts across mounds and ridges. I had two putts that broke 5+ feet even though I was only 20 feet away! I walked around a few sections on the greens and saw some slopes that you could use to your advantage. I’m sure if you talk to a member, they may not always take a direct line at certain pins!
Over the last year or two, Palmer has become one of my favorite designers. Fawn Lake was built in the mid 90’s and is a modern design. There is some gentle elevation change and a bunch of land was cleared so that the course could be routed. The setting has potential as plenty of pine trees and hazards dot the property. Many of those hazards are in play! After finishing my round I was surprised that I didn’t enjoy the design more. I guess “underwhelmed” is a good word to describe my thoughts about the design. It might have been the setting in an upscale community or maybe I’ve just played too many courses in Virginia, but nothing “wowed” me about the design. Except for the 15th and 18th, most of the holes blended together. There was way too much out of bounds for me! I never hit a shot OB but it was eyesore on almost every hole. Beautiful homes surround the course, but it wasn’t uncommon for multiple holes in a row to have out of bounds lining both sides. The routing just didn’t seem to flow well as I crossed community roads nine or ten times when getting to another hole.
Fawn Lake didn’t turn out as my favorite Palmer design, but like always I’m glad that I played a new course. If you get a chance to play it, do so because most likely every blade of grass will be perfect!
#1 (363 yard par 4):
The 1st hole is an easier par 4 which is a nice way to open. I had ~130 yards into the green and from there the fairway had to be 40+ yards wide. It does start to narrow and downslope towards a hazard so you might consider laying up. The hazard runs up short of the green and could be in play on the approach. The green is receptive, sloping from back to front, which is a bit unusual considering that you may only be hitting a short iron. I’d try to take advantage of this one!
#2 (374 yard par 4):
There are a handful of other par 4’s on the course that are longer than the 2nd, but this is ranked as the #1 handicap. There isn’t an “easy” shot on this hole and it plays tougher if you are fade player. The green is off to the left and it can be easy to hit the tee shot through the dogleg and out of bounds. The fairway downslopes so if you can get the tee shot turning left it could roll a long way! I fanned my 3 wood out to the right which left me in the short grass, but with a longer club than I wanted. If the drive doesn’t fit your eye then I’d suggest laying up. From the fairway the hole drops about a club down to the green which sits over a hazard. The green slopes towards the back and from right to left. To get the ball close on the approach you might have to challenge the hazard. My ball landed pin high and skipped into the rough over the green. It was a pretty easy chip just off the back edge so it turned out to be a good spot to miss.
#3 (503 yard par 5):
The 3rd is a borderline short par 5 that is a good birdie opportunity. To fit the shape of the hole a fade is best off the tee while a draw is best after the drive. The fairway is semi-blind and narrows the farther that you hit it. The bigger hitters will need to be concerned with water that starts up ~280 yards. You can go for the green in two but need to carry the water to get there. Any miss short or left of the green could be a lost ball. I laid up and the fairway again starts to narrow with three bunkers off to the right.
#4 (163 yard par 3):
The 4th is ranked one of the easiest holes on the course, but I beg to differ! It didn’t look like much from the tee box, but the green complex is a tough one. In-between the greenside bunkers at the front of the green is a false front. That means that you have to carry the ball at least to the front edge. I tried to sling a hook at that flag but it didn’t work out well as my ball landed into that false front! That’s not the only slope in the green, there is a spine in the center and the back half slopes towards the front.
#5 (360 yard par 4):
The 5th is one of the shortest par 4’s, but it is ranked as the #3 handicap! I didn’t bother looking at the pin placement before I hit my tee shot, but I should have! I’d suggest you do exactly that and try to place the ball on the side of the fairway that leaves the best angle to the flag. The fairway narrows the farther you hit it so you might consider laying up. Whatever you do, try to leave yourself a favorite yardage because the green is protected by another hazard short of the green. Even with a short iron, controlling the approach is going to be a big challenge because the fairway has mounds and slopes in it. It might require a bit of luck to get the stance for the shot shape that you want into the green!
#6 (493 yard par 5):
The 6th is Fawn Lake’s shortest par 5, but because it plays uphill I think you’ll have a better shot of reaching a couple of the par 5’s in two. The fairway isn’t overly narrow, but lost ball trouble sits close on either side of it. If you are big hitter then missing a bit short of the left half of the green should leave a good angle to chip from. I laid up and if you do the same then be ready for a demanding layup! There are three bunkers left of the fairway which can catch second shots. Taking a more aggressive line over them will leave a better angle into the green but is a more risky shot than playing out to the right. If you go to the right then your third shot will have to go more across the greenside bunkers! The green slopes from back to front quite a bit so I’d try to leave it below the hole.
#7 (365 yard par 4):
The 7th features some target golf. It plays downhill on the drive to a fairway that runs out into a hazard. It is ~250 yards to the end of the fairway, but it plays less than that. I hit my 230 yard club and ended up in perfect shape at the very end of the fairway (with a flat lie)! The approach is slightly uphill over that hazard to a green that is cut into a hillside. The bank behind the green can stop some wayward shots, but that will leave a super speedy chip onto the green.
#8 (162 yard par 3):
The 8th is a deceptive looking hole. All the trees on the hole have been cut down so it lulled me into a sense that I didn’t need a perfect iron shot! That’s not the case though. First, I’d consider an extra club. Second, an accurate shot is needed to find the green since it has some left right to slope. That makes a draw the best shot shape for most pins. The green slopes from back to front and is narrower towards the front and wider at the back. There is a small back tier that you may have to access by skipping a full shot back onto.
#9 (386 yard par 4):
I made a mess of the 9th, but it should set up well for most faders. I picked the bunker (~240 yards to reach) as my line and tried to let it fall right. I didn’t pull it off, but at least I drew it up correctly! The farther right you go off the tee the longer a carry over the rough it is to the fairway. Misses left can end up out of bounds, so I’d suggest a provisional if you head that way. The approach is semi-blind into another tough green complex. The green falls off on most sides into areas of rough and bunkers that are three or four feet below green level. I played hockey across the green so I don’t see any need trying to hit a hero pitch shot.
#10 (367 yard par 4):
The 10th is a shorter par 4, but a good one. You can hit whatever you want off the tee and can be rewarded with a short iron into the green. The fairway narrows and slopes to the right so I’d expect the first bounce to kick a few yards right. The green’s surface is semi-blind and I aimed directly at the flag. That was a mistake because the green slopes from left to right just like the fairway. I should have aimed left of the flag! If you land a shot right of the fairway or the green it could kick into the hazard. This could be a birdie hole.
#11 (394 yard par 4):
The 11th is one of the longer par 4’s on the course and another one where you might have to use the slopes to get the ball close to the hole. The tee shot plays to a blind landing area, but if you can carry that fairway bunker (~220 yards) then it should cut off a few yards leaving you in great position. I’d favor the left side of the green as it slopes to the right. If you land on the right third of the green you risk rolling off the right side into a chipping area or some rough.
#12 (174 yard par 3):
Considering that the 12th doesn’t have any bunkers and it was only a mid-iron for me, it played very tough. Most of that difficultly is due to the fact that my miss was in the worst possible spot given the flag location! The green is almost shaped like an upside down heart and there is a valley of rough in the center of it, short of the green. The green falls off on most sides and depending on where the pin is located, it could be a tiny target to get at with a mid-iron. I missed it short right of the green and didn’t think I could chip at the flag. I chipped it 20 feet right of the flag to avoid that valley! If the pin is in the front, make sure your miss isn’t short unless you hit it online.
#13 (331 yard par 4):
The 13th is the shortest par 4 on the course and a position hole. Even the average length hitters won’t want a driver because of a pond that starts up ~240 yards from the tee. The green is off to the right and if you can carry the fairway bunker (~180 yards) with a layup club that should turn out nicely. Although the water shouldn’t come into play on the 2nd shot, holding the green might be difficult because it slopes towards the back. I hit my wedge solid from the rough but it didn’t have a chance of holding the green! Like the 2nd hole though, I wasn’t faced with a difficult chip shot.
#14 (505 yard par 5):
The 14th is a potentially reachable par 5, especially if you can carry the drive over the center of the bunker (~235 yards). If you go for the green in two then you might want to play to the left of the greenside bunkers and use some fairway to run the ball onto the green. Even if you cannot reach the surface in two, then you’ll have some options. You can layup to a favorite yardage for a wedge or a try to chase a long club down the fairway just short of the greenside bunkers. I decided to do that and was left with a pitch shot over them. My plan would have worked better if the flag was deeper into the green!
#15 (145 yard par 3):
The 15th is the shortest par 3 on the course and my favorite hole! There is all sorts of risk/reward here! The green is large and guarded by water to the left and a bunker to the right. If you want to challenge a flag on the left side then you better not miss too far left or the ball will kick into the water. To complicate things, there is a ridge in the middle of the green that leads to a back tier. My shot landed into that ridge and rolled back a bit. It turned out to be a pretty easy three putt for me!
#16 (541 yard par 5):
The 16th is the longest, and toughest, par 5 at Fawn Lake. It doglegs right and has a surprisingly narrow fairway! The perfect line off the tee for me as a fader was out at that group of pine trees and let it slide right. I sliced it and actually ended up along the cart path on the right. That turned out to be much closer to the out of bounds that I guessed so if you go that way make sure to hit a provisional. The fairway narrows the farther you hit it so the pressure is on to hit a good drive. If you hit a good drive then your layup will have to deal with a bunker on the right and water to the left. The water runs all the way up to the back side of the green so you don’t want to miss the green to the left.
#17 (410 yard par 4):
The 17th is the #2 handicap, but that’s probably because of its odd design. Along with the 18th, which is the same distance, the 17th is the longest par 4 on the course. But, the wide part of the fairway abruptly ends ~235 yards and a hazard with some grass starts up. You might be able to find the ball in the hazard depending on the time of year. The fairway swings off to the left into a narrow neck and then gets wider again short of the green. I don’t like the longest par 4 to potentially require a layup off the tee, especially when it plays uphill! I pulled a driver and ended up in that narrow neck, but it isn’t a percentage play. I added a club for my approach, but you will want to make sure to be below the hole because the green slopes severely from back to front. If you miss the green then chipping from short and left is a good spot to play from.
#18 (410 yard par 4):
The 18th is a difficult closing hole. It is tied for the longest par 4 when it comes to distance and the lake is in play. The green is located over the left fairway bunkers which you might want to challenge off the tee. I say that because the right half of the fairway slopes into the rough. The approach plays slightly downhill and over a finger of the lake which can catch misses short and left. There cannot be any indecision about the shot shape on the approach because the green sets up to receive a draw while the fairway sets up for a fade. Pick one and give it a try! I rolled home a par putt and was very happy, good luck!