I recently celebrated playing my 100th different course in Virginia! That round wasn’t at any place prestigious and I don’t “need” to play anywhere special for certain numerically important milestones. However, when a friend called me up to see if I was interested in playing Kingsmill, I decided to make my 101st course in the state one to remember!
My friend and his family were staying on-site for a few days and invited me to tag along. A few years ago the courses at Kingsmill offered public play, but they made some changes requiring a stay at the resort to access the courses. One of the courses, The Woods, is now all private. That leaves the well known River Course and the lesser know Plantation Course as the two that the common man can play. Well, a common man with some cash that is!
I’ll get the bad news out of the way first, and that’s the price. Well it really isn’t bad news right now as I have not received my credit card bill yet, ha! Kingsmill is pricey, that’s for sure. I’m not sure the cost of the lodging but our round on the River Course was $165! It isn’t often (read almost never) that I’ll pay that much for a round, but I wasn’t sure when my next opportunity to play here would be, so I jumped at the chance. Oh, and don’t let the price completely scare you away. We did a replay on the Plantation Course for only $30 which helped add some value!
Our first tee time was 8am on the River Course, which always gets ranked as one of the top public courses in Virginia. It even creeps into the top twenty public and private courses in the state, depending on which site is doing the rankings. The prestige continues as the River Course has hosted both PGA and LPGA Tour events. The PGA Tour was last here in 2002 but the LPGA Tour still makes an annual stop in May. I remember watching some of the PGA coverage from years ago while living in California! I am a David Duval fan and this was the site of his first win! One of these years I’ll have to make it out here as a spectator for the LPGA event. After playing Capitol Hill’s Senator course earlier this year, I didn’t expect to play another LPGA stop so soon!
There’s a lot of history not only in the Williamsburg area, but also at Kingsmill! I’m not a history nerd, but the resort is named after Richard Kingsmill who was a member of the Virginia Company. If you recall, the Virginia Company was charged with settling North America all the back in the 1600’s! More recently, the resort was developed by Anheuser-Busch and changed ownership in 2010. If you are into your military history then there is some of that for you too! Part of the golf course runs along the James River and you can see some National Defense Reserve Fleet vessels from the 17th while looking downriver. That collection of mothballed ships is known as the James River Reserve Fleet.
Some big name designers were brought in to design the courses and the River Course was created by Pete Dye. If you are even a casual reader of my blog you should know that I don’t enjoy Dye courses. However, my desire to play at Kingsmill won over my distaste for Pete Dye! In all honesty, the River Course is a tolerable Dye course. I don’t think I’ll ever “like” playing a Pete Dye course, but the River Course won’t kick you in the face like the PGA West Stadium Course in California or the River Course of Virginia Tech, on the side of Virginia. I’d rank this one as one of my favorite Pete Dye courses, up there with Virginia Beach National or the Snow Mountain Course at Paiute.
To be honest, the design of the Kingsmill River Course seems neutered compared to a lot of his other work. Compared to an average Dye design, there were some things missing with how the course played and how it looked. Just by glancing through the pictures you might be able to see what I mean! There aren’t any volcano bunkers or island greens. There are very few bathtub sized bunkers and waste areas. After the round, my friend commented that he couldn’t recall a railroad tie that was in play! I’ve looked through my pictures multiple times and agree! In fact, the only railroad ties that I can see help frame the Kingsmill logo on the last hole. Also, there weren’t as many blind shots as I was expecting. I was pleasantly surprised! However, if you are a fan of Dye’s traditional setup that punishes you from everywhere and allows very little recovery, then you’ll probably be disappointed with the River Course.
Don’t get the idea that this is an easy resort course though! I played the Gold tees which are 73.2/136/6831 and the found the course to be forgiving off the tee. The course is a par 71 with only three par 5’s so keep that mind when picking the tees to play from. There are some wide fairways and I only was intimated on the tee shot on the 4th. Around the greens is where you could suffer though! There are elevated greens with deep bunkers, mounds, and fall offs so you need to be careful. I short sided one and couldn’t see the flag from 15 yards away because I was so far below green level! I hit a great shot and still ended up with a 30 foot putt. I wrote down more bogeys and doubles than I could have imagined considering that I felt like I played fine. The green complexes are more in line with what you might find at a traditional Dye course. You might not lose a bunch of balls during the round, but I doubt that you’ll be saving par on a consistent basis after missing the greens. I’d work on the flop shot as it seemed to me that every short game shot needed to be thrown high into the air!
As you’d expect for a premium price, the River Course was in near perfect condition. That is even more impressive when you consider that ~10 inches of rain fell in May! I don’t know how, but drives hopped down the fairways and the greens were as fast as anything that I’ll putt on this year. I hit a 20 foot putt like I’d normally hit a 10 foot putt and it would still race past! There was all sorts of trickle and everything would roll an extra three feet, after it looked like it would stop. You’ll notice that the greens were still showing the aeration holes from a few weeks ago, but I never had one putt bump off line. Considering their quickness, the greens were receptive. The fairways and tees were beautiful too. The rough was nasty as the ball dropped down into the bermuda and we spent more time than I prefer hunting for balls. The best we could do was hack it down the fairway with a short iron!
There’s no doubt that the River Course is one of the best publicly accessible courses in Williamsburg! Its name gets thrown around as the best, but I think the Gold Course at nearby Goldenhorse gets my vote as the favorite. I say that for two reasons. First, Pete Dye designed this one! Second, considering the price of the River Course, the setting is average at best except for the last three holes. It is basically an upscale community course where homes are well hidden. I’m happy to have had the chance to play here and if you are here on vacation with the clubs, then go play as the conditions are going to be great and it is a fair test. Plus, it is always cool to play a course where the pros play! I’d love to come back and watch the LPGA Tour next year!
#1 (369 yard par 4):
#2 (198 yard par 3):
#3 (518 yard par 5):
#4 (439 yard par 4):
#5 (173 yard par 3):
#6 (369 yard par 4):
#7 (525 yard par 5):
#8 (419 yard par 4):
#9 (467 yard par 4):
#10 (413 yard par 4):
#11 (408 yard par 4):
#12 (396 yard par 4):
#13 (175 yard par 3):
#14 (374 yard par 4):
#15 (503 yard par 5):
#16 (458 yard par 4):
#17 (177 yard par 3):
#18 (450 yard par 4):