By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Jeffrey A. Rendall
WILLIAMSBURG, VA -- Watching the Battle of Bighorn recently (2002), it seemed clear that Jack Nicklaus ain't what he used to be.
But despite some obvious age-inspired physical limitations, he played well through 15 holes and even contributed several valuable birdies to his and Tiger Woods' match-play victory over Lee Trevino and Sergio Garcia in the annual made-for-TV golf event.
So if his golf game's still in order, what's changed?
The way people perceive him. For over four decades, Jack's down-home Ohio smile, gritty determination and record-setting play has set the standard for competitive golf, perhaps matched only by the recent accomplishments of Tiger Woods. Although Nicklaus can still play, it is evident his competitive days are nearing an end. He's played less than 10 competitive rounds this year, and Father Time as well as Nicklaus' aching back probably won't ever allow him to regain the form he once commanded.
Don't mourn his loss, however. Though we probably won't be seeing his name on leader boards much longer, his aura will surround golf forever -- and not just in the Golf Hall of Fame.
One reason is his legacy in golf course architecture. Nicklaus is recognized as one of golf's premier modern course designers, and while in the 20th century he was primarily known for smashing on-course victories and lofty playing records, in the 21st century he'll remain at golf's forefront with his mastery in crafting golf courses.
|Williamsburg National's 10th hole. No way to get there but through the air.|
"Nicklaus" designs dot the landscapes of many states and foreign countries, but there are only two Nicklaus courses in the Mid-Atlantic region that are currently open to the public. One of those is Williamsburg National (Nicklaus' Associate Jim Lipe is credited as course designer).
Opening in 1995, Williamsburg National brought Jack Nicklaus' course design philosophies to Virginia's Colonial Capital, ever increasing its attraction as a popular tourist destination, but also helping build its reputation as a top-notch golf destination.
At that time, Williamsburg already boasted several excellent golf courses, such as the Gold and Green courses at the Golden Horseshoe, 36 holes at Ford's Colony and three excellent layouts at Kingsmill Resort. In subsequent years, Williamsburg area golf course construction sprouted new layouts like mushrooms in springtime--adding Kiskiack Golf Club, Stonehouse, Royal New Kent, the Colonial, Brickshire and another 18 holes at Ford's Colony. Combined, these fine courses make Williamsburg the focal point of central Virginia golf.
The Nicklaus name only adds to the shining reputation, but it shouldn't overshadow the golf course. Williamsburg National's land once contained a sawmill, perhaps an allusion to the modern day stands of hardwoods and pines which compliment the golf course's lush green Bermuda fairways. And though it should be noted that this year's drought has definitely had an effect on the aesthetics, the playing surfaces are still in good condition.
Chris Gossett, Williamsburg National's Assistant Golf Professional, says his course has always been known for good playing conditions: "We're suffering a little bit from the lack of rain this summer, but one thing you'll always find here are great greens. Our reputation around town is for having the best putting surfaces, and that's something we work very hard to foster."
Another thing the course is known for is playability. Nearly 7,000 yards in length from the tips, its course rating of 73.1 and slope of 128 won't frighten many great players into submission. Gossett elaborates: "Ours is a very straightforward, user-friendly golf course. There's nothing blind or crazy about it, and it caters to just about every kind of golfer. We've got six holes with no bunkers, and the bunkers that are out there aren't very deep. The putting surfaces aren't severe, and the rough's cut down."
The treelines are nicely setback from the fairways, and they're cleared reasonably well to allow for recovery shots, in addition.
"You're probably not going to get beat up out here, but you will find some challenging golf holes. We've got three real strong par fours (four, nine and eighteen) and a couple par threes that require good tee shots to leave you a chance at par. Our par fives are risk-reward in nature, and our fast greens will test you on every hole. Most people come back because of the playability, but there're also enough tests of golf to keep you interested," Gossett adds.
|Like for all Nicklaus courses, expect some undulating greens.|
Forced carries are few on this layout, though there are some daunting views on the holes that demand a wetlands carry. Williamsburg National's signature hole, #10, is such a test. Though it's only 177 yards from the back tee, the wetlands guarding the first 160-odd yards makes it look a lot longer.
Two other par threes also have carries, though #8's is only 138 yards over water. Sixteen is probably the club's most challenging hole, a 202 yard par three over wetlands to a large, undulating green.
Another notable feature at Williamsburg National is the service. As is true at all of Williamsburg's golf facilities, expect to be treated well. Gossett puts it this way: "We really try and stress service here at the club. We want every person who comes here to feel as though we're their 'private club for a day,' regardless of whether you're a tourist or a local member, or just somebody walking in off the street who didn't know anything about us before. We want you to leave with the country club feeling and an enjoyable round of golf."
Part of the "club" experience is the practice facility -- it's one of the area's best. There's a large grass tee, practice bunker, chipping green and large practice putting green. Everything you'll need to fine-tune your golf game.
Perhaps best of all, the Williamsburg National experience is going to double in size. The club, in conjunction with the Greensprings residential development, was slated from the beginning to be a 36 hole facility, and Gossett says ground breaking for the second 18 holes will begin next spring. The second course will be another Nicklaus design, doubling the number of Virginia's Nicklaus holes in one sitting (note: Bay Creek also has a Nicklaus course in its plans, and there's a Nicklaus private course being built near Dulles Airport for the Golf Club of Virginia).
Looking at the highlights, the fourth hole is Williamsburg National's #1 handicap hole, a 449 yard monster that doglegs slightly right from the tee. There's plenty of room to drive it, but if you don't get a big tee ball, you're faced with a long-iron carry over wetlands to a green guarded by large bunkers to the front and right. There is some bail room to the left, but getting up and down will be tough from that side.
The aforementioned eighth hole is a nice par three. Though fairly short, it still requires a precise short iron shot to a shallow green. Anything short will likely roll down the steep embankment to the water, and if you take too much club you'll face a downhill chip from the rough that could very well roll into the water.
The backside seems to play a bit tougher, as there are more wetlands to avoid and doglegs to navigate. Fifteen is an interesting short, dogleg left par four, 354 yards in length. A large tree dominates the left side of the fairway, so anyone trying to cut the leg will have to draw the ball around it or take their chances going right at it.
|The wetlands grow profusely in the Williamsburg area during the summer.|
Eighteen's a finishing hole that would challenge Nicklaus in his prime to make par. The hole stretches to 446 yards, and the second shot's uphill to a left to right sloping green guarded by large bunkers left and right. Again, plenty of room off the tee, but the sloping fairway won't guarantee a flat lie. Tough hole.
After finishing the golf, it's a good idea to take further advantage of Williamsburg National's excellent service at the Nicklaus Grill. There you'll get a sense of the course architect's considerable historical achievements in competitive golf -- and you'll also realize his legacy in course design is still very much alive, waiting just outside the door.
Williamsburg National Golf Club
3700 Centreville Road
Williamsburg, VA 23188
Phone: (757) 258-9642
Toll Free: (800) 859-9182
FAX: (757) 258-9738
Course Designers: Nicklaus Design Associates (Jim Lipe, Designer)
Head Golf Professional: Steve Beechcroft
Assistant Golf Professional: Chris Gossett
$74.70; $39 after 2:00 p.m., seven days a week. Includes cart.
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