Golden Horseshoe's 40th Anniversary - Milestones on the Road to Excellence

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeff Janas


Colonial Williamsburg's Website

WILLIAMSBURG, VA – Henry Fonda delivered one of the all-time classic movie lines in On Golden Pond, when his birthday celebrating character, Norman Thayer, was asked how it felt turning eighty years old:  “Twice as bad as it did turning forty,” Thayer grumpily retorted.


Forty years, at least as it applies to human beings, is a number that’s looked upon with a certain degree of contempt.  Folks seem to use it as a milestone for middle age, though it certainly needn’t be that way, with proper care and healthy living.

A classic in any season, this early spring photo shows the Gold Course's island green 16th hole.


But for some things, forty years marks a glorious anniversary.  That’s certainly the case for Colonial Williamsburg’s Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, where the Robert Trent Jones designed Gold Course has passed its two-score years in grand style.  Most would agree, in the case of the Golden Horseshoe, forty years is just the beginning, because it gets better every day.


Director of Golf Glen Byrnes has seen eighteen of those years, and he reiterated that the club is better in 2004 than it was in 1963 (the GH opened in June, 1963 and extended its 40th anniversary promotion through this fall):  “It’s been a real privilege to work at the Golden Horseshoe and to witness some of the changes that took place during my tenure here – the on-going commitment from Colonial Williamsburg to make this golf facility the finest it can possibly be.”


“When I started here, we had the Spotswood Course (nine hole executive course) and the Gold Course,” Byrnes said.  “Colonial Williamsburg realized that in order to accommodate both their leisure guests (the golfers and historic area visitors) as well as their conference attendees, they’d need a second championship golf course.”

The leaves don't provide much shade in the early spring, and the wetlands haven't started growing, but you can still see the beauty and challenge of the Green Course's par three 7th hole.


Fortunately for the Colonial Williamsburg Company, they just happened to own 250 acres adjacent to the Gold Course, on some rather undulating ground, but sitting virtually untouched since the days of the Founding Fathers.  And in keeping with the already grand tradition of the Robert Trent Jones designed Gold and Spotswood Courses, you couldn’t just bring in any old designer to shape the new Golden Horseshoe course.


In entered Rees Jones, son of Robert Trent Jones.  And when the Green Course opened in 1991, the Golden Horseshoe’s two championship courses became the only side-by-side father/son layouts in the United States.  The younger Jones was also involved in renovating the Gold Course in the mid-nineties, for which the Company generously devoted over four and a half million dollars to complete.


The dedication shows.  “That’s what I love about the Golden Horseshoe,” commented the pride-filled Byrnes without prompting.  “Having not only the golf courses that the Joneses have laid out here, but being part of the overall Colonial Williamsburg experience, where there’s a genuine desire to take care of the guest – and driving it all is an incredible patriotic mission.  It doesn’t get any better than this.”

The Gold's 6th hole is one of two very reachable par fives on the course -- but if you fail to hit the green, you'll have a tough up-and-down.


Part of that genuine mission is a hundred-million dollar campaign devoted to Colonial Williamsburg’s hotels, which to date includes construction of the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel & Suites (near the Visitor’s Center), and an extensive renovation of the world famous Williamsburg Inn.  Current work is on the Williamsburg Lodge, which when complete next year (2005) will include a luxury spa and a state-of-the-art health evaluation center.


As if the golf and history wasn’t enough, Colonial Williamsburg’s a destination for all the pampering and luxury of the finest resort destinations.  Such quality was recently recognized once again by Golf Magazine, which awarded the Golden Horseshoe another Gold Medal designation in its 2004 rankings (there are only 25 in America).  The Gold Medal list includes some other weighty Mid-Atlantic names, such as Pinehurst Resort, The Greenbrier and The Homestead.


In other words, a trip to Williamsburg needn’t solely be to immerse the children in historic significance, fraught with tri-corner hats, costumed interpreters and wooden muskets.  That’s a common misconception about Virginia’s Colonial Capital and the world’s largest living history museum – at Colonial Williamsburg, your choices include plenty of authentic history, but also world-class accommodations, cuisine and recreation.  It’s just a matter of getting the word out, then getting people to give it a try – or come back again to see the ‘new’ Williamsburg.

The Green Course's signature hole, the par three 11th, demonstrates well the contrast between dormant Bermuda and thriving bentgrass.


This is a continuing mission in itself.  One event that will certainly help (from a promotional standpoint) is the impending arrival of fourteen year-old golf phenomenon Michelle Wie, when she defends her first United States Golf Association (USGA) championship on the Green Course in June (22nd – 27th).  Last year, Wie became the youngest ever winner of the USGA’s Women’s Amateur Public Links (WAPL) title, and actually turned down a sponsor’s exemption to the PGA Tour’s Booz-Allen Classic (played in the Washington DC area during the same week) to defend her crown in Williamsburg.


Good choice.  There are other forums to discuss the appropriateness or wisdom of Miss Wie’s decision, but needless to say, playing golf at the Golden Horseshoe is a good bet under any circumstances.


Byrnes expounds on the event:  “We’re very excited about hosting the Women’s Amateur Public Links, and not only because Michelle Wie’s going to defend her title – there will be many, many great players here.  It’ll be our fourth USGA championship that we’ve held at the Golden Horseshoe, and we’re hoping to see quite a few juniors coming out to watch – representing junior golf in the Mid-Atlantic region.”

Looking from the tee on the Gold Course's 17th hole. One of the toughest par fours you'll ever see.


As Byrnes alluded to, the Golden Horseshoe is no stranger to hosting competitions.  In years past, the USGA selected it for the Senior Women’s, Men’s State Teams and Women’s State Teams championships – as well as numerous Virginia State and Mid-Atlantic PGA events.  Both the Gold and Green courses are superior examples of golf challenge, and certainly provide many opportunities for drama when battling in the heat of competition.


Hosting the events certainly provides notoriety, but Colonial Williamsburg’s motivation for applying for them goes much deeper than that.  Again, Byrnes tells why:  “The people who come and play in a championship are going to very avid and talented golfers – and if you furnish them with the experience that we look to provide, they’re going to go back and share the good word and hopefully some of their friends will come visit as well.  It’s a nice way to give the Golden Horseshoe to some of the best players in the country.”


And it’s not just for the players.  Admission to the WAPL is free, so if you can get there, you can see it.  Byrnes says they’re hoping a good crowd will show up, and based on Wie’s name being on the lips of many a golf follower these days, it won’t take a whole lot of extra incentive to entice fans to take a look at her game in person.  Since finishing so well as a thirteen year-old at last year’s Nabisco Championship (an LPGA major championship), Wie’s been hyped as the female Tiger Woods – and who knows how many opportunities you’ll get to see her when there aren’t thousands of people around.

Michelle Wie and her competitors will see this view when finishing up on the Green Course in June -- a tad greener, though.


Something to think about, and she’ll face a challenge on the Green Course, too.  Longer and wider than the original Gold Course, it’s probably more of what you’d envision from a course built in the nineties.  Lots of room to drive the ball, but with greens that’ll call for good placement and a steady putting stroke – Rees Jones spared no methods in designing a dramatic test.


To celebrate the Golden Horseshoe’s 40th anniversary, Colonial Williamsburg’s offering a package that’s tough to beat.  Byrnes says it’s the best golf package they’ve offered in his many days at the resort, and it’s priced to reward past players as well as welcome new ones.


“The package starts at $139 (per person), and it’s a two-day package,” Byrnes offered.  “One day each on the Gold Course and the Green Course, unlimited golf.  You also get unlimited golf on the Spotswood Course, so we hope people come out ready to play.  You also get preferred tee times and dining reservations, a 40th anniversary logo Cutter & Buck golf shirt, a sleeve of Golden Horseshoe logo golf balls, personalized bag tag, yardage books, range balls… everything you’ll need for a great time.”

Early April provides some color from behind the Gold Course's 7th green.


Byrnes didn’t mention something that’s included in every visit to the Golden Horseshoe, package or not – something that doesn’t show up in brochures or press releases, but is evident from the moment you hit the parking lot – service.  The Golden Horseshoe’s experienced staff simply won’t allow you to do a whole lot, except enjoy yourself.


It starts at the top, but Byrnes would never take credit:  “I don’t know if we’re always successful, but we’ll certainly keep trying,” said’s winner of the 2003 ‘Good Guy of Mid-Atlantic Golf’ award.  It doesn’t end with him – Head Golf Professional Jeff Winters, Assistant Golf Professional Raleigh Scott and Golf Ambassador (and award winning instructor) Del Snyder will ensure that golf’s the only thing you’re worrying about when you’re there.


Even during Michelle Wie’s visit for the Women’s Amateur Public Links championship, the Gold Course will remain open for play.  Who could ask for anything better – play a round on a classic, then go watch the future.  Almost makes turning forty sound pretty good, doesn’t it?

Only a goose would want to play from the back tee on the Gold's 17th hole when the wind's blowing as hard as it was on the day we played.


Note:  For extensive coverage of Colonial Williamsburg and the Golden Horseshoe, please see the links below.


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