By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Kevin Gaydosh
WILLIAMSBURG, VA – Last year it was all about Annika; this year it was all about Michelle -- and neither ended up winning.
Several story lines emerged from the LPGA’s 2004 Michelob Ultra Open, played May 6-9th at Kingsmill Resort’s River Course, the 6,270 yard Pete Dye layout set alongside the historic James River in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Harkening back to last year’s inaugural Michelob Light Championship, the world’s attention was focused on Annika Sorenstam as she prepared to take on the men at the Bank of America Colonial, played three weeks after the Michelob (and it was Annika’s final LPGA appearance prior to it). In 2004, 14 year-old teen phenomenon Michelle Wie from Hawaii accepted a sponsor’s exemption to come to Virginia and take part in the ‘Ultra,’ and a great deal of the tournament ‘buzz’ surrounded the tall youngster as she strode around the River Course launching 300 yard drives and looking steady as a Tour veteran.
|Se Ri Pak got all the attention at the end -- for her golf, as well as her accomplishments. Photo from ESPN.com.|
Perhaps it was a scouting trip for Wie, who will return to Williamsburg next month to defend her first adult amateur title in the USGA’s Women’s Amateur Public Links, to take place across town at the Golden Horseshoe’s Green Course (June 22nd – 27th).
Whatever the reason for traveling the distance, Wie was hoping to make the Michelob Ultra her first LPGA victory, having come close a few times in other notable women’s professional tournaments. And though she played well to finish at even par 284, she ended up nine strokes behind eventual winner Se Ri Pak. Wie’s score finished in a tie for twelfth.
Sorenstam finished this year’s event in a tie for eighth at 282 – but she, too, was never really a threat to win.
Though Pak wasn’t the one everyone was watching, she quietly inched past the third round leaders (Lorena Ochoa and Christie Kerr), shooting a final round 65 (6-under) to win by two shots over Ochoa and Julie Inkster. The victory also earned Pak the final point she needed to qualify for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
|Michelle Wie was a big hit with the crowds at the Michelob Ultra. One can only imagine the galleries she'll draw once she goes full-time. Photo from ESPN.com.|
Afterwards, Pak said making the Hall of Fame was her biggest goal in golf. Not bad to accomplish it after just seven years on Tour and at age 26 – we should all be so fortunate.
But putting up those kinds of numbers has nothing to do with luck, as Pak’s come-from-behind victory demonstrated -- she possesses a steady, effective golf game to have gotten her where she is. It was the tenth time she’s caught and passed the third round leaders to earn a victory – which would certainly qualify her as a stealthy ‘below the radar screen’ performer.
In addition to the great golf at the Ultra, it was gratifying to see the impressive spectator turnout for the second holding of this LPGA Tournament. The men’s PGA Tour left Kingsmill in October, 2002, and it wasn’t known at that time how the LPGA would hold up in its place. Not knowing the official numbers, there was probably a somewhat smaller attendance than the men’s event, but there also looked like an awful lot of folks climbing up and down the hills of the River Course, wrangling to get a good view of the lady stars. Great to see.
Once again, there was universal praise amongst the players for the River Course layout, and most who were asked said this event in its second year was already one of the better tournaments on Tour. With a purse of $2.2 million, the Ultra ranks third on the LPGA Tour in total prize money, with a winner’s share of $330,000.
|This cannon will probably still be near the 17th tee, but much of the River Course will change before next year's Michelob Ultra Open. Photo By Jeff Janas.|
The ladies of the LPGA will be coming back next year to the newly renovated River Course, with the tournament running May 2nd – 8th, 2005. We’re looking forward to seeing them again.
River Course Renovation
When the LPGA returns, they’ll find all new greens on the course. If there were any complaints from the players at all in 2004, they were directed towards the River’s inconsistent greens. After last year’s tournament, Kingsmill’s directors realized that something needed to be done, and the course is now closed for the better part of a year to make things right again.
Chris Hartig, Kingsmill’s Head Golf Professional, talks about the changes: “We’ve had some consistency problems with the River’s greens, so Pete Dye and his design group are coming in to redo them – the contours, but also put in a more consistent bentgrass surface. They’ll also redo some of the bunker complexes. When they’re done, it’ll make an already great layout that much better.”
|With Kingsmill's River Course closed for renovation, the Clark/Strange designed Woods Course gets top billing -- and should hold up nicely.|
The Resort’s other two layouts, the Plantation and Woods Courses, will remain open and operating for members and resort guests. Hartig says it’ll be a good opportunity to feature the Woods Course as the ‘premium’ layout at the Resort – giving it some much deserved attention. Since opening in 1995, the Woods has been in the shadow of the River Course, but it’s always been the Kingsmill members’ favorite.
Golf In Williamsburg
The success of the Michelob Ultra Open is gratifying in another way – it helped bring attention to Williamsburg as a golf destination. Most knowledgeable travelers are aware of Colonial Williamsburg as the country’s largest living history museum, but its outstanding golf product is often overlooked by those looking farther south to destinations in North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida.
It’s true, the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club (with its Gold and Green Courses) has gotten its share of acclaim, including being awarded a Gold Medal by Golf Magazine as one of the top golf resorts in the United States. But the Williamsburg choices don’t end with the Golden Horseshoe or Kingsmill Resort.
|Michelle Wie will play next month at the Golden Horseshoe's Green Course -- but you can play there all year long. Photo By Jeff Rendall|
Just west of Williamsburg are several layouts that have garnered recognition from national publications for their overall quality. Farthest west is The Tradition Club at Royal New Kent, a Mike Strantz design that won ‘Best New Upscale Public Course in the Nation’ by Golf Digest in 1997. Right next door to RNK is the Golf Club at Brickshire (2001), an Ault, Clark & Associates design with Curtis Strange consulting – and it’s no less dramatic than Royal New Kent, though without some of the attention grabbing land features (and difficulty) of its older neighbor.
Moving east, a sibling to Royal New Kent is The Tradition Club at Stonehouse, another Mike Strantz design that actually opened first, winning ‘Best New Upscale Public Course in the Nation’ by Golf Digest in 1996.
Nearby Colonial Golf Club was Lester George’s first solo design, set on a beautifully varied piece of land out in the country with no real estate and all the peace and serenity that is found in this part of the State. Definitely worth a trip.
Just north of I-64 is Kiskiack Golf Club, another fine, playable John LaFoy layout that’s one of the local favorites. Considerably more gentle than the Tradition siblings mentioned above, head to Kiskiack if you need to heal the inevitable bruises suffered from playing some of the other area courses.
|The Golden Horseshoe Gold Course's #1 handicap par four 4th hole.|
Closer to town is Ford’s Colony, a private club with three Dan Maples layouts that remains part of the Williamsburg Golf Association, so you can still book rounds there. Take advantage of the opportunity – truly one of the best groupings of 54 unique holes you’ll find anywhere. Each layout has its own unique flavor, and they’re all very playable.
Last but not least, closer to the James River side is Williamsburg National Golf Club, the lone Jack Nicklaus designed course in Virginia – which again, weaves in and out of stands of hardwoods, over ravines and presents fair but worthwhile challenge.
And because the Williamsburg golf courses are located in or near, well, Williamsburg – there’s more than a healthy selection of places to stay and eat. There are a number of packagers who’d be more than happy to put together a tee sheet and itinerary, and you can combine some golf with a memorable family vacation to Virginia’s Colonial Capital.
In other words, everybody wins.
|Rees Jones called the Golden Horseshoe Green Course 'A Nature Walk.' Hard to argue with that description. Here, the par five 18th hole.|
Where We Stay In Williamsburg
Coming to Williamsburg for next year’s LPGA event, to play some great golf, or tour some of the historical sites couldn’t be easier. Being one of the region’s largest tourist draws, there’re a multitude of places to stay (and eat!) to choose from.
Having been to the area a couple dozen times, we’ve found there’re no better accommodations than those offered by Colonial Williamsburg itself — for value, proximity and quality.
We’ve stayed at (and recommend) the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel, adjacent to Colonial Williamsburg’s Visitor’s Center, and just a short walk or bus ride away from the historic district itself.
|Colonial Williamsburg -- great family vacation spot, but don't forget to bring the golf clubs!|
The Woodlands is part of Colonial Williamsburg’s constant building and restoration effort, and a fine example of the Foundation’s efforts to provide the best possible stay for its guests. The Woodlands is a family-style hotel, complete with all the amenities you’d expect from a kid friendly environment.
If you’re looking for more formal sleeping quarters, try the Williamsburg Lodge, directly adjacent to the historic area (and also the Gold and Green Courses of the incredible Golden Horseshoe Golf Club), or smother yourself in luxury at the newly renovated Williamsburg Inn. It all depends on your budget and preferences.
Summing It Up
Four nice days of weather certainly helped make the 2004 Michelob Ultra Open the success that it was, and when you add the incredible Kingsmill layout and James River views – it’s hard to imagine it getting any better. The early May LPGA event seems destined to be around for quite a long time, ensuring that we’ll see some of the world’s greatest professional golfers on an annual basis. Mark it on your calendar for next year, and play some golf in Williamsburg while you’re there.
Michelob Ultra Open
May 6-9, 2004
Kingsmill Resort's River Course
Note: Kevin Gaydosh and Shari Rendall contributed to this article.
Colonial Williamsburg Information can be obtained on its website: www.history.org, or by calling 1-800-HISTORY.
See links below for reviews of some of
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Maryland National Golf Club
Hollow Creek Golf Club
Rocky Gap Resort
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Whiskey Creek Golf Club
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