By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Kevin Gaydosh
SMITHFIELD, VA -- It's safe to say, if you're a golfer, then someplace, somewhere you've got your own personal version of an 'Amen Corner.'
|The 211 yard 5th hole features a waste bunker all down the left side.|
Though most people associate the heavenly term with that famous stretch of holes at Georgia's Augusta National - holes 11, 12 & 13 - which figure so prominently during the Masters Tournament every April. But unless you're an Augusta member, you'll probably never actually see the legendary holes for yourself. So most of us settle for a different trio of links that are just as personally special, but perhaps a tad less celebrated.
For golf architect Tom Clark (Ault, Clark & Associates), his 'Amen Corner' is in Smithfield, Virginia, at the Cypress Creek Golfer's Club. Cypress Creek will never be mistaken for Augusta National, but it just goes to show, your own personal paradise can be found practically anywhere, if you look long enough.
Clark says, "Cypress Creek was one of those projects that really kind of surprised me. It doesn't receive a lot of notoriety, but I personally think the back nine, in terms of variety, is one of the best I've ever designed. And of course there's 15, 16 & 17, which I like to call 'My little Amen Corner,' because those holes down by Cypress Creek are not only memorable from a scenic standpoint, they're also some pretty tough golf holes."
|Blast away at the 545 yard 6th hole. There's plenty of room, and the hardwood trees make for a beautiful back drop to the green.|
It's true, you'd probably never consider Cypress Creek for what it is. The club is located south of the James River in a town that's more famous for pork products than for golf. But for those who prejudge a golf course because of location, they're missing out on something that could be much more. Cypress Creek is a prime example.
It was also Clark's and Curtis Strange's first collaboration (now there are seven). Clark elaborates: "The property's owner, Dois Rosser, wanted to have a golf course to serve the community he was building, and wanted a "name" pro to work with an established golf architect to design it. Curtis was a natural choice because he was local and had just won his US Opens (this was in the early nineties), and as it turned out he was looking to get into something like this."
"So it worked out nicely. We went out and walked the course and he'd make suggestions and we made a routing plan. Then the project was put on hold for a while because of the economic slowdown at that time. But due to the impending passage of the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, we were in danger of losing that stretch of holes down by Cypress Creek, so we roughed them in - and they sat, basically untouched, for several years," Clark said.
|It may not look like it, but the 432 yard 8th hole is a dogleg left. If you end up in the waste bunker that guards the left side, you'll regret it.|
By the time the project started up again, Rosser decided he wanted somebody else to manage the construction process. In came Golf South, which supervised the building of the course until its completion.
Clark says there were a couple notable aspects of the final phases of building: "When we were well into construction, we discovered there was some real fine sandy soil out near where they were putting in an overpass to gain access to the property, and they were literally growing peanuts out there (where holes five, six and eight are today). We thought we'd use the natural sand to create large waste bunkers, which would certainly give the course its own distinctive look in this part of the state. Cypress Creek was one of the first places I've ever used waste bunkers, and they're a terrific addition to the course."
There was more to the land than just sand and peanuts. There were also two beautiful lakes on the property, which could be worked into the course. Clark said they used the water to create a dramatic short par three (#7) and a strategic short par four (#9). He also mentioned Strange took advantage of the lakes in another way - to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes, fishing.
|The 9th hole's green is an island. No way to get there but through the air.|
It's clear Clark was impressed with the property's natural gifts, but the hole sequencing also turned out well: "It starts off with a medium par four, then a longer one, then a monster one, then a monster par five. You get out there, and you get your golfers all spread out, then you hit the stretch of holes with the waste bunkers and the water. We also really liked what we did with the back nine, which was to save some of those big beautiful trees, like the two large oaks on the par five 14th hole. Then you come out to the wetland area - to 'Amen Corner,' and finish up with a reachable par five at 18, between those pine trees. Add in the big driving range, chipping green and putting green, and that's a pretty darn nice facility."
No arguments here. The staff seems to like it, too. Elwood 'Woods' Woolwine, Cypress Creek's Head Golf Professional, expands on the course's attributes: "A lot of people are surprised when they come here, to see just how scenic and beautiful our course is. But they also discover how playable and enjoyable the layout can be. Most of the holes are pretty open and fair to the average golfer. There are some hazards, but they're reasonably accessible to go over them. Any handicap can play this course and enjoy it - but you can also get in trouble, so it's not too easy, either."
After seeing the course, it came as a surprise to see the slope ratings, 130 from the 7159-yard back (champion) tees, and 120 from the 6573 yard blue (medal) tees. Considering the course is hardly a flat, hazardless routing, the ratings are a bit surprising.
|Glancing down the 14th fairway, you'll marvel at the beautiful oak trees protecting the right side.|
They are to Clark, too: "I've never quite understood how they figure some of those things out (talking about slope figures). For example, take Brickshire (the newest Clark/Strange course in Providence Forge), it's sloped at 144 from the back tees, and that course is wide open. I don't think you can miss a fairway. At Cypress Creek, there are obviously some demand carries on 15, 16 & 17 (several others, in addition), and you can sure lose a ball in a hurry there."
Slope rating notwithstanding, Woolwine is right when he says the course is player friendly. Several holes are wide enough to land the proverbial 747 on them, and the rough's not too severe if you hit the extremes. Cypress Creek is a great place for the horizontally challenged player.
But the aforementioned carries and natural elements will keep good players interested, too. "Since it is so open, it sometimes gets pretty breezy out here. If you get some wind blowing across the fields, it can get pretty tough," Woolwine said.
|It's not a long carry to reach the 15th green, but it sure looks like it from the fairway.|
Slope raters, eat your hearts out.
One last note before describing some of the holes is the course conditioning. Cypress Creek's General Manager, Tim Deibel, doubles as a golf course superintendent (Philip Bailey is the course's superintendent). As a result of Cypress Creek having two gentlemen who know how to grow the green stuff, you'll find some pretty good conditions considering the fees charged. Give a big kudos to the maintenance staff.
Looking at the layout, highlights include the third hole (as Clark described, the 'monster' par four), a 450-yard, dogleg right par four that plays slightly uphill. Long hitters can try and cut the leg by going over a tree that guards the corner.
|Thread the pine tree needles to reach the green of the par five 18th hole in two.|
Nine is another terrific hole, this time a short par four. Woolwine describes it: "You can take the risk of going for the green, which is about a 270-275 yard carry over trees, or you can hit a seven iron off the tee and have a wedge in. And the green's not an easy putting green, because it's sloped back towards the water. This is definitely a risk-reward type hole - a great chance of making birdie, even if you hit seven-iron/wedge in. But you can also make six real fast."
The back nine's excellent closing sequence starts with fourteen, a 554-yard par five. The hole plays pretty straightforward, but you can't help but notice the two large oaks to the right of the tee shot landing area. Beautiful, yet intimidating.
Fifteen through seventeen, Clark's 'Amen Corner,' brings you out to the creek, along with wetlands, water and incredible scenery. Seventeen is the most difficult of the three, playing 457 yards and uphill (par four). But as Woolwine suggested, sixteen (175 yard par three) can play more like 200 yards with a full carry if the wind's blowing.
Eighteen's a very wide 519-yard par five. Avoid the bunkers on the left with your tee shot, and blast a fairway metal through the pine trees to reach the green in two.
As a final note, Cypress Creek Club prides itself on pace of play. Woolwine talks about it: "When I go out and play, I don't want to sit around for five hours, and I don't think the average golfer does either. That's one thing we really strive for here, to have everyone finishing in four hours or four hours and twenty minutes. And I think our course layout lends itself to being able to keep things going, and that's good."
Yes it is, unless the beauty of Clark's 'Little Amen Corner' transfixes you -- then you might just want to slow down and enjoy the trip.
Cypress Creek Golfer's Club
600 Cypress Creek Parkway
Smithfield, VA 23430
Phone: (757) 365-4774
FAX: (757) 365-9500
Course Designers: Tom Clark & Curtis Strange
Head Pro: Elwood "Woods" Woolwine
General Manager: Tim Deibel
Mon-Thurs, $26 before 9:00 a.m.; and $29 after.
Fridays, $29 before 9:00 a.m.; and $36 after.
Weekends, $44 before 12:00 p.m.; and $36 after.
Seniors play for $21 Mon-Thurs, and $26 on Friday.
All rates include cart. There is a fee for range balls, and walking is allowed for members only (it's a semi-private club).Note: a special thank you to our playing partners, Tom and Phil, for showing us around the layout!
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