Ford's Colony -- Whispering Down A Well At Ford's Colony's Marsh Hawk Course

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeffrey A. Rendall

WILLIAMSBURG, VA -- Secrets, everybody hates 'em.  Let's face it, you can't stand it when someone's got the dirt on you, and it's equally hard trying to keep it to yourself when you've got a juicy clip on someone else.  When the cat's still in the bag, we're all a little nervous.

But in the golf sense, it's also nice to have a 'secret' place -- a golf course that's thoughtful in layout, excellent in conditioning, and unheard of on the lips of some golf nuts.  Ford's Colony in Williamsburg, Virginia, is such a place.


Not real complicated off the 10th tee on the Marsh Hawk course -- hit it straight, avoid the big bunker on the right.

It's got 54 holes of pristine Dan Maples inspired heaven -- and after going there, I was amazed at how few folks in Mid-Atlantic circles are aware of the quality of this place.

I hesitate to let the secret out -- but I suppose that's my job.

Don't get the wrong impression -- you won't find total isolation when you come to Ford's Colony -- there's a Marriott resort on property, and the residential development is rated one of the finest in the country.  The club itself boasts a healthy membership list, and they're not wanting for business. Ford's Colony was also welcomed into the ClubCorp family and they're upgrading the courses accordingly.


Marsh Hawk will be closed for the summer in 2017 for a complete re-do of the greens, installing new heat resistant turf that will keep them in good shape year-round. It's a little bit of the ClubCorp touch.

At 194 yards from the back tee, the par three 8th hole will test your ability to judge the wind and avoid the sand and water hazards.


One of the things that's nice about the 'secret' of Ford's Colony is you probably won't have to fight for a tee time, and most days even walk-ups won't be turned away during prime-time


The courses themselves will provide the solitude you seek.


The 393 yard, uphill 12th hole is challenging -- but you can see the green is quite large.

The fact that Ford's Colony is open to the public is a blessing for non-members.  So take advantage of it.

Dan Maples, creator of Ford's Colony's three layouts, says he's not surprised they're not more well known -- it's that way for a good portion of his work.  "We don't really do that many golf courses, mainly because of the time I like to spend working on the details of each layout I design."

"I guess if we had a few more projects here and there, the name might get out a little more.  But it's not such a bad thing to let the work speak for itself either."

"The thing I'm most proud of about Ford's Colony is it's 54 holes of excellent golf.  When you consider the amount of energy that goes into designing just one hole -- it's especially gratifying when you get the quality on a complex the size of Ford's Colony.  I'd challenge you to find a weak hole on any of those courses," Maples concluded.

Never one to turn my back on a challenge, I'll nonetheless take a pass on this particular dare -- no use making a fool of myself.  You can't disprove the truth, so why even try?

The par three 5th hole makes for a spectacular follow-up to the signature 4th hole.

Ford's Colony has 'grown' over the years, and features three fairly distinct layouts -- pretty incredible considering they're all proximate to each other. 

The original eighteen, known today as the Marsh Hawk course, was actually the product of Dan's father, Ellis Maples (Dan worked on the original layout also). 

When the Fords bought the property in the mid-eighties, Dan was brought in to touch up the original, which had fallen on some hard times -- hence today, it bears his signature as well as his Dad's.

Four subsequent nines were added over the next fifteen years, with the final set opening up in summer, 2000.  Ford's Colony is now complete, from a golf course standpoint.  I'll touch on the Blue Heron and the Blackheath courses in separate reviews.  Here, I'll focus on the original, the Marsh Hawk course.

Marsh Hawk is probably the most famous of the three, having hosted a number of notable tournaments in its history, including the Virginia State Open and several qualifiers for Virginia's former PGA stop, the Michelob Championship. 

The par three 17th hole is short and downhill, offering a good birdie opportunity -- but miss the green, and you might pay.

It winds in and out of woodlands, over lakes and through open-space, and is bordered in many spots by large luxurious homes, well set back from the course (I doubt you'll be yelling 'Fore!' to avoid bombarding a pool party).

There's hardly a cramped feeling.  The entire Ford's property is characterized by incredible terrain variety, as is true for most spots in this region of the state.  The same ups and downs, twists and turns and watery vistas that you'll find at more well known Kingsmill Resort and the Golden Horseshoe -- you'll find at Ford's Colony. 


And the Marsh Hawk course has 'em all in abundance.  Williamsburg golf is extremely hard to beat in quality and variety of the terrain.

Richard Rice, Ford's Colony's Head Golf Professional, says Marsh Hawk's greens are what sets it apart from its younger siblings.  "You'll see more undulations in Marsh Hawk's greens than the others, and that's what makes it special.  When you see the course, you'll think it's one where you should be able to score pretty low.  But when we cut down the putting surfaces on this course, watch out."

Marsh Hawk's 4th green is a peninsula -- but if you get past the terror of the water, it's actually a huge target.

Sure enough, the layout looks fairly tame, with wide landing areas on many holes and several short par fours.  Marsh Hawk stretches to 6650 from the back tees, but the slope of 132 will give you an indication of its player friendly nature. 

Having never played it with the greens at full speed, it's simply an enjoyable golf round that won't leave you gasping for air at the end.  Rice says it's a "perfect blend of water, open space, trees and sand."  Well put.

Rice adds that hazard placement is particularly well thought out on Marsh Hawk.  "Dan Maples did an exceptional job of placing the hazards on this course.  Because of the nature of the terrain, you'll have a lot of uneven lies -- and the hazards are located where your basic shot tendencies are.  If you have an uphill lie, you'll tend to hook -- so the bunkers are on the left.  If you have a downhill lie, you'll tend to slice -- and the bunkers are on the right." 


I've gotta admit, I've never looked at it that way.  Golf's a never-ending education, that's for sure.

The short (310 yards) par four 13th hole doglegs to the right and is loaded with trouble with those who take a chance.

Turning to the course, The par four first hole sheds light on what's to come on the front nine -- and introduces the elements you'll find throughout.  Not lengthy at 372 yards and downhill, consider clubbing down off the tee to avoid going long (there's a lake long and left).  Water and sand protect most of the approach, but you should leave just a wedge to fly it on.

Three, four and five are probably known as Marsh Hawk's 'signature' series of holes.  Three's a 535 yard, slightly downhill, risk-reward par five.  It is possible to go for the green in two if your drive's a good one, but check the lie before grabbing for the three-wood.

Four is a picturesque 400 yard par four with a tee ball over water, and a second shot to a peninsula green -- sand and water on all sides.  Beautiful to look at, fun to play -- and most likely won't bite you.  Vintage Maples golf.


Five is a beautiful 180 yard par three with a full water carry.  Natural wetlands border the wet stuff -- a pretty scene.

Plenty of room to drive on the par four 7th hole, but the second shot is a tough one.

Seven's a deceptively difficult 418 yard par four.  It's got about a 70 degree dogleg, and getting the proper distance off the tee is crucial to shooting at a very difficult green -- well protected by bunkers to the right and long.

The front nine finishes with the 406 yard, par four ninth. The landing area is quite wide, but you'll have to challenge the bunker on the left side if you want to cut distance into the green. As always, a fair challenge.

On the back nine, the eleventh hole is the strongest par five on the layout, because you'll really have to work your way around the options (and hazards) presented.  If you choose driver off the tee, you'll need to be more accurate (water squeezes the fairway long and left), but you may have a chance to go for the green in two.  If you club down off the tee, you'll probably leave a long and a mid-iron to get home -- no picnic either.  The green's elevated and protected by bunkers to the short right, so accuracy's the key.

Thirteen and fourteen are back-to-back short par fours -- doglegs right and left, respectively.  Long hitters can try for it off the tee on both holes, but there's plenty of wet or sandy trouble waiting if you miss wide on either link (sand only on five).  Two holes to get either a low or potentially high number -- or play it safe for a reasonable chance at par.

Sixteen's probably the toughest par four on the course -- a 444 yard, dogleg right monster with a tee shot to an elevated landing area, bordered by trees on both sides.  The second shot's no candy striper either -- a long iron from a potentially downhill lie and -- you guessed it -- sand on the right side of the green.

Eighteen's a nice risk-reward par five to finish the round. 512 yards in length, the green button-hooks to the right.  A long and accurate second shot may give you an eagle try, as it did for one of the folks we talked to at Ford's Colony.  But unlike this gentleman, most of us would probably be putting for bogey instead -- when we miss the green to the left and botch the ensuing recovery. 

The 535 yard, par five 3rd hole plays downhill off the tee, and virtually dares you to try and fly the water on the second shot.

But should you make birdie or bogey on the last hole, it won't matter for anything but the final score.  A good time's assured at Ford's Colony -- on the Marsh Hawk course, as well as the others. 

After playing, you'll probably realize it's foolish to keep those secrets on Ford's Colony -- so go blab all you want about it -- as long as it's down a well at midnight.

Note:  Ford's Colony was voted the #1 master planned community in the United States (by the American Resort Development Association), and boasts a AAA Five Diamond restaurant, as well as 54 holes of Dan Maples designed golf.


The Marsh Hawk Course at Ford's Colony
240 Ford's Colony Drive
Williamsburg, VA 23188

Phone: (757) 258-4130
FAX: (757) 258-4168


Course Designer: Dan Maples
Head Golf Professional: Richard Rice








6101/125/137 (ladies)



5389/116 (men)/126 (ladies)


Membership Information and Rates:

Ford's Colony Country Club is now under ClubCorp.  Consult the website for rates.

Ford's Colony is also one of the nation's leading residential communities.  For more information, visit

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