It's a community affair at easy-to-play Blue Hills Golf Club in Roanoke, Virginia
ROANOKE, Va. -- Two groups waited patiently on an idyllic spring morning at Blue Hills Golf Club, bantering with a twosome in front of them while trading barbs amongst themselves.
The eight golfers were members of the semi-private club in Roanoke, Va., but far from being bothered by the presence of outsiders, the members greeted guests warmly, mirroring the Blue Hills experience.
The sense of community at Blue Hills extends far beyond a friendly membership. The course opened in its current incarnation in 1957, and much of the labor was done by charter members working with their own equipment on weekends, and that sense of pride still remains.
Blue Hills: The golf course
Carved from rolling land in the shadows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the charms of Blue Hills are as simple as they are enjoyable: The layout is, by the standards of an exacting game, relatively easy, and the experience from the bag drop to the 18th green is a pleasant one.
Blue Hills plays 6,453 yards from the tips and 6,003 yards from the black tees, it's most commonly used markers, so distance isn't an impediment to success. Hazards are limited, and the few forced carries aren't particularly onerous.
Players that don't get off to a good start at Blue Hills have only themselves to blame.
The straight-forward, 377-yard first hole provides every opportunity to open with par or better. The next two holes -- a 174-yard par 3 followed by the downhill, 362-yard third hole that is reachable for long hitters -- are equally inviting.
The only hole on the course with water that threatens is the fifth, a dogleg left with its green fronted by a pond. Hit a drive 200-220 yards, and a short iron will get most players home.
The most interesting challenge on front nine is the course's shortest par 4, the 337-yard seventh. A dry streambed snakes along the right side before dissecting the fairway and crossing in front of the green, forcing players to decide how much of the hole they want to challenge.
Few could dream of driving the green, and playing too aggressively off the tee could lead to a ball in the streambed or an approach from inside 80 yards, an awkward distance for many.
Players should arrive at the seventh tee with a good round going and avoid making a decision that could derail momentum.
Blue Hills Golf Club's back nine
The back nine at Blue Hills, a par 71, features three par 3s and three par 5s, and it's the sterner of the two halves.
Beginning with the 11th hole -- a 211-yard, uphill par 3 with a two-tiered green -- Blue Hills bares its teeth. On an otherwise short course, the 11th requires a long tee shot, and the grade of the green is severe. Players above the hole on the wrong shelf are looking at an almost certain three putt, so check the pin position before teeing off.
The 12th hole is the course's longest par 4, stretching 421 yards, and it's followed by a pair of par 5s that are more than 500 yards. Survive that four-hole stretch, and a career day could await.
Strategically, the driver isn't a necessity to score, but the layout allows plenty of margin for error, which should encourage most players to swing away. There are trees lining the fairways, but Blue Hills allows room for recovery shots into receptive greens.
Blue Hills Golf Club: The verdict
If you are seeking an architectural masterpiece or are a five handicap looking to test every facet of your game, Blue Hills may not be for you. But most people aren't low single-digit handicappers with an eye for great course design.
The reality is golf needs more courses like Blue Hills. Call it easy if you want, but it gives players a chance to score well and avoid the stress that accompanies many of golf's overly penal contemporary designs.
The people are friendly, the layout is friendly, the bentgrass greens are in prime condition and pace of play should always be decent. That's a winning combination for 95 percent of the golf playing population.
Golfers heading to nearby Blacksburg for a Virginia Tech football game would be well served by playing a quick 18 at Blue Hills, which is just minutes from Interstate 81.
June 9, 2014