Traffic jam tees take away from Fredricksburg's Cannon Ridge layout

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

FREDERICKSBURG, Va. - Judy Welsh and Nancy Butzner are your typical golf buddies. They love to play and they might love needling each other as they play even more.

It's a good act, these two friends going at it. Laughs all around. Yet sometimes, too often really, these Fredericksburg area golf fanatics find it hard to get a tee time.

"Many courses around here still treat women like second-class citizens," Welsh said. "They ignore us or hope we go away."

"That's one of the reasons we like this place," Butzner said, pointing around Cannon Ridge Golf Club, former PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman's Virginia vision. "It holds a lot of events for women and doesn't discriminate in tee times. We have a chance to get the same tee times as the men do here."

The problem at Cannon Ridge is tee times are stacked together like sardines. On this day, the cart paths could be mistaken for the Washington Beltway during rush hour.

Regulars report the scene is all par for the course.

"We started at 11 a.m.. and we had to skip two holes to get this far," said Welsh, just approaching the 18th tee with the clock racing toward 3:30.

"Ten minutes between tee times, just isn't enough here," Butzner said.

Back off the first tee, Blake Peck of Alexandria, another Cannon Ridge repeater and fan, settles in for a long afternoon's cat nap.

"It looks like I'm going to be here a while," Peak said, pulling his cap low.

One of Cannon Ridge's slogans is taking a beating. "Home of the four-hour round of golf," the club's brochures read.

The congestion does not appear to be the result of a lack of effort. Head pro Bob Baldassari is lugging bags to carts himself, barking into a walkie talkie to order a call home to an employee who's a few minutes late. Everyone's going 100 mph -- except the golfers.

"We understand that the No. 1 concern of area golfers, as well as players in general, is pace of the play," Baldassari said. "It's often the issue that determines a golfer's feelings about that round. We're very particular about that here and have a heightened awarness when it comes to pace of play. "We don't stand for slow play and it's highly unusual to see it here."

Opened in July 2003, this course is only part of a massive golf development that is being built all over the Cannon Ridge site. Another 18-hole course is on the way, right next door. A third could even follow and housing developments are a certainty. In a few years, this could loom as Mall of America of golf developments.

Beman, one of the greatest marketers in sports history, would be proud.

At least in a business sense. It is hard to fault Beman's actual course design (he came up with the concepts and established architect Bobby Weed worked on the technical details of bringing it to life). Beman wanted "a throwback" course as he calls it and Cannon Ridge puts its natural surroundings to excellent use. This area of Virginia is blessed by rolling hills, but the most distinctive thing about Cannon Ridge is it's perch on the Rappahanock River.

The 366-yard, par-4 14th makes particular use of this position. Set up essentially on a cliff with the Rappahanock off a steep drop on the left side edge, the hole offers a dilemma. Favoring the right side of the fairway is the safer play, but that option increases the chances of a tough second shot. There's a huge dip on the right side before the green, making for a narrow, uphill approach. On the other hand, if you stay straight left and avoid the river, the second shot is a clear sailing. If you stay straight. On this day, two consecutive golfers watched their balls go sailing over cliff's edge. The drop's too far to hear the plop.

Another Beman touch to punish the foolhardy swingers among us?

"With Deane involved we have a lot of expertise," Baldassari said. "He's creative and certainly a visionary in the golf world. We've seen what he was able to do with the PGA Tour and now everyone's seeing what he can do in golf development. "

Part of what Cannon Ridge is doing is attempting to bring upscale golf to the people. The course offers Friday and Sunday Family Golf packages with reduced rates for parents who want to play with their kids. There's also a Dew Sweepers Club, a chance for harried golfers to get in a nine holes for $23 before heading to the office.

Now the key is finding a way to make golf for anyone fun for everyone.

"It's a great place to play if you're not stuck behind all these slow men," Welsh said. "Seriously, I just wish we didn't feel like we had to skip holes to get done in time."

The verdict

The two nines are surprising different with the first set relatively flat and the closing nine rolling up, down and everywhere. The stretch of 13 through 16 is a nice run that can test almost every club in your bag. This isn't a supped up course designed to frustrate. As Peck notes, "It's a challenge, but a fair challenge." Good shots are rewarded, bad shots penalized. Nothing tricky about that.

There are nice touches, like the little cannons that mark each set of tees, playing off the site's Civil War history. But the big problem with slow play can overshadow all that and leave the most patient Cannon Ridge devotee boiling in frustration. Maybe Beman needs to get even a little more hands on and protect his good name.

Places to stay

The Fredericksburg Colonial Inn (540) 371-5666 offers a subdued bed and breakfast atmosphere for about the same price the chain hotels along I-95 charge. The Richard Johnston Inn (540) 899-7606, right in the heart of Fredericksburg's Old Town, provides a more intimate setting with only eight rooms in an 18th century town house.

Places to eat

There are plenty of choices in the Old Town. Pick one on a stroll and walk right in. Claiborne's Restaurant (540) 371-7080 lets you eat steaks and seafood in a old, restored train station. Olde Towne Wine and Cheese Deli (540) 373-7877 is packed with locals and nearby college students at lunch time.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment