Room to boom: Heron Ridge Golf Club built in Fred Couples’ image

By Tim McDonald, Contributor

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Yes, yes, I know you consider yourself to be a sensitive, post-modern man and would never try to do something overly macho just to prove yourself an hombre. You're too secure in your manhood for such adolescent posturing.

You smile with a slight air of condescension at your hairy, hyped-up golf buddies for wanting to play from the back tees and laugh good-naturedly when they call you feminine names because you want to be reasonable and play from the middle.

But, at Heron Ridge Golf Club of Virginia Beach, you might want to consider shedding that Alan Alda persona and stepping back into "Boom-Boom" land. That’s where Heron Ridge co-architect and PGA Tour star Fred "Boom-Boom" Couples hits from, and that's where he invites you to start each hole.

"He likes to hit tee shots," said Heron Ridge Head Professional Glen Pierce. "He likes you to hit them, too."

So step up and boom one — there's room for all, at least on the front nine. The course at Heron Ridge Golf Club plays to the strengths of Couples and big hitters, with its wide fairways and generous landing areas.

Even if you're wild, you usually end up with a good look at the green, though it may be from a foreign fairway. You might as well launch one here and save the fancy stuff for later as the holes narrow approaching the greens.

The course isn’t ridiculously long, even for big hitters, at 7,010 yards from the tips. Its slope rating of 131 puts it in that range of thousands of courses that are challenging, but not unconquerable.

For fun, Couples and co-designer Gene Bates left plenty of water on the course and wads of trees and thick brush to swallow your golf balls, particularly on the back nine.

"You’ve got to bring plenty of balls here," said J.T. Tillman, a Virginia Beach golf veteran. "Even the best players lose a few."

True, 13 holes have water hazards, either small lakes and ponds or meandering creeks and assorted natural wetland areas. One particularly devilish one is on No. 13, which features a blind water hazard in the form of a lake that will catch a good drive down the right side of the fairway, which slopes down to the water, behind a large mound.

The greens are fast, in good shape and fairly true. They have enough undulation to make them interesting and course officials keep them fast, but not too fast — about an eight or a nine on the stimpmeter.

"If we get them too fast, inevitably we’ll hear some complaints — like ‘who set those pins up?’" Pierce said.

"They look so simple, but you can’t take anything for granted," Tillman said after he ran a downhill putt past the hole by 10 feet.

The verdict

Heron Ridge Golf Club was built in 1999, the first public course built in the area for more than a decade. It's a good public course, difficult enough for duffers, but not punishing enough to be scary.

It's a good course for women and seniors to play because, even though there is water, there aren't many tough, forced carries, either off the tee or into the green.

The course normally hosts between 35,000-40,000 rounds a year, mostly from Pennsylvania golfers. It’s enough to keep it challenging for the maintenance crew, but not enough to beat it up.

It has a pleasing variety of landscaping, with pines, oaks and beeches and has quite a bit of movement-rolling fairways, swales and grass bunkers, especially near the greens-but don't look for any country club touches such as flowers in boxes.

"We're pretty budget-conscious," Pierce said. "We put all our money into keeping the course in good shape. We're not trying to sell any homes."

Speaking of homes, there are too many of them lining the perimeter, despite the fact the course sits on old farmland "out in the sticks." Though some holes have an isolated feel, others have kids playing in swimming pools, swing sets and trampolines.

Places to stay

There's a wide range of accommodations in Virginia Beach, from mom-and-pop motels to exclusive beach resorts. A good bet is the Cavalier Hotel, at the northern end of the "strip," the area of high rises, stores and bars that line Atlantic Avenue for about four miles. It's on the beaten path, but far away enough from it to get away from the noise and chaos.

The original hotel, built in 1927, sits on a hill overlooking the strip and ocean. The newer building is beachfront, with terrific views of the ocean to the north, where no high-rises loom.

The hotel has a "sunshine guarantee," in which guests who suffer through a "no sun day" in June, July or August get a free night in conjunction with a future trip — if it's within a year.

The Cavalier has five restaurants, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a 1,500-square-foot fitness club and the only private beach in Virginia. It also has tennis courts, including clay surface, basketball, croquet, volleyball, shuffleboard, a game room with pool tables and bike rentals.

Places to eat

There are, obviously, some very good seafood restaurants in Virginia Beach, like Waterman's, Mahi Mah's Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Salon, the Rockfish Bar and Grill and others like The Black Angus, Abbey Road Pub and Restaurant and Rockafellers.

If you want to stay at the Cavalier, it has five eateries, including Orion's, with its 11th floor spectacular, panoramic view to go with fresh seafood and hickory grilling. The Hunt Club Grill is at the hillside building and has wood-paneled walls and a fireplace, only for winter dining.

Fast fact

The course was built on Pungo Ridge, a higher sandy point that makes for great drainage. In fact, when many other courses are rained out, golfers looking for dry golf frequently look to this course.

Tim McDonaldTim McDonald, Contributor

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.


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