The Golf Club at Brickshire: Laying A Solid Foundation for the Future

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

PROVIDENCE FORGE, VA -- There's no mistaking it-when you're laying a foundation, you've got to go one brick at a time. It takes patience, perseverance and courage to keep working-resting only on the notion that one day all the labor will pay off. But when you're standing there with an aching back, staring at a sizeable pile of unused building materials and a half completed project, it's hard to maintain perspective.

You must press on, though, because laying a solid base is vital to any venture, be it constructing a bridge over a river or putting up a backyard tree-house for the kids. It's also imperative to a golf course--and the concept was never truer than for The Golf Club at Brickshire, a brand new track about 25 minutes west of Williamsburg, adjacent to Colonial Downs and sharing its name with a new upscale housing development.

Lucky for Brickshire Golf Club, it begins its golf course life with all the building materials it'll need for a pyramid of success in the future. Start with an exceptional piece of ground in New Kent County-right next door to Royal New Kent, then add its location between Williamsburg and Richmond-and you've got the potential for a real champion.

Mix in the excellent design team of Ault, Clark & Associates' Tom Clark with design consultation by Virginia's finest, Curtis Strange, and it'd be hard to go wrong. This team was responsible for creating another Williamsburg area gem--the Woods course at Kingsmill, as well as coordinating the remake of Portsmouth's Bide-A-Wee layout, amongst others. I speculated right off we were in for a treat.

But even then, I'd say the quality of the layout was surprising. Clark and Strange are known for crafting courses with a tremendous dose of golf hole diversity as well as challenge, but Brickshire's varied property allowed them to take their philosophies to the fullest. It's got all the swales and swirls of Royal New Kent, the mountainous quality of its other neighbor, Stonehouse, and the playability of the Woods course at Kingsmill.

In other words, there's a very solid foundation for success at Brickshire. And thankfully for your back, the building project's nearly done.

The course opened September 22nd, but even general manager Erik Keyser admits it still needs some seasoning. "We anticipated opening up much sooner than September, but unfortunately we had some problems with the weather and getting everything planted and growing. We definitely wanted to make sure the layout was playable before opening-and I think with maybe the exception of the 10th fairway, the course is in pretty good shape considering it's brand new."

There's definitely a solid start here, and Keyser's right-the 10th fairway's the only one that's in real rough shape. Course architect Tom Clark says there are a few additional areas to be finished off, but in general he echoed Keyser's comments.

"Curtis and I designed the course with the idea that the areas around the greens would be trimmed to fairway height, in order to add some excitement and playability for the average player. In this sense, it'll play a little bit like Augusta National-and present several short game options for balls close to, but not on the putting surface. When we get those areas cut down, we'll really be where we want to be," Clark adds.

The layout's unique hole concepts would also seem to guarantee future success, because Curtis Strange put four of his favorite legendary PGA Tour golf holes 'on' the course-proven winners through the test of time, and tradition. Brickshire's first hole mirrors Augusta National's hole #3; #7 looks like Pinehurst #2's eleventh hole; #9 has the Scottish links feel of St. Andrews' #14 (with the infamous 'Hell Bunker') and #11 is set to play like the tenth at Riviera, a classic short par four if there ever was one.

Turning to the course, it plays extremely long from the tips at 7,291 yards and a well-deserved slope of 144. At that length, just about every part of your game gets put to the test-because there are uphill shots, downhill shots, uneven lies, forced carries and some wetlands and water. Since the grow-in period is still in effect, the rough is brutal. The putting surfaces are medium sized, but not overly undulating or tiered. And although the chipping areas will eventually look like Augusta, the greens won't roll at a Masters-like 14 on the stimpmeter.

Despite the length, you'll have a hard time calling it unfair. Keyser agrees. "A lot of the response we've been getting is that it's extremely long, but extremely fair. Some of those fairways out there have to be about a hundred yards wide, so you'll have a large margin for error with your long clubs-you'll just have to use 'em a lot."

Clark says even though some holes play pretty long, there're also some opportunities on the layout for birdies. "If you take a look at the scorecard, you'll certainly notice the long holes. But you'll also see we've included a couple drivable par fours and a good portion of the other holes play shorter because they're downhill."

He also suggests thinking about the course in a different way. "I told the owner-it might be a good idea not to set par on this course," Clark adds. "How about just having a course rating and a slope, and let the people go out and try and make a score, without worrying about par. You're going to have some of those par fours rated at about 4.5, while others will play 3.5-so why not just let folks play the course without worrying about what's a bogey and what's a birdie?"

Interesting concept. Certainly some of those par fours play like fives. There are three that exceed 470 yards in length-and I'd think even Mr. Strange would have a tough time consistently making four on those. But Clark is right-the shorter holes play quite a bit easier, so it's give and take. One thing's for sure-fun's not compromised at any point.

Very little about the layout will have you cursing at your clubs-and if you lose a ball, chances are it's your fault-there's nothing tricky or hidden about Brickshire. So grin and bear it.

The round begins with the aforementioned first hole, set to play like #3 at Augusta. The view from the tee is panoramic-the driving area couldn't be wider. Clark says they're going to plant some pine trees down the left side to make it look more like the famous hole on the Georgia course, but even then, it'll still be very playable. The green on this hole is more sloped than most on the course, perhaps in reference to its famous mentor down south.

Two and three introduce you to Brickshire's brutish length, playing 473 yards of par four and 594 yards of par five, respectively. There's nothing easy about #2, other than it's straightforward and has a wide landing area. Three plays downhill after the tee shot, but I doubt many will try getting there in two.

Four is the first of an excellent set of par threes, playing 213 yards, uphill, and often into a breeze. This is one hole where some cut-down areas around the green would really benefit your scorecard.

Five is what Keyser says is the most 'unfair' hole on the course. I don't really think he means 'unfair' as much as he means 'incredibly hard,' because there's nothing hidden about it-it's just long and uphill. The lengthiest par four on the course, it's 478 yards, and the tee shot's from an elevated tee over a waste area to a fairway that slopes left to right. Even with a mashed tee shot, you'll still face over 200 yards to the green. Quite a mountain to climb, and take Clark's advice-don't worry about par on this hole.

Seven is the hole patterned after Pinehurst #2's eleventh hole, and features a very generous driving area (like you'd find at Pinehurst), with the challenge coming nearer the green. Five bunkers guard much of short and long, and the view is somewhat deceptive as to distance-consult the yardage book.

Nine is a great par five, but you'd expect that-since it's designed to play similar to St. Andrews' 14th. The hole could play several different ways-try and cut off some distance by going straight at the green down the left side, but that'll bring more trouble into play; or go to the right and you're safe, but it'll play much longer. The 'Hell Bunker' may wreak havoc with your second shot here.

Eleven is the great short par four, a replica of Riviera's #10-307 yards. The tee shot presents plenty of options. Try and knock a driver on or close to the well-guarded green, or take the safer and much more forgiving play--a long iron to the fat part of the fairway over a large bunker to the center-right, then a sand-wedge to the narrow green.

Twelve's another nice par five, long at 618 yards and doglegs to the right. A lengthy test of shot making, plan out the distances for your three shots, and try to play the hole for five-I bet you'll leave satisfied.

Fifteen's the type of hole you won't see very often. A monster 244 yard par three that plays uphill and often into the wind. It's also the #2 handicap hole on the course-how many times have you seen a par three rated the toughest hole in a nine-hole stretch? This one deserves it.

Seventeen's the last par four on the course, and a doozy at 475 yards. It does play downhill, and the driving area's wide, but don't lose the ball to the right, or there're wetlands waiting for you. At least there's one thing you won't worry about on this hole-sand. There isn't a single bunker on the hole.

Eighteen is the only hole on the course with a sizeable body of water to contend with-a lake that flirts with the entire right side. Definitely a risk-reward three shotter, as you can stay safe down the left side, but you'll go longer that way. I don't really see it as a possibility in two-568 yards long and a good deal of the landing area off the tee will leave a downhill lie-but if you've got a favorable wind, go for it!

As you finish your round, you'll notice there're several areas still under construction, including a sizeable graded area for the clubhouse. When it's completed, you'll have an outstanding view of the 18th green and the beautiful lake that borders it. You'll realize that this is going to be one heckuva great golf facility someday soon-because there's already quite a solid foundation to start with.

General Manager/Head Golf Professional: Erik Keyser
Course Architects: Tom Clark and Curtis Strange

Jeffrey A. RendallJeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

Jeffrey Rendall is an avid golfer and freelance writer. After passing the California Bar in 1994, he moved to Virginia to pursue his interests in history and politics, where he's worked since 1995.

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