The Woods Course at Kingsmill: Good Things Come To Those Who Wait
Williamsburg, VA - It’s often said that good things come to those who wait. I used to think the saying was just a ploy utilized by mothers to help keep kids from opening their presents before Christmas morning—or as a rationalized plea for patience from an overburdened fast food manager who can’t seem to make Big Macs fast enough to satisfy his lunchtime clientele.
But there are certainly other examples of how waiting for something actually brings great results. Some things are special enough that the moving from conception of the idea to finished product just takes time. And sometimes you’ll encounter obstacles that can’t be planned for.
They say Rome wasn’t built in a day--and neither was Kingsmill Resort’s Woods course. Although I can’t really speak for Rome, the Woods course certainly was worth the wait.
The Woods opened in July, 1995, the third of Kingsmill’s three championship courses. From the beginning, the Woods was destined to be different from its predecessors, the Pete Dye designed River Course, and the Arnold Palmer scribed Plantation Course.
For one thing, its location was set apart from the main resort center, where the other two tracks are located. Second, there were to be no homes bordering its fairways. Finally, the natural setting was to be preserved wherever possible. And while it took a while to accomplish all these various goals, the end result brought true satisfaction to everyone involved.
Tom Clark of Ault, Clark & Associates, the course’s chief designer (with consultation by Kingsmill’s resident touring pro, Curtis Strange), elaborated on some of the problems he faced with the project. “In the beginning, the Woods course was slated to be the Kingsmill members’ course—because it was somewhat separated from the others at the resort center and was set off in the woodlands, which would make logistical sense.”
“But some time into the project, we discovered a few problems. First was the nature of the ground. We had basically one large, flat area, and the balance of the land was just a series of large peaks and ravines—so routing the holes was no picnic. Then, once construction began, we kept running into archeological sites—and they took a great deal of time to excavate (and was extremely expensive). Because of the setbacks, our schedules were pretty much out the window.”
Enough time elapsed so that the idea of making the Woods a strictly members only course also mutated. Even the new course’s name was hotly debated—Tom Highsmith, the Woods’ Head Golf Professional, adds “Because of the way the property was set up, we went back and forth between calling it ‘The Ravines’ and ‘The Woods.’ Both names are pretty descriptive of our course here, but I think in the end ‘The Woods’ was a better choice.”
So do I. But ‘The Ravines’ would certainly fit much of the back nine, while ‘The Woods’ seems to fit the entire course. As the name would indicate, the course is cut through tall stands of hardwoods and pine, and though some holes come close to others, there’s often a feeling of isolation when you’re out there. And although the River course is regarded as Kingsmill’s most challenging, I’d certainly say the Woods is a fraternal twin in difficulty.
In addition to the sense of isolation you get from playing the Woods, you’re also never far from the incredible history of the Kingsmill Resort property and the town of Williamsburg itself—there are numerous markers on the course to give you a quick history lesson while you’re hauling out the driver for the next tee shot. Altogether, it’s quite a departure from your run-of-the-mill round at your local club.
The course also has great hole sequencing. As is becoming common terminology when talking about an Ault, Clark & Associates design, there’s a good variety of golf presented here. Hardly lengthy at 6,784 yards from the tips, Clark and Strange use bunkers, ponds and ravines to define the challenge. No gimmicks, tricks or excess. You’ll see where you need to put your ball.
Clark describes the layout: “We always try to start off with a short par four, then make two a little more challenging, then get into something that’s tough. The third hole is the first real test at 462 yards, but then you get a break on four, which is only 320 yards . So you have a terrific mix of golf holes—dogleg lefts, dogleg rights, long and short holes—it’s all there.”
Highsmith says the third hole would fit anywhere—including a US Open course. As alluded to above, it plays to 462 yards and calls for a high fade off the tee to get in good position to reach the dogleg right hole. But if you fade too much, you’re wet. Second shots range from a mid-iron to a fairway metal into a large but undulating green. Highsmith is right—even the pros would have a tough time with this one.
Clark says the fifth is one of his favorite par fives anywhere, and I can see why. 542 yards from the back tees, it’s a dogleg left all the way. The landing area for the tee shot is wide, presenting you with all the options on your second shot. To make the green, you’ll need to steer around a large tree in the center and fly a deep ravine on the left hand side. The ravine is cleared, so you’re not dead if you’re down there, as apparently former President Clinton discovered when he played the course. In golf as in politics, it appears as if Mr. Clinton’s shots favored the left-side.
The back nine veers away from the main part of the property—or what Clark called the ‘flat bench.’ Starting with number 10, you see why the course was almost called ‘The Ravines.’
Eleven starts a terrific stretch of holes, a par four, three and five that I think are the heart of the back nine, if not the course. The eleventh measures 423 yards and is a slight dogleg right. A fade is the right call for the tee shot, but again, if you’re too far right, you’re tumbling down a ravine. Second shots are downhill to another good-sized but undulating green.
Twelve is the Woods’ signature hole, a beautiful 195 yard par three over a pond to a huge green that at first glance seems to have a bunker right in the middle of it (well, on the left side). Then you realize the trap’s part of a double green, which is shared with the fifteenth hole. Bring your cameras for this one—you don’t often get a chance to look at and play something so beautiful at the same time.
Thirteen looks like a hole you’d find at Augusta National. Relatively short at 493 yards and downhill dogleg right, you’re again tempted to go at the green in two--but only if your tee ball’s in a good location, because there’s a lake precariously guarding the right side of the green. You also might catch the sounds of Busch Gardens, which is directly across the lake (you can hear it, but you don’t see it).
Sixteen is another great par five. 516 yards from the back, it’s another hole where you’ll face a choice for the second shot. Like number five, you’ll have to contend with another large tree to reach the green. Clark talked about when Curtis Stange and he first played the hole: “I said ‘Well, I’m going to hit over that tree with a five-wood.’ And he said, ‘Well, I’m going to go around that tree with a two-iron.’ We both hit the green—it just shows there are a lot of ways to play that hole.”
The round concludes with two more great holes—the seventeenth is a terrific downhill short par three to a tricky, bunker protected green, and eighteen is as good a finishing hole as you’ll find anywhere. 462 yards and a dogleg left. There’s a lake long and right off the tee, not really reachable, but comes into play on the second shot, along with a huge bunker protecting the front right of the green.
Most people who play the layout know little about what a struggle it was to bring the Woods Course into existence. That’s a shame, in a way, because the Woods demonstrates one of life’s lessons—that patience truly is a virtue. Don’t get discouraged if things don’t always go well. Good things come to those who wait. Remember that the next time your wife catches you searching for your Christmas gifts after Thanksgiving dinner.
Head Golf Professional: Tom Highsmith
Course Designers: Tom Clark and Curtis Strange