Bring the Heavy Armor To Run The Gauntlet
FREDERICKSBURG, VA - Whenever I hear the word 'Gauntlet,' my mind flashes to the 1970's Clint Eastwood movie-you know, the one where he's a Phoenix cop, assigned to 'escort' a Las Vegas hooker to his city's justice system to act as a witness against the mob (and implicate some crooked police brass in the process). Without detailing the entire plot, the movie concludes with Eastwood driving that famous armored bus through a 'Gauntlet' of cops determined to stop him.
By the time he arrives at City Hall, the bus and his body are pretty shot up. But they made it through. It's strange how flashes of memory, or Hollywood dramatic flicks sometimes mirror real life-even the game of golf. For there's a PB Dye designed layout just north of Fredericksburg that'll make you run a Gauntlet of challenges--and though you'll hardly feel like you've been shot at, it'll sap a good dose of your energy to get through it.
PB Dye is known for designing challenging golf courses, and there isn't anything about The Gauntlet that'll dispel the reputation. The fairways are tight, the greens are tiered and undulated, and the architect makes good use of the natural barriers the property presents to test out your golf skills. And just like Eastwood the bus driver, there's nary an opportunity to gather a breath of fresh air when you're running through the course. It's tough. It truly is a 'Gauntlet' of golf holes.
It's also decidedly worth the trip. A good portion of the course lies along Curtis Lake (the facility is actually within Curtis Park), and Dye does an excellent job of showcasing the spectacular views, as well as bringing the water into play. On one particular hole (#4), I even had to carry a fishing boat in one of the lake's alcoves to reach the green. Never done that before-and I probably almost hit them with my hooked tee shot.
Jamie Loughan, The Gauntlet's Head Golf Professional and General Manager, says the quality of the PB Dye design, along with the course's lakeside location sets it apart from most other courses: "We have a real peaceful setting here, with the course perched right on the water-and there aren't any houses."
"The target nature of the course also seems to fit the location, because Dye was able to bring so many of the natural features into play. There are a few blind shots, but they're straightforward-so it's not designed to fool you. It's a good test of golf in a wonderful setting." "One of our course mottos is-'the challenge and beauty of The Gauntlet awaits you.' I think that sums it up very well."
Dye will definitely challenge you off the tee. On many courses, it's a pleasure knowing I'll be hauling the cover off the Taylor Made fourteen times-but on this course, it's a good idea to rethink that basic instinct. From the first hole on, positioning is often more important than distance-and the narrow margin for error will often force you to leave the big stick comfortably in the bag.
Once you've done your tee work, don't put the mental process to sleep-because the green complexes require additional contemplation. Dye uses it all-deep greenside bunkers, steep grass bunkers, pot bunkers, greens with tiers, large and small putting surfaces-there's a great deal of variety. It's a good course to try out those short game shots you've been thinking about and practiced once or twice but have never had occasion to use.
One place where the course helps you is the fairways. The Gauntlet features beautiful Zoysia surfaces-where the ball sits up so nice, it's like hitting off a driving range mat. The greens were also in pretty good shape, though ran a tad on the slow side (I was told because of a big thunderstorm the day previous). The tee boxes were a little rough in places, but on the whole, the course is in excellent condition-especially when you factor in the more than reasonable greens fees.
The Gauntlet begins with a 369 yard, dogleg left par four. Here's a good example of how you'll leave the Driver in your bag on a par four-you'll certainly need no more than a 3-iron or 5-wood to reach a good position on the fairway for your approach. The trees guarding the leg are too high to carry. Layup and play it smart.
The second is a very intriguing par five. You're faced with a large hill to contend with from the tee, and if you choose to hit Driver, you'll carry over it-which may leave a lie in the rough if you're a tad right, or a downhill lie if not long enough. Here's the intriguing part-there really aren't any good layup options on this hole, because you'll want to carry your second shot over the marshy lake area; leaving it short would only be about a sand wedge second shot from your tee ball. It also would leave a difficult third shot over the tall wetlands vegetation to a relatively small green. Here, I think Dye strongly suggests you go for it-because there's danger, short and long.
The fourth is The Gauntlet's signature hole, a 375 yard par four. The lake's on the left, and the fairway's a 75 degree dogleg left. It is possible to try and cut the leg, but you'll need a stiff wind-it's about a 285 yard carry. Again, take a 3-iron or 5-wood off the tee and play it smart. The green is tiered-so take that into account on your approach.
Five is another interesting par five, 558 yards from the tips and the #1 handicap hole. You may want to club down off the tee because accuracy's more important than distance-water to the left and deep rough to the right. Second shot is over the lake to an elevated fairway that continues to wind upward and to the right. If you manage to avoid the trouble, the third shot's into a large green, and will give you a decent birdie try.
Eight's a tough hole-470 yards straight on-uphill on the tee ball, and downhill for the approach. A stream runs at the base of the hill on the approach but shouldn't come into play unless you shank your second. Adding to the difficulty is the tiered green. Anything close to par's a good score on this one.
A pair of great opening and closing holes highlights the back nine. Ten is a short par five at 480 yards, but the tee shot's uphill and it looks like you're firing through a chute. If you layup on your second, it's downhill to a flat area, then relatively level into the green. The key is the tee ball-accuracy all the way.
Eleven's a thoughtful 459 yard par four that doglegs steeply right. If you try and slice a little too much off the leg, you'll leave yourself in deep rough or in the trees. Fade the ball just right and you'll have a mid-iron into the green, protected by a bunker on the right side of the putting surface.
Thirteen's got a real nice lake view from the green-and this time, it doesn't come into play!
Seventeen's a great par four. Another steep dogleg-this time to the left, you'll probably want to club down again off the tee to make sure you're in the fairway-if you hit driver you might go through it, because the tee ball's downhill. The second shot's a spectacular view-straight uphill to a tiered, kidney shaped green guarded by bunkers on either side of the lower tier. A lot tougher hole than the yardage indicates at 377 yards.
Eighteen's a dogleg right, 432 yards. The more you fade it off the tee, the better, because you'll want a shorter approach to the multi-tiered and undulating green. If you're short left on your second, you'll either be in deep bunkers or have a severe uphill chip from the rough. Dye likes real tests on the inward holes, and this one certainly qualifies.
When you're done, it might be a good idea to take in a refreshing adult beverage on the veranda overlooking the eighteenth green-it'll be a good way to unwind from your challenging run through The Gauntlet. And one more thing-when you turn in your cart, take a casual glance over it-to see if there are any bullet holes.