The Greenbrier, Greenbrier ****
The eponymous course at the Greenbrier is considered to be the resort's championship layout because the holes are tighter, by and large, and more demanding than those on Old White. A former host of the Ryder Cup, the Greenbrier course is in consistently good shape and indeed has its share of strong, exacting holes. The par-three eleventh, strikingly similar to the twelfth at Augusta, is as good a rendition of the original as you're likely to find in a mountain setting. The Greenbrier suffers somewhat from a set of par fives that play almost like long par fours, lacking interesting strategic options. And the physical surroundings of the course don't have quite the charm of Old White's. But then again, few places do.
Yardage: 6,675. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Architects: Seth Raynor, 1924; and Jack Nicklaus, 1977. Greens Fee: $185.
Traditionally overlooked in rankings of Virginia's elite resort courses, the Keswick Club, just east of Charlottesville, deserves a place on the honor roll. Although recently lengthened, Keswick is really a finesse course. Long hitters may have wedges and short irons into many of the greens, but if they fail to place their approach shots in the right spots on the glassy surfaces, their scorecards will suffer. The course's location, amid rolling hills fifteen miles from Jefferson's Monticello, is spectacular.
701 Club Drive, Keswick, Virginia; 434-923-4363. Yardage: 6,717. Par: 71. Slope: 130. Architects: Fred Findlay, 1939; and Arnold Palmer, 1990. Greens Fees: $120$150.
Best of the Rest
Rees Jones's Green course at Golden Horseshoe (757-220-7696) is not quite up to the standard of his father's Gold (thanks to the somewhat prosaic chains of gumdrop mounds he used to frame many of the holes), but it's a strong layout nonetheless. The owners of the Tradition Golf Club at Royal New Kent (804-966-7023), outside Williamsburg, have softened some of the edges off Mike Strantz's original design. But the late architect's bold ideas are still much in evidence, beginning with the opening tee shot, which must be played around or over a set of dunes that bring to mind Royal County Down. Mattaponi Springs Golf Club (804-633-7888) in hardscrabble pickup country between Fredericksburg and Richmond, Virginia, is the best of the region's new daily-fee courses and worth the brief detour from Interstate 95. Greg Norman designed his new course at the Lansdowne Resort (703-729-8400), about thirty miles from Washington and open only to resort guests, with the goal of having it supplant TPC at Avenel as the D.C. area's annual Tour stop. It would be a significant improvement. The Cobb course at Glade Springs Resort (800-634-5233), in the West Virginia hills, has a great back nine—with nearly every hole requiring a carry over water, bunkers or both. Tom Doak fans will enjoy Riverfront Golf Club (757-484-2200) in Suffolk, Virginia, ten miles from Norfolk. One of Doak's earlier designs, it's a strategic foray through tidal marshes that's unfortunately set in a housing development. At Oakhurst Links (866-625-1884) outside White Sulphur Springs, you can experience golf as it used to be. The gutta-percha balls are the color of cured putty, the weighty hickory-shafted clubs have rough leather grips, and instead of using a tee you build a sand mound with your hands.
Kinloch Golf Club (2001) in Manakin-Sabot, Virginia, near Richmond, was developed by former U.S. Amateur champ turned sports agent Vinny Giles. It may offer the best private golf experience between Pine Valley and Augusta. The layout, by Lester George, is outstanding. Everything else, from the caddies to the conditioning to the informality of the place, is equally superb.
Pete Dye Golf Club (1995) in Bridgeport, West Virginia, may be the single best use of former coal lands anywhere. You'll see sheer walls left from strip-mining, and your cart will trundle through a passage from a deep mine. Tee shots must be played to fairways laid diagonally along the line of play, requiring sound judgment about how much to bite off.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club (1991) in Gainesville, Virginia, is the four-time host of the Presidents Cup. It boasts a bipartisan membership of political heavyweights, from George H.W. Bush to Vernon Jordan. There's a gated entry and an immense neo-Georgian clubhouse. The course reaches the shores of Lake Manassas at the ninth hole and flirts with it thereafter.