Mattaponi Springs Golf Club, Ruther Glen, VA (public). Opened: November 2004.
Great courses are often the result of collaboration between a skilled architect and an inspired amateur who insists the project be handled with meticulous care. Think H.S. Colt and George Crump at Pine Valley, or Alister MacKenzie and Bobby Jones at Augusta National. Mattaponi Springs, if not in that class, is squarely within that tradition.
The work of architects Bob Lohmann and Mike Benkusky, Mattaponi is also the vision of Jim Oliff, a Virginia patent attorney and occasional golfer. As befits someone in his line of work, Oliff says, "I have a passionate attachment to new ideas and businesses. And I'm an attention-to-detail person. In the extreme."
Oliff also owns a farm in Virginia's Caroline County, as rural as places get along the I-95 corridor from Washington to Richmond. When he got the notion to build a course there, he sought an architect who would be "easy to work with." Translated: someone who would amiably tolerate Oliff's finicky oversight. Lohmann and Benkusky struck him as the right sort, and what could have been a fiasco turned fruitful.
The architects laid the course over 350 acres of rolling woodland, resplendent with uphill shots and downhill vistas. It's got long, stern par fours and short, tricky ones that tempt golfers to drive the green and wallop them with double bogey if they miss. It boasts plateau greens, strategic wetlands and two fairways that resemble streams as they cascade downhill, falling and pooling.
Oliff also insisted on wide playing corridors—a boon to average players like himself. To protect par on some of the wide-open holes, Lohmann and Benkusky resorted to severely tiered greens. But Oliff's major contributions are in the details: the stonework framing ponds and bridges is pleasing, and every building shares the same design palette. Best of all, Oliff wanted a pure golf experience, so no housing mars the property. It's so secluded the only outside noise one is likely to hear is a distant train whistle.
Mattaponi Springs is situated eight miles off I-95 and hopes to draw road-tripping golfers on their way to and from Florida, Pinehurst and Myrtle Beach. Those who stop just might find that it's the best course they'll play on their trip.
Yardage: 6,937. Par: 72. Greens Fees: $55$90. Tee Times: 804-633-7888 or visit mattaponisprings.com.