Kingsmill Resort Offers Golf in Splendid Isolation

By: Steve Habel


Set in the middle of the one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, Williamsburg spreads across a ridge on the Virginia Peninsula between the James and York rivers near Chesapeake Bay.

Kingsmill River Course

Just south of the city proper on Cobham Bay and within a short drive of historic Jamestown, site of the first English settlement in what would become the United States, is Kingsmill Resort, a place where luxury and golf meet in splendid isolation.

Kingsmill is a place steeped in honored traditions and genuine Southern hospitality. When the first soggy Englishman's foot trod on ground that would become Virginia, it was here, on land that once served as a central part of the area's plantation life in the 1600-1800s. Today, Kingsmill Resort retains the traits inherent in the land's early life with grand accommodations and top-drawer service.

In 2010, the resort was purchased by Xanterra, the largest national and state park concessionaire in the United States, from Anheuser-Busch, who had developed Kingsmill as part of a 3,900-acre tract it acquired in 1969. Portions of the resort are bordered by an A-B brewery and the world-famous Busch Gardens amusement park.

Kingsmill and its three golf courses - designed by Pete Dye, Arnold Palmer, Tom Clark and Curtis Strange - occupy gently rolling hills and hardwood forests along James River.

Down to the River

Bordered by the calm waters of the James, the Dye-designed River Course is a championship track that served as a popular PGA Tour site for 22 years and was home to the LPGA Tour's Michelob ULTRA Open until 2010. It tested the skills of the game's great pros and demands its pound of flesh from the best amateurs.

Dye signatures abound on the 6,831-yard par-71 layout, with devilish twists and turns, uphill approaches to match every downhill drive and greens with plenty of movement. There's not a single hole on the River Course that will accept a run-up approach as many of the putting surfaces are elevated and some sit high above deep ravines so thick with rough any wayward shot turns into a lost-ball situation.

Here the player will find superbly conditioned fairways and greens and natural areas planted with shrubs and small patches of sawgrass. Residential housing is evident on most holes but, with the exception of Nos. 10 and 11, is well back of the playing areas, allowing for a sense of serenity.

The real tests at the River Course, which has a 74.1 rating and 139 Slope from the tips, begin at the 369-yard par-4 sixth, which winds uphill to a green guarded front-left by a deep bunker. The 525-yard par-5 seventh is a true three-shot hole, heading first downhill, then up and ending at a green that is left of the fairway; from above the hole looks like a "7."

The Par-3 fifth on Kingsmill's River Course

Despite its moniker, only three of the River Course's holes - the final stretch at Nos. 16, 17 and 18 - have the James in view. The majority of the routing winds over and through a beautiful countryside with meandering creeks, ponds and majestic pines, oaks and cedar.

River Course opened in 1975 and was renovated in 2005 by Dye, who brought out the subtle details that make for a truly unforgettable round of golf, earning it a spot as one of Golfweek Magazine's top-10 courses in Virginia.

Plantation Course No. 1

Plantation Course on Hallowed Grounds

Kingsmill Resort's Plantation Course is routed across what was once the original Kingsmill Plantation. Landmarks from Richard Kingsmill's 1736 plantation pepper the grounds, making a round here feel like an American history lesson.

Palmer and longtime partner Ed Seay created a venue that is both challenging for low-handicappers while accessible for women and senior players; in fact, Golf Digest cites Plantation as one of its top-10 courses for women. The track features a 6,432-yard par-72 routing through towering forests, along deep ravines and streams and ponds entering play on eight holes.

Strong iron play and a steady putter will be rewarded at Plantation, whose green complexes are not excessively punitive. But you'll need to be on the correct side of the hole to have a measure of success. Plantation's fairways, though tree-lined for the most part, are wide enough to accommodate an occasional wayward shot.

No. 7 on the Plantation Course is a tantalizing 336-yard par-4 that can be reached from the tee with an accurate drive. But the green is undulating and mounded, making any putt - even the short ones - difficult. On the 501-yard, par-5 eighth, a tall oak tree stands in the left edge of the fairway on this fine double-dogleg.

The front nine finishes with a 117-yard par-3 over a wetland area; the entire hole seems apart from civilization.

The Plantation Course's toughest stretch is the 421-yard, dogleg-right 10th, the 434-yard uphill 11th and the short, 460-yard par-5 12th, which is crossed near the green by a water-filled trough. All are toughened by fairways that roll down and up and then down again. Getting through this three-hole stretch with pars will help the round.

Opened in 1985, Plantation carries a rating of 71.6 and a slope of 127, but it's more difficult than those figures.

The 18th green at The Woods Course

Woods Course Rebounds from Tornado Damage

Kingsmill Resort's Woods Course - which is set up the road from the rest of the resort, was co-designed by two-time U.S. Open champion Strange and golf architect Clark. The duo created a parkland-style course in a serene, secluded corner where players will find themselves using every club in the bag while playing the pleasing mix of holes.

No housing mars this visually impressive, 6,659-yard par-72 layout - which opened in 1995 - and none is planned. But recently Mother Nature - in the form of a tornado that struck the course in April 2011 - has opened up the routing a bit more than expected. The tornado uprooted approximately 400 trees in the field of play and another 3,000 within the course's boundaries. The Woods' small clubhouse also sustained damage, but that's been repaired.

Woods hits the golfer straight in the mouth on the 457-yard, par-4 third hole, a slight dogleg-right around a small lake. The 316-yard par-4 fourth can be challenged from the tee, but the wide green is fronted left by sand and right by water, so be prepared to do the time if you do the crime.

Kingsmill Resort

The 542-yard, par-5 fifth bends leftward at about 260 yards, with the elbow guarded by a fairway bunker that hides thick woods and a steep drop-off. A tall pine guards the left edge of the landing area to catch ambitious second shots or careless approaches. The green, which sits above a steep ravine and is guarded by two bunkers, is elusive.

The back nine winds through a thick forest and the course's signature hole may be the 184-yard, par-3 12th, which ends on a double-green shared with No. 15. A bunker splits the two halves of the huge putting surface, which is dramatically lower on the No. 12 side. A pond with cattails and aquatic plants protect the greens complex.

The course concludes with a tough 453-yard par-4 that is fairly open. The putting surface, surrounded on three sides by sand but open at the front, sits behind a pond that also guards the ninth green.

Clark - who with Brian Ault also designed all of the courses at Hot Springs Village in Arkansas - has fashioned a track at Kingsmill that is both challenging and fair. Woods is certainly isolated (before the tornado, players couldn't even see the nearby river, which is a stone's throw from several holes) and it's very pretty, even after the storm.

The Woods Course is the hardest at Kingsmill, carrying a rating of 72.4 and a 140 Slope. The newest of resort's tracks, it immediately garnered stellar reviews from golf publications, rating services and players; Zagat Survey rates it as one of America's Top Golf Courses.

Much More to Kingsmill off the Course

The Historic Triangle of Virginia, which includes Jamestown and Yorktown, is among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, with Williamsburg - and the Kingsmill Resort - at the epicenter.

Kingsmill Resort is within an easy drive of Williamsburg's numerous attractions, which include Busch Gardens, Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center. Colonial Williamsburg stages numerous holiday festivals and events. The College of William and Mary in downtown Williamsburg is one of America's original institutions of higher learning.

The resort includes 422 rooms; six restaurants; a 17,000-square-foot conference center; full-service spa and fitness center and marina.

Beginning this fall, Kingsmill Resort will embark on an expansion of its facilities. The first projects include a two-story restaurant at the marina, a family-oriented swimming pool complex where the current Bray Links par-3 course exists, and a redesign of the fitness center and swimming pool. These projects are scheduled to be completed by May 2012.

The resort will add a 210-room hotel building with a new golf pro shop, conference space, restaurant, lounge and wedding venue. The new building will occupy the site of the current Eagles restaurant and lounge as well as the existing pro shop. Timing of the new hotel has not been finalized. Various other upgrades such as a new entrance and walkways throughout, are also planned.

For more information on the Kingsmill Resort and its golf courses, visit www.kingsmill.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Texas CEO Magazine and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.


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