Plantation Course at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, VA
Tee Time: October 19, 2013, 12:00, 67 F, overcast
Designer: Arnold Palmer/Ed Seay (1985)
Playing Partners: Greg Ryan
Tees: Blue, Par 72 (69.4 rating/125 slope/6,060 yards)
Course Handicap: 10 (8.8 index)
Stats: 93 (43-50); 38 putts; 7/14 fairways; 8/18 greens; 3 penalty strokes
This round started tough, given that just 3 days prior I took a hockey puck to the gut. It’s not easy to get all that torque through your torso when your stomach is bruised. But since it’s a hockey injury, I can’t be too specific. Let’s go with the Rick DiPietro school of medicine and classify it as “General Body Soreness“. I don’t ever remember being hurt as much as when I play ice hockey. I’ve been hit by fastballs, crashed cars, skied and snowboarded poorly enough to deserve injury, jumped off roofs and probably a few other things, too. But play just two years of hockey and it’s sprained this, bruised that. Or I could be getting old… And actually once I stopped compensating for my hip being in pain, my swing felt all right. It was the previous night’s dinner that did me in on the back nine. It’s tough to survive 30 or 40 swings with a stomach that just won’t settle. I blame Greg for the restaurant choice, clearly he knew what he was doing.
Since I don’t think even my doctor cares that much about my day-to-day, insignificant ailments, I’ll just get to the course. At Kingsmill Resort there are three of them, the River, the Woods and the Plantation. The River is the big daddy of the trio, having hosted professional tournaments and ranking in everyone’s top courses lists. The Woods is the newest. The Plantation is an Arnold Palmer design that sits on land of an old plantation that dates back to Colonial times. It’s the one we played, and also the most affordable. Considering all the history I took in on this weekend trip, it was only fitting to play a round on grounds that have witnessed so much of this country’s journey. If only those trees could talk… Well, they probably wouldn’t say much to me given how hard a couple of my golf balls ricocheted off their trunks. The nice thing is with all the old-style brick homes lining the course, anything hit far off line may hit hard enough to bounce back into play. Or smash through a pane of glass, depending on your luck.
The front side begins with a tee shot over the water to the fairway of a 346-yard par 4. It is a pretty opening hole, with a green set against a row of towering trees. It’s also the first taste of these undulating devil greens. Some of the holes this day were cut in some gnarly locations. Every green has its own trick to it and there is a lot of big obvious breaks and several subtle ones. Even a dozen rounds probably isn’t enough to get a true feel for them. The 484-yard, par 5 second is a dogleg right that requires an even longer driver over a deep creek than the first hole. It is also home to the largest remnants of the old plantation, with an old building still standing next to a foundation, a well and some ledges that served as a sort of back patio area to sit and take in the scenery. While it was fun to think about the history here, I found myself wondering more about now many tee shots have gone into that well and never returned. I hope that’s a free drop. The par-4 3rd is a straight and simple 350 yards. Water really comes into play for the first time at the 369-yard 4th. The lake is reachable on the left from the tee and will drown any errant shots to the green. The first par 3, at 157 yards, is similar in length to the rest of the layout’s three-shotters. They’re not long at all, but it’s the greens that make them difficult, effectively shrinking the landing area by half to the pin-side of the putting surface. And the 5th appears to be the smallest green on the course. The dogleg right 6th is a neat looking hole from the tee, carving through the tall forest of colorful trees and also lacking any homes along its fairway. The par-4 7th is the shortest at the Plantation course by far, at 309 yards, but trees do cut in from the right and can interfere with any wandering tee shots or stray layups. Yet another dogleg right is the 490-yard 8th, curving around harmlessly to another tough green that slopes every which way. It also featured easily the world record for most deer feeding on one person’s lawn. At least a dozen deer and their fawns skipped across the fairway before my second shot before settling on a patch of grass in the backyard of one of the residents. A rare 9th hole par 3, and also the shortest of its kind, has a large green but again, the undulation sections it off and adds a degree of difficulty. Sloping off the back, to the right and to the front-left, wedge accuracy is a must from 109 yards.
The course really starts throwing water at you after making the turn. The 395-yard par-4 10th, which, you guessed it, doglegs right, features a long approach over the quiet lake to a green guarded by sand to the left and a steep bank at the front. The long, slightly uphill 11th plays from a fairway split by a deep gulch of rough that shouldn’t really be a factor. This is followed by a par 5 that is somehow only 423 yards. It is easily reachable, but a large fairway bunker sits in the landing area that affords the best angle to the green and a big creek cuts about 50 yards in front of the putting surface to make running shots end badly. A par-4 with a big lake to the left of the green is what awaits at the 361-yard 13th. The water is in play, but staying too far right brings out of bounds and trees into the equation. At 129-yards to the center, the 14th can play really easy with the pin on the front or left. But if it is set closer to the back right, a longer carry over water is required and makes it an entirely different hole. The longest par 5 on the course, the 547-yard 15th, is definitely the only one that can’t be reached in two. Even a great drive means a fairway wood that has to carry the large dip just shy of the green that will kill any momentum on a ball running up. The 17th is definitely the toughest par-3. Long by the Plantation’s standards, at 163 yards, it looks downhill from the tee but really isn’t too much a drop at all. To the front is all the trouble, with two bunkers and a large slope that runs down into the creek. The final hole is one of the prettiest, with the impossibly wide James River serving as a backdrop behind the green. It might look even more beautiful if the green were lowered a bit, so that the approach shot would have a great panoramic view of the river flowing in the distance.
The Plantation Course at Kingsmill Resort offers a fine golf experience. It meanders through a nice neighborhood of fancy homes, and on occasion past the remnants of a fancy estate from generations ago. Most of the hole are simple enough, with nothing too funky. It’s an easy round from tee to green. The putting is a challenge, however. No line is as simple as it might seem, and the speeds are very important because all those 4-foot comebackers need to be started outside the hole which isn’t good for the nerves. If I came here again, I would definitely take a round in on the River Course. It shares a clubhouse with the Plantation and some of that course is visible from near there. On a dull, overcast day with occasional rain, the region didn’t pop as vividly as it could. If anyone wants to help me take better landscape pictures on cloudy days that would be a big help, seeing as right now half the shots I take look like stock photos of depression. The River Course would be gorgeous, winding along that James River that has seen so much history in its own right. As the easiest course to get onto and the least damaging to your wallet, the Plantation Course is a fine value. But I would recommend splurging a little and hopping on the River Course at Kingsmill Resort.
#16, Par 4, 329 yards, 18-handicap, My Score: 5
Layout: C+; not really much variety, especially considering almost everything is either straight or a dogleg right. It doesn’t require many different types of shots to get around
Amenities: B; not really much going on, a nice restaurant and pro shop, but the offerings on the beverage cart are pretty slim. Maybe they could install a snack bar at the turn to spruce things up
Staff: C-; our starter was very friendly and informative, giving advice and answering any questions we had. Everyone else kind of acts like they can’t be bothered to assist you. The staff in the pro shop were a little cold, and the cart guys basically ignored us as we got in from our round. I remember days like that when I worked at a country club, but it’s really not too hard to make small talk for a second and be the smiling face to welcome you back from your round. Without that, the round almost feels unfinished…
Difficulty: B-; as I said, from tee to green it’s pretty straightforward. If you can get a couple different shots working for you, there isn’t any trouble at all. Putting is what’ll keep you from shooting that elusive 59.
Scenery: B; there really is only one hole with views of the old plantation that is the theme of the course. The surrounding trees and multiple lakes and creeks add to the atmosphere, but there are so many houses along the golf course and they all look the same, it gets a little monotonous.
Value: D; ok, fine $70 for the round here at a high-end resort in historic Williamsburg is a pretty good deal. The ‘D’ is for the $30 cart fee… per person! $60 for two people to take an electric golf cart out for two hours? Why do golf courses even do this? Is there a legitimate reason? Is there some feature on there I didn’t notice, like maybe a six-pack of Yuengling in the cooler? A dozen free Pro-V1’s in the basket? Does it hover? No? Well then let me keep some of that $30 and be able to maybe reinvest it in a souvenir flag or maybe an extra round at the bar. Don’t price gouge your customers.
Overall GPA: 2.97 (C+); even after the grade docking for golf cart fees, this is still a pretty nice golf course. For $100 more, the River Course is worth it. There are a lot of resort stay-and-play packages which would be a great way to get multiple rounds in and enjoy Colonial Williamsburg, which is an excellent place to spend a day exploring the history of our country… and to put a witch on trial.