WILLIAMSBURG, VA -- Pinehurst. There's something about the place that draws golfers to it like Muslims to Mecca. That may be a bit of a stretched reference, because no piece of golfing ground could ever truly be considered holy-yet if there was such a place, Pinehurst would be it.
Start with Pinehurst's most legendary course architect, Donald Ross-who masterminded the first several Pinehurst golf courses (now called Pinehurst Resort), and a man who tinkered with course #2 until his final days. It was Ross's life's project, and today only a fool would consider leaving it off a list of the world's greatest golf courses.
Pinehurst's legend only increased with hosting the 1999 US Open-arguably the most memorable golf tournament in history. If a Hollywood screenwriter had written up the closing scenario, every producer would've laughed him out of the studio-and deposited the work safely in the round file labeled 'fantasy, could never happen.'
But it did, and it hardly seemed coincidental that such an incredible slice of golf history should unfold on that cool, misty day, a mere stone's throw away from the bronze statue of Donald Ross-who peers eternally onto the 18th green of Pinehurst's #2 course.
Payne Stewart's subsequent death a few months hence cemented the result in folklore. But nothing could've taken away Pinehurst's place in golf reputation circles, even prior to that moment.
Since there's only one Pinehurst, it makes sense that if you're going to get the 'experience' more than just once in a while (or lifetime), you'll need to bring the Pinehurst feel to you. And that's exactly what they did when creating the Blue Heron course at Ford's Colony. (Pinehurst's history is harder to transport, however.)
Scott Jones, Ford's Colony's Director of Golf, says when he's out on the Blue Heron course, he thinks of Pinehurst. "I like to think the Blue Heron course has a real Pinehurst look and feel to it-especially on the newest nine. It's got the pines and the tall trees out there, quite a contrast to what you'd find farther north, with mainly oaks and hardwoods. It's also kind of spread out on that course, so there's quite a feel of isolation, just like you get at Pinehurst."
I can see where Jones would think that way, especially since a living legend of Pinehurst journeyed to the Old Dominion to design the course. Dan Maples is as much a part of Pinehurst lore as his father was, and his father (and grandfather) tutored under none other than Donald Ross himself. Maples still makes his home there.
In other words, if there's one man who could bring Pinehurst to Williamsburg, it'd be Dan Maples. Maples, however, is much too humble to take all the credit. He said the Ford's Colony property deserves a lot of the acclaim. "The terrain at Ford's Colony is really varied, and presented a lot of good ground to work with. We don't have quite the same variation down here in Pinehurst, so I had the opportunity to do some things at Ford's that wouldn't be as possible down here."
One thing's for sure, finding an abundance of trees isn't a problem in either locale. But Maples says he'll never design a hole specifically around a tree, because you never know how long it'll be around. "We extensively walk each course we work on-and tag the trees we want to keep. Sometimes we'll even design a split fairway around a particularly attractive tree, but we always try to make sure it's a good hole regardless of whether the tree's there or not. Let's face it-trees aren't permanent."
There aren't any tree centered split fairways on the Blue Heron, but Maples says there're still plenty of beautiful trees out there. "The land for the Blue Heron course-especially on the new nine, presented a lot of natural beauty, with the tree lined fairways and the wetlands. We basically sculpted everything from tee to green, and the contours are excellent. That's kind of a change from the old days-you're certainly better able to attend to detail on the courses more than in years past."
There are eighteen great holes on Blue Heron, but I'd say the new nine is slightly more spectacular than any of the others at Ford's Colony. It's simply a journey through a pristine, undulating piece of Virginia forest, where you'll never quite see how the next hole can trump the previous one. But somehow, it finds ways.
Jones says the difficulty on the course comes primarily from its par threes. "Around these parts, the Golden Horseshoe gets most people talking about the best set of par threes in the state. I think the par threes on Blue Heron deserve to be ranked up there in that category."
I'd have to agree. The one-shotters on Blue Heron are spectacular, with uphill shots, downhill shots, shots over wetlands, shots over lakes-a lot of variety-and quality. They're long and difficult, too-with the shortest being number eight at 175 yards. The others can stretch out over two hundred yards, with #17 being the most difficult-220 yards with almost a full water carry. When you stand on that tee box, your knees quiver.
Blue Heron is also the longest of Ford's Colony's three courses, 6,873 from the back tees and a slope of 131. Just as with the two layouts, there are generally good sized landing areas and everything's in front of you. The woods probably come into play more on this course than the others, but that goes along with the Pinehurst feeling.
But just as with the legendary Pinehurst courses, Blue Heron is eminently playable for all skill levels, if you choose the right set of tees.
One final note before I describe some of the golf holes-Blue Heron's conditioning was outstanding (all three courses were in excellent shape, actually). The greens rolled quick and true, and I observed little difference between them and those over at the Michelob Championship, on Kingsmill's River Course. Believe me, that's no knock against Kingsmill-it's kudos for both facilities.
The course starts out with three good par fours, all hovering in the 400 yard range. All feature doglegs that go right, left, left respectively. Each has its own unique characteristics. The first has a downhill tee ball that could easily roll through the fairway if you don't club down, then an approach shot to a slightly elevated green over a large bunker at front-left.
The third offers your first glance of water on the course, laying to the extreme right of the green-more for scenery than danger. But that'll come on the next hole.
The fourth is one of the most difficult par fives I've ever played. Scott Jones says "Blue Heron's number four is probably the one hole in the entire complex where you can make a big number if you're not careful." It's true. Off the tee, you have water down the left side, and a bunker to the right with out-of-bounds to the extreme right and water just beyond the bunker. Even the second shot has considerable danger, unless you have a real solid tee ball-because the lake will come very much into play and the layup landing area isn't large. Tough hole.
Holes five through thirteen comprise Blue Heron's newest nine-the stretch that reminds me most of Pinehurst, and what I think is Ford's Colony's strongest nine hole run. Five's an extremely pleasing par four with a tee ball to an elevated fairway. If you don't get enough distance, you won't be able to see the green, so don't spare the driver!
Six is the first of the four challenging par threes Jones spoke of. The tee shot's over wetlands and water to an elevated green, with bunkers right and long.
Eleven through thirteen are probably Blue Heron's most picturesque holes, all bringing water and wetlands into play. Eleven's got an elevated tee box with plenty of room in the landing area. The second shot must avoid the wetlands on the right. Pretty scene, good golf hole.
Twelve wins the most intimidating tee shot award-from the back box, it looks like a full carry over wetlands to a narrow fairway. Well, that's partially true. It's a full carry over wetlands, but once you get out there, you'll see there was plenty of room to drive it to.
Thirteen's downhill all the way, and 405 yards of par four. Consider clubbing down off the tee to avoid a lake that could come into play if you get a hold of one and get some roll.
Practice Fac.: B+
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: B+
Pace of Play: A-
Resort Hotel: N/A
Overall Rating: A-
Jumping to seventeen, it's one of the most difficult par threes I can remember (so when you combine the fourth and seventeenth, you've got two pretty darn difficult holes on the Blue Heron course!). It's difficult because it's a long, full carry par three with bunkers fronting the green, and the only realistic bailout is to the extreme right, and short. The only good option is to hit the green, which is easier said then done-the hole can play over 200 yards. But the putting surface is large!
Eighteen's a relatively tame 398 yard par four with a sharp dogleg left. The second shot can be tough if you're too far to the left off the tee and there's a back left pin position. Tree trouble!
It's probably not going to be the first time on Blue Heron that you'll encounter trees. But the grandeur of the experience won't be lessened by the great amount of nature's presence. The tall pines heighten the golf course, as will your golf round. And it's nice there are shades of Pinehurst, right here in the Old Dominion.
The Blue Heron Course
at Ford's Colony
240 Ford's Colony Drive
Williamsburg, VA 23188
Phone: (757) 258-4130
FAX: (757) 258-4168
Head Golf Professional: Mike Hayes
Director of Golf: Scott Jones
Course Architect: Dan Maples
Black 6873 131
Gold 6290 123
Silver 5695 117 (men), 125 (ladies)
Bronze 5163 105 (men), 120 (ladies)
$59 weekdays; $69 weekends. Includes greens fees and cart.