Spring Creek Golf Club: Classic risk-reward finish at this Virginia beauty.
Half a dozen years ago, private developers in Virginia proposed a multicourse Sam Snead Golf Trail stretching from Norfolk to Blacksburg and points north. Course designer Ed Carton was hired to be Snead's ghost architect. Soon after the first course broke ground in 2002, Snead died, and soon thereafter, so did the financing for a Snead Golf Trail. But that course, the Snead-inspired, Carton-designed Poplar Grove in Amherst, eventually opened and placed eighth among the Best New Upscale Public courses in 2005.
Carton had scouted other spots for potential Snead courses and found a dandy east of Charlottesville. After the Trail fizzled, another developer stepped in, retained Carton, and let him fashion 18 holes that eventually will be surrounded by housing.
The result is Spring Creek Golf Club, our Best New Public Course Under $75, a sprawling, almost overpowering-to-the-senses layout. If it looks to a layman like a Tom Fazio design, that's understandable. Carton learned the business working for Fazio on some 30 construction projects. Carton is proud that at Spring Creek he achieved a Fazio touch without a typical Fazio budget.
Spring Creek has the look and feel of a course worth twice the admission price. Nearly every hole is isolated in a dense forest of hardwood trees, with the only parallel holes being the third and fourth. But forget the trees. Spring Creek welcomes golfers with open arms. The bent-grass fairways are massively wide, the bent-grass greens invitingly deep. To keep pace with that scale, the bunkers are understandably gigantic, some fairway ones nearly 100 yards long, some greenside ones dwarfing the putting surfaces.
For a first-timer, the components tend to blur after a while. But a pair of holes stand out. After 10 holes of hardwoods, the dogleg-right, uphill, par-4 11th provides a visual change of pace. It's notched through a corner of a pine plantation, with nothing but solid, uninterrupted pines. It's like playing along at Medinah and suddenly stumbling upon Pinehurst. But step onto the 12th, and the scenery reverts to oak dominance.
The 561-yard 18th is a rousing, go-for-broke par 5 with a large lake along the left and a peninsula green encircled by a buffer bunker and water. A combination of fairway contours and a hillside on the right reward a fade off the tee and a draw into the green. Ed Carton learned his craft well. This is arguably the year's most exciting closing hole.
BEST NEW PUBLIC: UNDER $75 1. SPRING CREEK G.C. Gord Le, Va. Yards 7,172 Par 72 Fee: $70 Designer: Ed Carton 540-832-0744 springcreekgolfclub.com 2. JUG MTN. RANCH G. CSE. McCall, Idaho Yards 7,287 Par 72 Fee $60: Don Knott 208-634-5072 jugmountainranch.com 3. MONARCH DUNES G.C. Nipomo, Calif. Yards 6,810 Par 71 Fee $73 Damian Pascuzzo and Steve Pate 805-343-9459 monarchdunesgolf.com __4. THE MANOR RESORT G.C.__ Farmville, Va. Yards 7,214 Par 72 Fee: $49 Rick Robbins 434-392-2244 themanorresort.com __5. THE DOGWOODS AT HUGH WHITE STATE PARK__ Grenada, Miss. Yards 7,015 Par 72 Fee: $39 Gary Roger Baird 662-226-4123 dogwoodsgolf.com 6. BLUE RIDGE SHADOWS G.C. Front Royal, Va. Yards 7,302 Par 72 Fee: $72 Tom Clark 540-631-9661 blueridgeshadows.com __7. BLACK BEAR G.C.__ Delhi, La. Yards 7,276 Par 72 Fee: $49 Roy Bechtol and Randy Russell 318-878-2162 blackbear-golf.com 8. WHITE HORSE G.C. Kingston, Wash. Yards 7,093 Par 72 Fee: $63 Cynthia Dye McGarey 360-297-4468 whitehorsegolf.com 9. CANYON RIVER G.C. East Missoula, Mont. Yards 6,966 Par 72 Fee: $48 Lee Schmidt and Brian Curley 406-721-0222 canyonrivergolfcommunity.com 10. SAND CREEK STATION Newton, Kan. Yards 7,359 Par 72 Fee: $49 Jeff Brauer 316-284-6161 sandcreekgolfclub.com