The narrow Virginia peninsula between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers contains the birthplaces of three of America's first five presidents—Washington, Madison and Monroe—as well as that of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. But real-estate developer David Donofrio chose to name his new public course after an area resident who was a far more successful businessman than any of that foursome. Robert (King) Carter was an 18th-century colonial tobacco baron who at the time of his death owned 325,000 prime acres of Virginia's Northern Neck, including the land upon which King Carter Golf Club, America's Best New Public Course Under $75, now rests.
Of course, King Carter's trust was busted centuries ago. It took Donofrio more than 10 years to assemble the 19 separate parcels of land now occupied by his course and surrounding housing development. Once the land was assembled, a course was fashioned by young designer Joel Weiman, the in-house course architect of Maryland golf course contractor McDonald Sons, which built the course. (Another McDonald employee, Andrew Green, is credited as field architect on the project.) King Carter was the second full 18-hole design for Weiman and his first Best New win.
Weiman, who graduated in 1997 from Cornell University a generation behind famous alum Tom Doak, has an appreciation for the old-country, low-budget, lay-of-the-land architecture that Doak has espoused for years. Thus King Carter's design hugs the natural contours of its site, with the first six holes laid over rolling pastureland and existing farm ponds, and the seventh through ninth touching a wooded creek ravine. The more rugged back nine was cut mostly from hillsides of dense oaks, hollies and mountain laurel, with fairways intersecting hills at angles to provide dramatic left or right slopes to landing areas.
Adding to the allure are the geometric mowing patterns of the fairways and angular shapes of the greens, which are small, averaging 3,000 square feet, and modest in contours. Even when imitating an infamous old feature, Weiman chose not to hit golfers over the head. The green on the 515-yard 11th is a tribute to C.B. Macdonald's Biarritz, but the green is bisected merely by a dip, not a trench.
The defining features at King Carter are the bunkers, clearly inspired by free-form shapes popularized by Alister Mackenzie. Not only are the 44 bunkers big with jagged edges, they're scattered in random fashion, used aesthetically as much as strategically. Typical are the bunkers fronting the green on the 437-yard eighth. A huge bunker sits at the base of a hill, well below the putting surface, and a tiny accent bunker sits above it, guarding front-left pin positions. Many architects would have jammed the huge bunker up against the green, but Weiman recognized a better artistry.
Last, we should give a shout out for King Carter's charming one-room clubhouse. It will be replaced by something far bigger, but for now, it's our choice for Best New Clubhouse Under 250 Square Feet.
BEST NEW PUBLIC UNDER $75 1. KING CARTER G.C.__
__ Irvington, Va. 6,818 yards, par 71, $34. Joel Weiman, designer.
804-435-7842. kingcartergolfclub.com __2. BLUE HERON G.C. (HIGHLANDS & LAKES NINES) ____
__ Medina, Ohio. 6,932 yards, par 72, $69. John Robinson.
__3. SUNDANCE AT A-GA-MING GOLF RESORT____
__ Kewadin, Mich. 6,935 yards, par 72, $74. Jerry Matthews.
800-678-0122. a-ga-ming.com __4. THE SHOALS (SCHOOLMASTER)
__ Muscle Shoals, Ala. 7,971 yards, par 72, $55. Roger Rulewich and Bobby Vaughan. 256-446-5111. rtjgolf.com
__5. THE ATCHAFALAYA G. CSE. AT IDLEWILD____
Patterson, La. 7,533 yards, par 72, $65. Rick Baril and Robert von Hagge.
985-395-4653. atchafalayagolf.com__ 6. JUNIPER G. CSE.__
__ Redmond, Ore. 7,186 yards, par 72, $55. John Harbottle.
__7. BERGAMONT G.C.____
Oregon, Wis. 7,339 yards, par 72, $70. Andy North.
608-835-6900. thebergamont.com__ 8. THE JEWEL G.C.__
Lake City, Minn. n 7,050 yards, par 71, $60. Hale Irwin and Stan Gentry.
800-738-7714. jewelgolfclub.com__ 9. CALLIPPE PRESERVE G. CSE.__
__ Pleasanton, Calif. 6,748 yards, par 72, $60. Brian Costello.
925-426-6666. playcallippe.com 10. MINES G. CSE.__
Grand Rapids, Mich. 6,701 yards, par 70, $40. Mike DeVries.
616-791-7544. minesgolfcourse.com__ *
NOTE: Green fee reflects the 2006 peak-season weekend rate including cart if mandatory.