Kinloch Golf Club

Standing on the tee box of the 9th hole at Kinloch Golf Club 12 miles northwest of Richmond, VA., golfers can be easily distracted by the vista. The 9th is a majestic, panoramic 556-yard dogleg right. A stream, whose banks are populated with sedges and other marsh grasses, splits the rolling fairway and meanders the entire length of the hole. The right fairway is bordered right by a hardwood forest and a bluff. Players willing to risk it must cut their tee shots sharply around the hardwoods and right of the creek if they want to shorten the hole. The safer but longer route is over the creek bed to the more elevated left fairway. At about 400 yards out, the left fairway is interrupted by a 20-yard marsh swath before the pickup fairway begins again at a natural dome with a 20-foot vertical wall that is like a miniature of Yosemite's Half Dome. The right fairway continues up toward the right side of the green and is interrupted by the stream bed. Players electing to lay up on the right side face a daunting short iron third shot over a rise to a partially hidden green. The view from the green back down the fairway is absolutely stunning, and as strategically fascinating as it is beautiful. There are no fewer than 8 different routes into the green.

As fine a design as it is, the 9th is just one of 18 virtuoso holes that make up the most beautiful, best conditioned parkland layout I have ever played. This is a Rembrandt of a golf course, an architecturally magnificent work of art.

Green by the lake, aerial view Opened in April 2001, Kinloch Golf Club is already the talk among the golfing cognoscenti. A Golf Digest reviewer who has never before awarded a golf course a perfect rating, reportedly has given Kinloch 10's on all ratings criteria. In a metro area not generally regarded as golf rich, Kinloch is a treasure that is putting Richmond on the golfing map.

Kinloch is a private equity golf club with a limit of 300 members (as of August 2001 there were 175 members). Resident, non-resident, corporate and national memberships are available at remarkably modest rates. For example, non-resident members who live within a certain zone outside the metro Richmond area have an initiation fee of only $65,000 and annual dues of $3500; Initiation fees for national memberships are only $35,000 with annual dues of $2,000. Memberships are by invitation only.

Every aspect of the club, from the golf course and physical complex to the service and amenities, is world class at Kinloch, yet the theme of the club is understated elegance. There is nothing flamboyant about Kinloch, just a polished professionalism that speaks low while exhibiting a quiet confidence that it knows few other golf clubs in the world can rival it in quality.

Fairway, aerial view In addition to the golf course, which is so good it has some people comparing it to Augusta in both setting and conditioning, the club has a short- and long-game practice facility that includes indoor hitting bays, state-of-the art cameras and a video room, and force plates which measure the energy loading of a player during the swing. The crack instructional team is under the direction of Steve Slotterback, a veteran with Rick Smith. Those lucky enough to have club Director of Golf Phil Owenby as their instructor will have THE best teacher in the country, according to some observers.

The 20,000 square foot clubhouse (scheduled for completion in 2002) will feature plush carpeting, a modest sized, comfortable locker space, a restaurant offering world class fare, and a pro shop stocked with top-of-the-line in apparel and equipment. The clubhouse, which has a Tudor-style exterior design, overlooks the 70-acre lake, the centerpiece of the 274-acre property and the inspiration for the name Kinloch, which in the "Old Country" means "by the lake".

The lake, which also services a fishing club at one end, was built some 10 years earlier by Richmond real estate scion C. B. Robertson, who first envisioned a residential development on the site. Robertson later scrapped that idea in favor of building a daily fee golf course. One day, he invited Marvin "Vinny" Giles out to visit the site. Giles, a Richmond sports agent and world class amateur golfer, took one look and persuaded his friend that they should do something special with it. Subsequently, the two formed a partnership with a third principal, Manassas golf facility owner Charles Staples, and the idea of Kinloch was born. It is not surprising that the heraldry of the club logo includes the cross at St. Andrews and the trophy of the U.S. Amateur Championship. Giles won a critical Walker Cup match on the Road Hole at St. Andrews, and he is the 1972 U.S. Amateur Champion. He also won the British Amateur Championship at Hoylake.

Giles was a consultant to Lester George, a Richmond-based architect who, among many other projects, redesigned the Newport Bay Course at the Ocean City Golf & Yacht Club and who was recently commissioned to redesign the DuPont Country Club course in Wilmington Del., site of the LPGA McDonalds Championship. Good friends, Giles and George pretty much saw eye to eye on all facets of the design.

Checkered fairway, aerial view During their many early site visits through the thick underbrush, they quickly realized they had a piece of property that fairly begged from a traditional layout, and that is what they produced. In routing and shaping the holes through the hardwoods and pines, and around and over the abundant streams on the site, the team preserved the natural look. Very little earth was moved, and all grading was tied to the original grading. There are no created mounds or other artificial features.

"For the size of the project, we moved an incredibly small volume of earth," explains George. "We fit the course to this exquisite piece of land because we wanted a natural look."

Open corridors through the thick forest were created to provide ample landing areas, and the undulating landscape offered great opportunities for a wide variety of shots. Once the corridors were cut, meticulous effort was made to preserve the site's natural endowment, particularly its hundreds of flowering fruit trees including dogwoods. "You should see the color in the spring," George exclaimed. "You can't believe the color! "We did 55 acres of select clearing all by hand," George added. "We gave the crew leaf packages so that they would recognize those species of plants and flowering trees that we wanted left alone as they cleared out the understory. We also laid down 75,000 cubic yards of mulch in the natural areas."

The course, which has four sets of tees measuring from 5,360 to 7,112 yards, looks as natural as if nature herself designed it. The design team took every advantage of the elevation changes to sculpt a course of fascinating rhythm where no two shots are similar. All the contoured areas are tied to the original slope and there are no artificial mounds.

Fairways and greens, aerial view Shunning any temptation to build greens with deep dramatic swales which would have clashed thematically with the rest of the course, "We designed the greens for understated subtlety," George said, adding that the transition zones from fairway to green are seamless, giving players the option of bump-and-run approaches. With the exception of one pot bunker on the back side, the course features some 68 wide, shallow-faced bunkers designed to be hiccups and not round ruiners.

The front 9 includes a 311-yard downhill risk-reward challenge with a fairway split by a creek, a par 4 that has a fairway whose upper and lower tiers are separated by large bunkers, a spectacular 230-yard downhill par 3 in a natural amphitheater and the 437 yard 8th requiring a draw off the tee over a crest of a hill and down to a green diagonally position behind a pond reminiscent of the 11th at Augusta. A well struck draw off the tee can catch the left listing pitch of the fairway scooting the ball down into a little valley from where the approach into the green is shorter and directly over the pond. A drive right creates a longer but safer angle into the green. A drive too far right winds up in thick rough. This hole is a great one.

Most of the back side holes wrap around the lake and include the short par 5 11th with another split fairway. A drive to the right fairway must carry three bunkers but it leaves a shorter second into the widest green on the course. From all but a far right hand pin position, it is best to go down the left side which is bordered by a stream. A wetland guards the green in the front. After another spectacular par 5 from an upland down to a green right on the lake, the course offers up some special finishing holes including the 150-yard 14th which is anything but a walk in the park. A back left pin position is all but inaccessible and anything too far right tends to shoot off the green in back. A drivable par 4 up the hill featuring a tree directly in the sight line and steep greenside bunkers surrounded with gnarly bluegrass is followed by perhaps the most dramatic hole on the course, the 465-yard 16th dogleg left which traverses down around the end of the lake and back up to an elevated green. The 18th is a straight-away 415 yarder directly along the lake. A narrow opening between the lake left and bunkers and a tree that juts out annoyingly right presents the biggest challenge on what is a visually exciting finish.

fairways and greens Players finishing their matches tied after 18 have the option to break their ties by playing the 19th hole, a 172 yarder directly over the lake.

Under the outstanding direction of course superintendent Peter Wendt, Kinloch's absolutely superb grooming attests to a dedication to make this club second to none. Wendt came from Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Manassas, Va., site of two President's Cup matches and one of the leading private golf clubs in the world. It, too, has bent grass turf that far surpasses most other courses anywhere.

As club member Giff Breed said, referring to Kinloch's conditioning, "At any given time, the superintendent may have more of his crew at work on the course than there are golfers." And what a course they have to work on. Some 40 acres of fairways were sodded with L-93 bent and the tees and greens, also L-93, were established from seed. Remarkably, 120 acres of rough were completely sodded with blue grass. The contracted sod is from a plant in Delaware. You will never play a better maintained course anywhere. *

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