Terry Friedman, the owner of what would become Victoria National Golf Club, knew what he wanted from the outset: a unique course that would be worthy of national recognition the day it opened and that could host major competitions. While many ownershave a similar dream, the difference is that Friedman methodically went about achieving it. First, Friedman scoured the middleregions of the United States looking for unique property.Theprocess was slow and thorough as he appreciated that the site would ultimately dictate a large part of the project’s success. He finally foundwhat he was looking for near Evansville in the southern part of Indiana- a former strip mining operation. From there, he brought inhis friend Tom Fazio and they went to work. As aresult of their existing friendship, Faziodevoted plentyof personal, on-site time to this project, something that has been distinctly missingin the last five years of his work. After several first-rate courses from the late 1980s and early 1990s (Wade Hampton, Shadow Creek, the Pine Barrens Course at World Woods), Fazio had become inundated with projects to the point where he couldn’t possibly spend enough time at each site.A direct consequence was that aninnovativeness was lost as his projects started to take ona similarfeel. While his coursesremainedartistically appealing, they had lost their edge, with too much emphasison ‘playability’ and not enough on strategy. Friedman wanted no part in this and clearly stated that he wanted a course that could test the very best, something that Fazio courses haven’t done at the highestnational level.With the owner pushing him to make the most of the course’s rugged setting,Fazio was free to utilize as he best saw fit the deep lakes, ravines and hills that strewn the 400 acre property.
Fazio deserves significant credit for his routing, as it seamlessly incorporates the features from the ceased mining activities into the design of the course. Lakes were created in the strip mines when the digging eventually reached underground springs and Fazio uses the water to create a number of interesting playing angles. How much is the golfer willing to bite off on the diagonal carry off the 2nd and 4th tees? Is he willing to throw his approach to the back hole locations on the 9th green, the back of which is surrounded by water? Can the golfer avoid the lake on the left of the one shot 11th by using the right to left slope by the green? Is the golfer willing to flirt with the water on the right of the 17th and 18th in order to have the easiest angle/shot into the respective greens? As for the mounds of the ‘spoils’, they created an interesting proposition to Fazio as they typically run parallel to each other and to the water. Often, particularly on the front nine, a player might think that the sides of the hole were built up in that artificial and modern hope of separating one hole from another. However, he is wrong. True, those series of mounds are artificial, but they were madedecades before the site was ever considered for a golf course. Therefore, Fazio had to work with what, in effect, amounted to rows of dunes. He fitted many holes between the heaps (e.g., the 14th), but some were routed across them (e.g., the 15th). There is the oxymoronic situation of having mounds that are both artificial (man-made) and at the same time natural (pre-existing). At Victoria National, Fazio took the chances that hehas avoided in recent times, from tucking the 3rd green between a spoils mound and the water to the fiercely sloping 10th green to the short 16th with no margin for error with water on three sides. The brutal finishing stretch starting with the 14th hole proves that ‘playability’ was not at the forefront of the architect’s mind. However, while the site guaranteed a certain toughness,Fazio continued with his penchant for designing a varied and interesting set of short two-shotters (another notable example being Caves Valley). The 2nd, 4th, and 12th at Victoria National follow suit, with the driveable 12th being in the same mode as the excellent 14th at Lake Nona and the 15th at the Pine Barrens course.
Another area where Friedman’s influence is felt is that he believes golf is a walking game, and there are numerous trails from green to tee and from tee to fairway that make Victoria National a sheer delight to walk. In addition, Friedman has established a caddie program that the members have embraced.
Holes to Note: (All yardages are from the 6,860 set of tees as opposed to the 7,240 set). 2nd hole, 355 yards: The first of an admirable group of short two-shotters, the 2nd is the most dramatic with its tee shot across the water to the fairway located atop thefifty foot bluffs on the far side. The tee shot needs to hug the left side to afford the best angle into the green protected by a dominant front-right bunker. A tee shot down the right side leaves it quite difficult to attack a back-right hole location over that bunker and a nervy angle to approach the left side of the green with the water just beyond and left.
3rd hole, 540 yards: The authors’ favorite hole on the course, the 3rd is an original three-shotter where the second shot is the key to the hole, whether the player is going for the green or laying up. After a drive along the bluffs with water on the left, the player needs to place his second shot both long enough and far enough left to give himself a view of the green tucked behind a hill at the corner and the angle to allow him to play down the length of the green and not across it (and toward the water just beyond). Conversely, the Tiger might take a crack at the green in two and to be successful, he must play his approach shot some thirty yards to the left of the green, let it take the slope and trickle down onto the green which runs from front to back. Regardless of the player’s skill level, the hole plays equally well, ands thus is a truly great golf hole.
6th hole, 430 yards; A bunkerless hole that ends with a green that can beg for a running approach, depending on which tier the hole is located. A fine change of pace hole that adds variety to the overall challenge of the course.