Full Cry at Keswick Golf Club
Virginia, United States of America

Tenth hole, 345 yards; Despite its modest distance, this hole plays surprisingly long – and mean. The tee ball is most uphill of any on the course, thwarting much run. Additionally, the most prudent line is well right of the flag to exploit the right to left cant of the fairway. Getting tangled up left off the tee is the beginning of an unacceptably high score.

The safe play is at the right rough line so that the ball will curl back into the fairway. The bolder line is long left from where the golfer will be afforded a more level stance.

Either way, he needs to find the fairway as controlling a shot out of the rough to this intermediate sized target is no mean feat. The back 20% of the green actually runs away from the golfer, dipping into a shallow bowl.

Eleventh hole, 175 yards; This peaceful hole was beautifully benched into the hillside and is a sterling example of how a hole shines when the playing surfaces are firm. There is just enough right to left pitch in the ground that a tee ball will release and chase toward left and back hole locations. Watching the slow movement of the white ball along these ground contours is one of the round’s lasting memories. If the ball went ‘splat’ when it landed, that experience would be void. A June, 2017 tour of the course by the author revealed a course whose presentation was perfectly dialed- in. When complimented,  Green Keeper Mcdonough responded with a smile ‘Roots and soil.’

Not dramatic but beautiful all the same – the 11th at Keswick. Too many modern courses feature holes that yell at the golfer. Keswick represents a most welcome return to less artifice and more restraint.

The green’s gradual tilt to the back left corner is observed in this view from behind the green.

Twelfth hole, 520 yards; The stretch of twelve through fourteen pays the most homage to the original 1949 Findlay design, albeit this hole features a tournament tee seventy yards behind one Findlay ever deemed necessary! The slow swinging hole to the left fits the classic definition of a three shotter in that each shot gets progressively more challenging. Of note, it features the design’s only central bunker (i.e. one that is completely surrounded by fairway). What’s interesting is that Dye had an ‘on-again, off-again’ relationship with it. At first he loved it, on his next trip he wasn’t so sure, but then liked it again. Happily, it made the final design.

The elegant twelfth fairway, no muss, no fuss.

A fast, sloping fairway and a cursedly well placed small central hazard conspire to agitate the golfer on his second.

A bunker need not be deep to be effective.

Those going for the green typically do so from a lie with the ball slightly above their feet. To avoid overcooking such shots – the experienced player tends to hold off at the bottom of the swing and push one right. That miss absolutely will not do at the 12th, which features the smallest green on the course at 4,400 square feet.

Thirteenth hole, 320 yards; The author has been here thrice since the course re-opened in 2014 and has enjoyed ample opportunity to study each hole. Nonetheless, it was only most recently that the light went on regarding this hole’s design features. More so than any shot since Dye became an architect in 1955, the bunker shot has been made easier by a myriad of lofts and bounces. Hearing a professional beg for a wayward shot to get into the sand (a supposed hazard!) versus the rough is sickening – Old Tom Morris would pale. If a hazard isn’t hazardous, what’s the point?! At 77 in number, Keswick has far fewer bunkers than many Dye designs of the past twenty-five years. On this hole, the tiger can have a crack at the green from the tee but if he fails to safely find the putting surface and miss slightly right, he will have short-sided himself and found thick rough where normally he would have expected sand. Alternatively, a failure farther right finds sand where normally he would have expected rough. This time though, recovery from sand is anything but straightforward as the explosion shot falls in the heinously uncomfortable 15 – 35 yard range.

The dream line off the tee is to carry as much of the gulley left of the fairway as possible, staying left of the flag. So what does Dye do? Give you gobs of fairway to the right that does little more than provide a crummy angle into the green over the hole’s lone bunker.

A fascinating bunker based on how it is pulled away from the putting surface – and the damage that inflicts. The good player would much prefer if the sand was flush against the putting surface as he can better control the ball from sand than from rough. Therein lies the definition of good architecture – irritating the good player while letting the less talented enjoy themselves!

Fourteenth hole, 330 yards; This is Virginia’s version of eight and nine at Cypress Point. While the prior hole played uphill with a flag clearly visible from the tee, the fourteenth slides downhill and swings left around a huge specimen white oak that usually hides the flag from the tee. Experience has taught Head Professional McGraw to select a hybrid and play to the outside of the dogleg from where he will enjoy a clean pitch down the length of the green. Meanwhile, Ned Parrish, a friend from Farmington Country Club, prefers a more aggressive line and tries to draw his driver around the bend to get nearer the putting surface. He admits uneven results from his heroics!

The options from the tee tease different decisions from players.

McGraw is content to end up right and short of the small wood cart sign in the fairway. Meanwhile, one is surely tempting the fates by flirting too much with that white oak.

The canopy of the white oak and its effect on play is evident in this afternoon view from behind the green.

Fifteenth hole, 445 yards; The going has been quite pleasant for a while. Beginning from the eighth, the golfer has played two par fives, and four two shotters that average 305 yards from the Dye tees and 335 yards from the Tournament tees. During that stretch the golfer has been thoroughly engaged, needing to position each shot correctly while enjoying the valley setting and inspiring views of Keswick Hall. This is how golf should be: a rewarding mental and physical experience, not a punishing death march where thoughts of taking up tennis surface. Having said all that, Dye believes that great architecture is about variety, variety, variety and must challenge and evaluate how good the player is with each club in his bag. Coming home, the golfer’s driver and hybrids/long irons will need to be functioning at peak for the him to cement a good round. It starts here at the course’s hardest par.

The 15th climbs up a slope as its fairway bananas around a gulley. If the drive isn’t long enough, only the top of the flag will be visible for one’s approach.

Similar to the approach at the 6th, McGraw counsels to use the ramp to feed balls onto the open putting surface. Note the puff kick mound 6 yards short left of the green and use it next time to your advantage.

Sixteenth hole, 205 yards; As much as any architect in the history of the sport, Pete Dye fancies ending designs with some sequence of a par 3, par 5, and par 4. Countless examples of his best courses conclude that way. Why? Variety, variety, variety! Keswick joins with the likes of The Ocean Course at Kiawah, The Golf Club, Whistling Straits, Fowler’s Mill, TPC Sawgrass, etc. in providing a finish where all manner of things can occur. Speaking of The Ocean Course, broad similarities are seen here with the merciless fourteenth at The Ocean Course with this being a kinder, more humane version (the green less severe, the bunker less deep). Again, the good player is fully tested while the less accomplished can at least finish the hole, perhaps with no worse than a bogey!

This huge one shotter (245 yards from the Tournament tees) plays to the largest putting surface on the course at 10,640 square feet.

The large green is peanut shaped and curves left around a solitary bunker. A back kick mound and the putting surface peeling off to the lower back left will remind more than one golfer of Redan playing characteristics.

Seventeenth hole, 525 yards; The holes at Keswick are generally at grade with their surrounds with some of the playing corridors dipping into lovely shallow valleys. This one is opposite in that it plays perpendicular to and across a shallow valley. It is important for holes to traverse land in every manner possible; that’s the one knock on the 2017 Open venue. Royal Birkdale’s fairways are routed exclusively through valleys and never go up and over the dunes. This is the ‘up and over’ hole at Keswick and even with a good tee ball, the golfer is likely to have a blind shot over the crest of a hill to a fairway that jogs right before snaking its way to the small elevated green. Interestingly enough, this green joins the other par 5 green on this side (the twelfth) as being the course’s two greens that measure less than 5,000 square feet. The author presumes Dye is telling the tiger he can have a go – but he best be accurate.

At the penultimate hole, Dye asks the golfer to do something he hasn’t yet in the round: commit to a blind shot. This photograph is taken well ahead of where a good drive finishes and finding the curving fairway with one’s second is no mean feat.

Eighteenth hole, 440 yards; Ideally, the Home hole should convey a sense of occasion. There are numerous ways to do so; by setting (Pebble Beach, Seminole), playing toward history (St. Andrews, Pinehurst), with scintillating land (Merion, Pine Valley) or featuring an eye-popping great green (Oakmont, Winged Foot). This hole combines several of those methods to become the best finishing hole in the state.

Similar to Harbour Town, the Home hole is the course’s most famous, helped so by an iconic structure in the background.

The perfect angle into the long slender green is from the right side of the fairway.

At 35 yards deep, this is the second longest green on the course. In typical fashion, one side features short grass.

The drama of the 18th is heightened by playing underneath this stunning structure – and all the prying eyes on the large outside balcony.

In 1969, Pete Dye’s collaboration with Jack Nicklaus at Harbour Town left the world wondering how to evaluate a design with railroad ties and small greens. After it produced a slew of first rate champions at the PGA event it hosted, the revolutionary course was stamped a classic. Bryon Nelson told the author in 1986 that he would have given anything to have competed at Harbour Town since he loved the demands that this positional course placed on the player. Having to shape the ball off the tee, control its flight in the wind and approach small greens from the correct sides of fairways were aspects of the game that Nelson valued highly. In some ways, the author views the design at Keswick similarly. First, it breaks from the popular style of the moment that consists of huge fairways and large greens embellished with sprawling bunkers that while frequently out of play are easy to photograph. Second, the design features are subdued and the course is very much at peace with the ground it occupies. Third, the challenge isn’t so much about length as it is position to best approach the firm greens. Fourth, everyone (young, old, novice, tiger) will enjoy this design with its greens open in front.

Some of Dye’s commissions in the middle and later stages of his career included a ‘wow’ factor since the courses were being built for big events with television in mind. Such pressure doesn’t necessarily yield a design that the author finds pleasurable to play on a routine basis; they tend to be ‘noisy’ with too many things going on for the eye to rest. When Dye began his career, such expectations were non-existent and his early works at Crooked Stick and The Golf Club were ‘quieter.’ That’s very important to the author and is what Keswick represents: a return to a place where nature takes center stage as opposed to man. Certainly building a course in a swamp is an enormous achievement on many technical levels but it will never compare with the enduring satisfaction produced by one built in such a lovely, natural setting like Keswick. Congratulations to Dye and his team for building a low profile design without any artificial contrivance that might distort the soothing rural landscape.

When the author asked Bill Goodwin what he thought about Dye’s latest creation, Goodwin responded, ‘He did everything I asked. I wanted it to be walkable; it now is. I wanted the golfer to hit every club in the bag; over the course of round, he does. Pete enhanced the overall environment with his work and more people than ever are enjoying their time here. Pete was always out there fiddling and tinkering with things. I can’t stress that enough – how involved he was trying to get every point right. I couldn’t be more happy with the end result.’

Carrying on from that theme of what it means for an architect to be on site so much, Doak adds, ‘Mr. Dye’s greatest strength is that he is one of the smartest, seat-of-the-pants engineers I’ve ever come across. He is always tinkering around with new ways to do things … to make the drainage work, to improve the soils, or just to make the golf course play differently. You can’t really do that by drawing plans; you just have to be out in the dirt, looking for opportunities to make the course better, and acting when the right opportunity comes along. Being on site so much gives Pete the time to do something few architects do — the time to actually think creatively, instead of just falling back on an old idea.’ In the case of Keswick, that meant tamping down features and streamlining the visuals. After all, the mellifluous Virginia countryside has always had a rhythm and beat all its own. Things are done in an unhurried manner here, and grace and gentility are paramount. That’s why this course is such a refreshing find as it perfectly captures those attributes.

Listening to his longtime friend Mr. Goodwin, Pete Dye said at the onset of the project that we need to get golfers around more quickly and have them enjoy the game more. That is precisely what he has accomplished with this throw-back, minimalist design that embraces the bucolic charms of the region.

A new dawn has arrived at Keswick.

The End