The Orchard Course at The Olde Farm
Founder: Jim McGlothlin
Architect: Bobby Weed
General Manager: Marc Eubanks
Golf Course Superintendent: Ryan Severidt
Founded by Jim McGlothlin and designed by Bobby Weed, the Olde Farm in Bristol, VA opened in 2000. Highlighted by views of the rolling Appalachian foothills and long range glimpses of the mountains themselves, the course features wide fairways, heavily-contoured greens and lots of half-par holes. Designed, constructed, and maintained around the concept that drainage is king, the course generally presents the ideal maintenance meld.
Perhaps the only glaring weakness upon opening was a limited and cramped driving range. But when the opportunity arose to purchase more property, Mr. McGlothlin built a new and much larger practice area. The leaders of the club decided last fall to construct a new short course, The Orchard Course, using the ground of the original range. When I asked Bobby Weed about the genesis of the Orchard Course, he cited a combination of reasons for the project: “We had a driving range no longer in use, but was still being maintained. It just seemed that it should be something and not lie fallow. Once Jim and I discussed it, we all agreed that a short course would be a fine complement to the big course. The irony is that the ground for the old practice area, with its sharper slopes and deeper valleys, is perfect for a short course and a bit difficult for a range. Conversely, the new range out behind #12 (of the big course) is a great practice area but its gentler contours would not have made for as good a short course. It’s funny how everything became what it was meant to be”.
In my opinion, golf needs more short courses. Whether you want to work on your short irons, have a little friendly wager after your round, or have limited time to be at the club, short courses like this offer a great venue for golf pleasure. Built in just 8-10 weeks and ready to open after only 9 months from the start of the project, this short course is a tremendous asset for the club at relatively small cost. The course’s eight greens range in size from 1800 sq feet to the 6000 sq feet double green and total around 28k sq feet. The seventeen bunkers are just enough to provide playing and visual interest but allow the maintenance staff to quickly remedy any disturbance caused by a summer thunderstorm. Bobby Weed’s vision for the course: “It allows all members/guests a chance to continue to enjoy the game, regardless of their age. A great way to end the day, for cottage guests to play a brief round, to work on the all-important short game, honing one’s skills. As our older members struggle to stay active, The Orchard provides a way to stay connected to the game, and share the game with their grandchildren. And, who doesn’t like to still ‘get it up and down’ for a par…!”
The Orchard course at the Olde Farm features an ingenious routing that allows for hundreds, if not thousands of playing options to the 8 greens (1 double green) that sit on an economical 7.5 acres. There are no tee boxes and therefore no limits to the holes that can be imagined or played. Care to start the hole from a bunker, go right ahead. Play the routing clockwise, wonderful. Want to go counter-clockwise, fabulous. Want to ignore the designated holes, fine…just have fun. Weed puts it aptly: “There is a structure to the routing if you want it, or you can ‘free-range’ it”.
Weed feels short courses like this one may be important to the future of golf. “Short courses have a place, they simply need to be better maintained and shake the stigma that they are somehow inferior. We live in a less formal society, have less disposable income and less disposable time and this may well be the answer going forward. We do not need to introduce a 12 or 14 hole concept, that’s too much heavy lifting, and starting over. This type of course can be more affordable and helps remove the ‘perceived stuffiness’ the game developed over the years. I think the current marketplace offers designers an opportunity to devote the full extent of their talents and attention to these types of courses, and perhaps that level of care was what was missing from older short courses. I can say that we gave the Orchard Course and its green complexes as much attention as any new course or renovation we’ve ever done”. Along these lines, the club is committed to maintaining the Orchard course to the same playing standards as the big course. Club GM Marc Eubanks says: “when you play the Orchard, we want you to see the same sort of firmness and speed that you see on the big course. We want the members to be able to hone their short games and become up and down wizards”.
The Orchard Course, like the big course, features some bold contours and lots of sideboards and backboards to stimulate the shot-making imagination even further. The keywords for the course are fun, options, and receptivity. Although the greens are small, the contours and slopes effectively create a larger area in which to land the ball which in turn makes for a greater degree of playability and fun for all. Weed wanted to carry the themes from the big course into his new creation: “The native-landscape theme of the big course; orchards, fence rows, berry bushes prevailed and was a natural to expand on. “ Every detail, down to the burlap flags ties into this theme.
A Course Tour
Although there is no set routing, the holes will be presented in the “clockwise sequence” which would most likely be used for any club events held on the course.
The starting point of the course:
This fence area adjacent to first “teeing area” served as inspiration for the course scorecard.
And the scorecard itself:
1st Hole, “Shorty” – A short pitch to a kidney bean shaped green. The smart player can use the slope on the right to feed the ball to the hole location shown without having to risk hitting into the bunker.
A second photo of the 1st from further right shows how the first 3 holes connect.
2nd Hole, “Ridgeline” – a full lob wedge shot to a green that falls away at the back. The hole provides a great chance to practice one’s distance control.
3rd Hole, “Buried Souls” – an uphill approach to a double green. The left hand pin would be played in competition (but of course, on any other day, the golfer can call his own shot). The green is bisected by a huge single mound creating enormous challenge for the poor soul who hits the wrong portion of this green.
4th Hole, “Ball Splitter” – One of the longer shots in the “clockwise” routing at approx. 150 yds, this hole features a very interesting spine that begins in front of, and continues through, the green. Weed told me that the work of Donald Ross inspired the shaping on this green. Notice the driving range in the background which offers the opportunity for the player to play the first 4 holes on his way to the range and then play his way back to the clubhouse after his practice session. One can see in Weed’s vision for the short course how the routing came into place: “We felt it was critical to ‘touch’ the new practice tee and make the Orchard Course a way to ‘golf their way’ from the clubhouse/cottages to the range, so we found a good greensite adjacent to the current range tee. At that point, we took a step back, looked at what we had and added a few more greens in locations that had interest, one on the highpoint next to #12 green, one down low adjacent to the dry creek bed, and then the Dell green back near the starting point. “
A closer look at the green and the spine reveals that even the player landing short must take into account the contour which extends well in front of the green.
5th Hole, “Uphill” – Playing back uphill and down the prevailing wind, this hole utilizes the other portion of the double green.
Inspection of the green from this angle reveals that the large mound used to divide the double green can be used as a backstop to get the ball closer to the hole.
6th Hole, “Long Vue” – Perhaps the simplest of shots on the structured routing, this spot offers beautiful views of the surrounding mountains, land, and the big course. Weed envisions the golfer “just taking a moment to pause here and soak in the beauty”.
The 6th hole itself, notice the receptive left sided contours:
Although the camera is incapable of capturing the panoramic view in a single frame, here a couple of glimpses of what the player sees from this, the highest, spot on the Orchard Course.
The view to the North:
7th hole, “Locust” – The most photogenic of the holes on the Orchard Course, this downhill stunner uses locust fence posts, found throughout the property, to create “sleepers” in the bunkers. The choice to leave the posts long behind the right bunker creates the possibility of a poor shot being stymied when playing toward the green.
A view from the left of the green reveals that the bunkers are true hazards:
8th hole, “Dry Creek” – This short downhill hole offers the gamut of playing options. A bunker just right of the standard teeing ground could be the starting point for this hole. Playing from the grass, the architect has carefully chosen the routing to allow a long putt to be an option. Picture a putt down the left hand side breaking first right then back left on to the green. A small pot bunker back right must be avoided to prevent disaster.
Another view of the pot bunker from a different angle (a shot I would be certain to pick when “free-ranging it”):
9th hole, “Dell”– Unquestionably paying homage to Lahinch, the dell plays slightly uphill to blind green.
A view of the Dell green site:
Pitch and putts and short courses have provided my family with hours of enjoyment. The Orchard Course, and courses like it, makes our beloved game more fun and accessible for all. Short courses often allow for boldness and creativity in design that wouldn’t be dared otherwise. So the next time you get the chance, take your family and check out the nearest short course. You might see some things that blow you away, I know that I have.