The Tradition Golf Club at Royal New Kent (Providence Forge, VA on 08/07/16)

I’m kicking off my new site with a review you won’t want to miss! If you’ve scanned the list of courses that I’ve played throughout my home state of Virginia you’ll see that a review of Royal New Kent is missing! I first played here years ago on a Mid-Atlantic golf trip, long before I started doing course reviews. Royal New Kent was actually the first course that I ever played in Virginia! I have plenty of pictures from that round and good memories of what was my first round on a Mike Strantz design.

In recent years I’ve wanted to head back and add it to my blog because it is such a unique course. I finally made that happen today, on what turned out to be a wonderful summer day! I love the heat and I think that keeps people away. I trailed a twosome around in 3 hours 30 minutes. I also took advantage of my VSGA card which was only $30 and certainly a steal! I think the normal rates here are somewhere around $100, although afternoon rates can help the wallet.

Royal New Kent is in Providence Forge which is about halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg. The course is minutes from I-64 and only a short detour off I-295 for those passing through Virginia from points north or south. It is very convenient to get here and well worth the stop if you have the clubs and half a day. It is a nearby option to Williamsburg if you are vacationing there and want to get away from the family!

Royal New Kent is a newer course, opening in 1999. The course always seems to get ranked as one of the top public courses in Virginia and has won numerous awards over the years! It is designed by the late Mike Strantz and one of those courses that will “wow” you the whole round! In case you didn’t know, Mike Strantz is one my favorite designers and I always look forward to teeing it up at one of his places! I’ve played five of his courses and enjoyed all of them.

Strantz has won awards for being the designer of the year and is known for wacky design features that you just don’t see much in course design. Most designers have their own signature that they try to weave into their courses and Strantz does too, but chances are you won’t have any doubt about who designed a Strantz course! He didn’t get to design many courses before his passing, but he made a big impact!

Strantz is best known for his visually intimidating courses, wild slopes, severe falloffs, ability to create angles, and funny looking greens! You get all of that at Royal New Kent and then some! I played the Gold tees which are 75.7/149/7119. No matter where you play from though, Royal New Kent isn’t going to easy. The slope from the White tees is 139 and if you want to play the tips it is an unbelievable 153!

Royal New Kent’s logo includes the word “Invicta” which means undefeated or unconquered and I’m not sure that anything else would fit better! Make sure you bring a little game if you play here or you won’t fully be able to enjoy the madness that Strantz put together. I hit the ball terrible this time and got to see parts of the course that ideally you’d like to walk around, look at, shake your head in dismay, and then play your ball from the fairway!

The course is difficult on just about every part of the game, including the mental aspect. Royal New Kent, like most Strantz courses, features plenty of blind shots. Blind shots are one of my least favorite design features, but Strantz pulls these off so well! You will face multiple semi-blind shots, pitches where you can barely see the green, and even a completely blind shot where you’d never know there is a fairway. Trusting that there is short grass out there is going to be the first step to swinging confidently here. Visually, Royal New Kent will be the toughest course that I’ll play all year. The nice thing is that the fairways are wide and there is room to miss left and right, even if it doesn’t always look that way.

Even if you can win the mind games that Strantz plays with all the visual trickery then you’ll also need some good shot making to avoid the big numbers. There are forced carries, long holes, and super deep bunkers where you will do good just to advance it 100 yards! The bunkers are cavernous and litter the course. Trust me when I say that you want nothing to do with the bunkers! If you stray beyond the bunkers then you are going to have to deal with large mounds covered in native grass. On the other hand, if you keep it in the fairways and on the greens then that isn’t a bargain either! The fairways are undulating and I rarely had a level lie. The large greens sit a difficult angles and have severe tiers so you could easily three putt your way around the course. One green is even shaped like an hourglass! Ideally you need to work your way backwards from green to tee, identifying where the pin is located to see if it is even worth attacking.

One of the concerns about Royal New Kent in recent years is the maintenance, or so I’ve read. I’ve heard of golfers playing the course in less than ideal conditions so I was worried what it would look in the middle of summer! As it turns out, I was impressed with the maintenance in all areas. Royal New Kent is a big golf course with large fairways and greens and it occupies a lot of land. I could see it being a beast to look after for a superintendent and his crew and they’ve done a good job here! The fairways were full and cut down and the same with the tees. There were some wet spots in the fairways that were well marked, but I got some roll on many drives. The greens were full, smooth, and rolled with some speed. The only problem that I could see was trying to drain and rake all the bunkers. It was fifty-fifty if I ended with a good lie in a bunker. I know the first time I played here, it rained all night and every bunker was filled with water. Personally, I think the course could benefit from filling in a number of the bunkers.

Strantz is one of those designers that golfers either seem to love or hate, without many opinions in-between. I’m in the love camp and this is one of my top picks in Richmond or Williamsburg. Royal New Kent isn’t for everyone that’s for sure! The blind shots will wear on your patience and you could spend a lot of time looking for your ball and raking bunkers. Then repeat! In comparison to Strantz’s other work, I don’t think you can get as creative here as you can at some of his other places.

#1 (391 yard par 4):

The 1st isn’t an overly long par 4 but it sets the tone for the rest of the day with what you can expect! You are forced to pick a line and distance or face a tough recovery from the mounds. The green sits off to the left and you can take a more aggressive line from the tee over the mound (near where the cart is) or play out to the right. I suppose you could even layup short of the mound if you don’t mind a long approach.  If you take on the mound I’d try to fly the drive at least 240 yards over the right edge of it. If you go left then you could end up in a ravine. I played out to the right and had a mid iron approach. It is about a club uphill into the green which falls off. The green has a false front and multiple tiers.

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#2 (582 yard par 5):

The 2nd is my favorite par 5 at Royal New Kent! It is long on the scorecard but plays much shorter because it horseshoes right around a hazard. My GPS showed that it was only 365 yards in a direct line from tee to green. I hit one of my few straight drives for the day and had just 250 yards to the front of the green. The fairway is wide and you can shorten the hole if you play to the right half. That could bring the hazard into play and actually leaves a worse angle for a layup. It is all carry if you go for the green in two so I’m not sure that is the percentage play. The layup is terrifying as it needs to carry the hazard too! I’d favor slightly long and left on the third shot into the green as the hazard is more in play than it looks. The green tilts from back to front.

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#3 (176 yard par 3):

The 3rd is the shortest par 3 on the course and behind the 7th, I think it is the best. The green is narrow and deep which is tough enough and then you’ll have to deal with severe drop offs around it and angles that change from the tee. Any number of tee boxes can be used! I missed it a few yards left of the green and ended up in a grass bunker that was at least 10 feet below green level. Good luck!

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#4 (438 yard par 4):

The 4th is the longest par 4 on the course and is ranked as one of the tougher holes. It is everything that makes me love Mike Strantz! When you stand on the tee you cannot see any of the fairway because of the mounds. But, the fairway is probably 50 yards wide and narrows around the 150 marker! There is an aiming marker that is a good spot to swing away at. Don’t be tempted to favor the right side or you could end up in one of the fairway bunkers like me! If you are out of position it could be a long hole.

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#5 (585 yard par 5):

The 5th is a long par 5 and another hole that is setup by the tee shot. If you don’t find the fairway then it might be tough to carry the layup to the second section of fairway. The bigger hitters might need to hit a 3 wood to keep it short of the fairway that runs out. The layup is blind but it plays to a wide fairway that shouldn’t be much trouble to find, even with a long club. The third plays into a large green that slopes ever so slightly from front to back so catching the ball solid is important so it doesn’t release through the green.

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#6 (397 yard par 4):

The 6th is the ranked as the #1 handicap but I’m not so sure it is the toughest hole myself. The only trouble off the tee you’ll find are deep bunkers to the left. Of course that’s where I ended up and was happy to advance it 75 yards. The green is going to be the biggest challenge here as it is three tiered!

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#7 (186 yard par 3):

The 7th is probably the signature hole at Royal New Kent! It is a downhill par 3 with a creek that cuts across short of the green. The green is deep and angles from front right to back left, along with the creek. That makes a draw the best shot shape and the center and back pin locations scary! I don’t think playing to the front right section every time and trying to two putt would be a bad idea.

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#8 (435 yard par 4):

The 8th is one of the longest par 4’s and I think it competes for the honor of most difficult hole. The tee shot is one of the toughest at Royal New Kent with a creek catching misses to the left and bunkers catching misses to the right. The fairway is narrow unless you are a bigger hitter so the farther the tee shot goes the better chance you have of finding the short grass. After the tee shot the hole goes right and plays to a green that sits in some mounds. My drive ended up on the right edge of the fairway and I had a completely blind approach!

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#9 (387 yard par 4):

The 9th is the easiest par 4 on the front nine. It slides right and hugs a creek all the way up to the green. The fairway is wide except for the longest hitters who may want to consider laying up. The left side of the fairway leaves the best angle into the green. A miss short or right on the approach risks catching a steep slope and kicking back towards the creek. You might consider an extra club on the approach.

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#10 (598 yard par 5):

The 10th is the longest par 5 on the course but one where you still can make a birdie with a decent pin location. It is a double dogleg with the tee shot needing to carry a group of bunkers (a little over 200 yards). The layup is played out to the right before the third shot has to carry a hazard. The green is the memorable feature on the hole as it has a large rise to a back tier. If the pin is on the lower tier then you can knock it close!

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#11 (397 yard par 4):

The 11th is a mid length par 4 and seems straightforward.  There aren’t any hidden tricks, just a narrowing fairway and a green complex that sits well above the fairway. Besides that are deep fairway bunkers and greenside bunkers that I’d never want to hit from, even if practicing! I hit it in one of the fairway bunkers and then followed with two perfect recovery shots to make a par. The bunker that I was in looked like something that you’d find at one of the courses for The Open Championship!

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#12 (212 yard par 3):

The 12th is one of the few holes on the course that I think Strantz got wrong. It isn’t a terrible hole but it could be so much better! The green complex is shaped like an hour glass which is a brilliant design, just not when the par 3 is over 200 yards. It played longer than that when I was there because of a back pin location. This would be a great hole if it topped out around 160 to 175 yards!

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#13 (352 yard par 4):

The 13th is one of the shortest par 4’s on the course and one that you should try to take advantage of! You can shorten the hole by challenging the right side but I’d be cautious about attempting that because of cavernous bunkers right of the fairway. The fairway has some right to left slope. My drive found the wide fairway and I was left with a short iron into a deep green. Make sure you know where the flag is located.

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#14 (339 yard par 4):

The 14th is the shortest par 4 on the course and another rare birdie hole! It is all about position off the tee and a layup of 200 to 225 yards should leave you in a good spot. The fairway is wide at that distance, but finding the center of the fairway leaves you the clearest view of the green, which sits in a group of mounds.  The green’s surface cannot be seen from the fairway and is quite small. Make sure to take advantage of the easiest hole at Royal New Kent!

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#15 (230 yard par 3):

The 15th is a monster par 3. It is likely to be a long iron or wood unless you hit it tour like distances. It is all carry to the large green because of a false front. I missed it short of the green and couldn’t see where I wanted to land my chip. It is tough, but I don’t think it is unfair.

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#16 (425 yard par 4):

The 16th is a long par 4 and one where you need to play defense. If you don’t hit a good drive then it could be dicey to carry a hazard and some cross bunkers short of the green. I hit my drive out to the right for safety as lost ball trouble lurks to the left, but that added an extra 20 yards for my approach. If you can draw your drive then that will help your quest for a par!

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#17 (559 yard par 5):

The 17th is the last par 5 on the course and allows you a couple ways to play it. The drive plays to a large fairway with a creek that runs down the right side. The green is tucked off to the right of the creek, behind a group of trees. If you are a big hitter then you might be able to slice a long club onto the green but most folks will be forced to layup. That still leaves you options though as you can hit the layup farther down the fairway for a short pitch over the creek or lay it back to a favorite yardage.

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#18 (430 yard par 4):

The 18th is a tough closing par 4. It is long and the drive plays over a rise to a fairway that runs out, eventually into the water. You probably have to hit your tee shot 275 yards to worry though. I pulled my drive to the left side of the fairway and ended up just fine. The approach is all carry to the green which is surrounded by water on three sides. The only place to miss the green and find you ball is left! Be careful of the water over parts of the back of the green complex. Personally, I wish the green complex was a bit easier to play to.

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