I don’t have many standards when it comes to playing somewhere at least once, but I’ll admit, I was hesitant to play at Swannanoa. By most accounts, it is in pretty poor shape from one year to the next. A friend played here a few years back and wrote it off because of the conditions. I did some reading about the course and figured that I could have a nice round there, even if the conditions were poor.
Much of the intrigue about Swannanoa is its location! The course has a mountain setting, near Rockfish Gap which is in the Blue Ridge Mountains that I mention so often in my blog. It is also referred to as Afton Mountain. The area, just off I-64, is notable for a couple reasons.
The first reason this area is notable is that it is very scenic! Skyline Drive, which runs through Shenandoah National Park, starts up just a few miles away from the course and runs north. The Blue Ridge Parkway, which runs south into Tennessee, also starts in the same area. As you drive on either road you’ll be treated to some nice views of the valleys below! Swannanoa sits on top of the mountain ridge and you’ll be able to see the mountain peaks and get glimpses of the Shenandoah Valley on the back nine.
Additionally, the area has some history because James H. Dooley built a luxurious summer home nearby in the early 1900s. Dooley was a wealthy businessman and the place he built still looks impressive, nearly 100 years later! I drove by before my round and got a picture of this monstrosity!
Normally at this point I’d start talking about the course, but there’s one more good story about Swannanoa and that is its owner, Pete Lang. I don’t have the knowledge nor the writing skills to be able to describe the history of the course any better than this article. Basically, a WWII veteran with a love of the game wanted to start his own course and he did! Even in his nineties he still has a love for the game. Make sure to check out that story by The Daily Progress.
I got to the course about 10am only to find 10 cars in the parking lot. I paid my $16 to walk, anticipating that the 5,500 yard course wouldn’t be a beast to walk. I was happy with my decision for the first six holes. Then, uh, I started to regret my decision to walk! It is very hilly from the 7th onwards.
The front nine at Swannanoa is the original nine, with the back nine being added later. It is a par 70 and plays 6,037 yards from the blue tees according to the scorecard. However, I couldn’t find some of the back tee boxes so I think the course played closer to 5,600 yards. There is no rating nor slope listed on the card, but a resource online shows the rating is 67.0 with a slope of 120. If that 120 slope is right, then that is some tough stuff on a shorter course! Uneven lies, blind approaches, and small greens are going to be the toughest challenges here.
The front nine is my favorite with a wonderful mix of holes! It is a par 35 with three par 3’s and two par 5’s, and has a bit of a parkland look to it. There is a short par 3, a medium length par 3, and a monster par 3! The two par 5’s offer good variety and are 475 and 570 yards, respectively.
The 5th is 137 yards and plays through a tiny little gap in the trees. You are going to have to decide if you want to go under, over, or through that gap. Then you’ll have to execute! I wasn’t sure how to play it so I chipped a mid iron along the ground and ended up on the back on the green. The 8th is the monster par 3, playing 230 yards if you believe the scorecard. I’d say it was at least 225! It plays downhill and over a hazard to a small green. This could be one of the most difficult par 3’s that I’ll play all year!
The back nine is also a par 35, but it has just two par 3’s and one par 5. The back nine blended together to me, as most of the par 4’s are shorter and position holes. I was able to swing my driver on the front, but not as much on the back. The back has the better views though!
When it comes to the conditions, I’ll be honest. They are worse than your average course and will most likely cost you some strokes. Fairways were hard to distinguish from the rough, dandelions were growing in many spots, and there were dirt patches on the greens. If I avoided dirt patches, the greens rolled alright. But, it was only $16 and for that price I didn’t feel cheated! Swannanoa is one of those courses that is a good story and it offers an opportunity to enjoy some time in a beautiful area!
#1 (475 yard par 5):
#2 (400 yard par 4):
#3 (206 yard par 3):
#4 (375 yard par 4):
#5 (137 yard par 3):
#6 (570 yard par 5):
#7 (415 yard par 4):
#8 (230 yard par 3):
#9 (275 yard par 4):
#10 (325 yard par 4):
#11 (203 yard par 3):
#12 (296 yard par 4):
#13 (377 yard par 4):
#14 (315 yard par 4):
#15 (175 yard par 3):
#16 (330 yard par 4):
#17 (285 yard par 4):
#18 (528 yard par 5):