I had the Fourth of July off from work and was looking to play somewhere new! At the beginning of the year I wrote down maybe a dozen courses in Virginia that I wanted to play in 2017, and South Wales Golf Course was one of them. There isn’t anything really special on my list, just a handful of courses within an hour and a half from Charlottesville that I can play without killing a whole day.
I called the proshop around 9am and they put me on the tee sheet for a bit before noon. I got there at 11:15 and they said I could follow a twosome off the 1st tee. That worked great as the twosome rode while I walked, and I never waited on a shot! Overall, it was a quiet afternoon and my car was one of the few left in the lot when I finished around 3pm. I let a single play through, but still managed to walk in 3.5 hours. The back nine was a good hike!
In recent years, South Wales had a troubled past as the course closed for play in 2014. It wasn’t really on my radar to play at that time, but it reopened last year and I’ve got a friend who has played it a couple times since reopening. So, I thought I’d check it out too! If you search for “South Wales Golf Course Closing” there are local articles that are probably worth a read.
My main reason for playing South Wales is that Ed Ault designed the course. If you read a few of my recent reviews, then you’ll see that I’m on an Ed Ault kick right now! Also, I’m always excited to add another course to my list, especially as I am getting close to playing my 600th eighteen hole course!
I think the best thing about South Wales is its location. The course is in a natural setting, without any homes around. The front nine is in a small valley while the back nine is hillier and crisscrosses a creek multiple times. Not much about modern life distracts you here, just wildlife and your company and game that day!
I played the blue tees which are 71.1/126/6527 (par 71). Out of all the Ed Ault courses that I’ve played, South Wales was probably one of the better ball striking tests. Normally Ault lets you get away with some ball striking mischief at his courses, but you’ll need to be on your toes here! Holes on the front nine typically have hazards to the left and trees to the right. The back nine has a wider variety of challenges, including some forced carries, long holes, and blind tee shots. Thankfully I hit it pretty good, but if you get it going sideways here then look out!
South Wales also seems to deviate from the normal Ault theme of one, pedestrian signature hole. There are some interesting holes here that deviate from the plainness that is most Ault designs. On the front nine I liked the par 3 2nd, which is 154 yards. It plays over a pond to a green that is framed by a hillside in the background. The back nine has intriguing, back to back par 4’s. The 11th is 439 yards with a blind tee shot and a severely sloping fairway while the 12th is 437 yards and plays downhill to another green set in a hillside. If those holes don’t peak your interest then the massive 600 yard par 5 18th should! And, the 18th stretches to 640 yards from the tips. You’ll feel the distance even though South Wales is only ~6500 yards.
That’s not to say that South Wales is without its design problems. If I’m honest, the design was one of my least favorites by Ed Ault. There are a handful of blind tee shots and some forced carries, both of which are not my style. The 7th hole is a par 5 that doglegs around a hill and has a super skinny layup area. To me, it seemed forced onto the land. The 7th is probably the course’s only “bad” hole, although the 518 yard 10th isn’t a great par 5 either. It could potentially be reachable, but a creek cuts across the fairway to catch tee shots.
I mentioned earlier that the course’s more remote location is a positive. But, I also think the course’s location could be the thing that has hurt it the most over the years too! The course is in Jeffersonton, which is between Culpeper and Warrenton. For whatever reason, golf just isn’t popular in this area and there isn’t a large golfing population to draw from. If South Wales was in more of a major metro area I believe it would get a lot of play!
The course’s conditioning was consistent with a recently reopened course. If you go play here, keep in mind that South Wales was on life support while it was closed and probably not in pristine condition before that. The course was super firm and the ball rolled forever on most holes. Every now and then the ball would splat on the watered holes. The fairways were thin and were recently aerated, which should help them going forward but I didn’t have many good lies. The greens are smaller than Ault originally created, just because smaller greens are easier to maintain than larger ones. The greens were typical for the Mid-Atlantic in the summer, slower but they rolled fine.
If you live close by, or are in Northern Virginia, and want to check out a new place I’d say give South Wales a try. Just know that while the owner tries to get it back in decent shape, the conditions are likely to cost you some strokes. But, for a $40 green fee you won’t break the bank to check out the course.
#1 (378 yard par 4):
#2 (154 yard par 3):
#3 (373 yard par 4):
#4 (370 yard par 4):
#5 (507 yard par 5):
#6 (192 yard par 3):
#7 (506 yard par 5):
#8 (159 yard par 3):
#9 (388 yard par 4):
#10 (518 yard par 5):
#11 (439 yard par 4):
#12 (437 yard par 4):
#13 (359 yard par 4):
#14 (152 yard par 3):
#15 (362 yard par 4):
#16 (204 yard par 3):
#17 (429 yard par 4):
#18 (600 yard par 5):