I headed up to Front Royal on Saturday to check out Sly Fox, which changed management last year. Previously the course was named Jackson’s Chase, and it was the only public eighteen hole course in the Front Royal area that I hadn’t played. But, more on that in my next post!
Since I planned to make the hour and a half drive I figured that I’d check out a local nine hole course too, Front Royal Golf Club. I’m not the biggest nine hole course fan unless I’m out with friends or family, but I’ve got a friend who talked some about the course so I figured what the heck.
I called the course and they said come on out. I got there about 12:30 and hit a few putts and stretched, while waiting for my turn to tee off. That is easier said than done at Front Royal! The course has nine greens, but there are two sets of tees for each green. So a couple times I thought about teeing off, groups playing the “10th” rolled up. I don’t know who has honors, and since I was walking, so I just let them go and found some space. I joined up with a twosome on the 2nd hole and we snoozed our way around in about 2 hours, waiting on most shots.
The two sets of tees thing is just a novelty feature in my opinion, but it is genius marketing! All it seemed to do was slow play, but it is nice the course can keep people playing this way. I saw all the tees for the “back nine” and it looked like the angles varied some. Plus, the pars changed on a couple holes, so if you are into the two tees thing then Front Royal has a good handle on it. I split after nine holes as that was all the time I allocated at Front Royal, so I didn’t take any pictures from the tees for the back tee.
The course itself is in a kind of weird location, so don’t let that scare you. It is tucked down on a hillside, near the Shenandoah River. There is a newer shopping center that has been built to the west of the course which makes it feel a bit cramped. And, the retaining wall is an eyesore. There is noise from nearby I-66 and train tracks split the course. A Norfolk Southern trained rolled past while we were on the 4th hole, and it was loud!
No doubt there are quite a few distractions at Front Royal, but if you can get past those then the course itself can be enjoyed. No matter how it is setup it is a par 35, with either one par 5 and two par 3’s or two par 5’s and three par 3’s. The distances vary so it isn’t all wedges and a putter. You can hit driver if you are accurate or lay it back, so there are options. Position is important but you can find your ball if missing the fairway. There is even a drivable par 4!
The first four holes are on one side of the train tracks and aren’t anything super special. The 3rd, a downhill par 3 is the best looking of those holes. After playing the 4th you walk down past the 9th and under a train trestle to get to the next four holes. The 5th through the 8th were my favorites, because they are wedged between the tracks and the Shenandoah River, in a natural area. There is a boat ramp, picnic tables, and a hiking trail nearby. The holes blend in nicely with the area and I got some good pictures of the river. It was unusually warm when I played so the river looked like a nice spot to be.
From the white tees, the “front nine” at Front Royal plays 3,039 yards as a par 35. The rating for all eighteen is 69.4 and the slope is 116. The biggest difficulty at the course are going to be the greens! The greens are extreme and if you aren’t careful you can putt the ball off more than one green in just nine holes! The 4th green is the biggest beast of them all and I played about 7 feet of break on my birdie putt. I should have played about 15 feet as my par attempt ending up being from the fringe!
There is so much slope that if you hit these greens, you should be happy with a two putt even from close range. There aren’t many makeable putts, that is for sure. Normally I’d take issue with this much slope, but the greens are Front Royal’s main defense and the shots it requires to get to them aren’t what I’d call difficult, compared to modern golf.
I wasn’t expecting much regarding the conditions but the greens were some great surfaces! Everything rolled smoothly. And, it was less than $7 for me to walk, incredible! You cannot even hit a large bucket of balls for that price. The fairways were full, albeit a touch long, but very playable. The tees looked like they got a lot of play, and for that price I know I’d be out here often if the course was in Charlottesville.
Front Royal offers a lot to the game that many modern courses fail to deliver. It offers a challenging, yet playable, routing that is a good spot to learn the game. Just take a few gimmies on the greens! I saw couples out playing, kids out playing, and if you do get behind a slow group your day won’t disappear. If you are in the area playing elsewhere, I’d suggest stopping by Front Royal if you have time.
#1 (360 yard par 4):
#2 (388 yard par 4):
#3 (170 yard par 3):
#4 (575 yard par 5):
#5 (340 yard par 4):
#6 (389 yard par 4):
#7 (265 yard par 4):
#8 (407 yard par 4):
#9 (145 yard par 3):