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History Restored: RTJ Sr.’s Gold Course At Golden Horseshoe Golf Club In Colonial Williamsburg Is A Timeless Walk

Courtesy of Brandon Tucker
Golf Advisor

Golden Horseshoe (Gold)
The par-3 16th hole is the last of four excellent par 3s at Colonial Williamsburg’s Gold Course at Golden Horseshoe. (Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor)

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. — The Gold Course at Golden Horseshoe Resort holds the reputation as one of the best works in late-architect Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s resort course portfolio. His son Rees has a theory as to why that is.

“My dad spent a lot of time here,” said Jones. “Part of it was that my mother loved this place so much. So she came with him.”

Jones’ wife Ione was certainly not going to come along for each of her husband’s’ 400-plus designs in 45 states and 35 countries. But Virginia’s Colonial Williamsburg is the type of destination that, whether you’re coming for business or vacation, is bound to attract the whole family. Its storied history is alive with charming old landmarks to explore all over its vast acreage. The grounds have been preserved, recreated and enhanced under the stewardship of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, a destination that pays tribute to the 18th century capital of Virginia.

Bordering the 301-acre town on a former plantation sits Golden Horseshoe Golf Club. Today, the distant echo of musket fire and drum rolls set the tone for golfers to wage battle with the Gold. It’s a course that has stood the test of time as well as any of Jones’ original designs. One main reason is due to the generations of exemplary stewardship. It began with investment from the Rockefeller family in the late-1950s when they hired Jones to revamp the 9-hole course into the championship layout.

The Gold reopened on July 1st after an extensive restoration project conducted by Rees, who has carried the family torch in Williamsburg. In 1991, he added the 18-hole Green Course and returned in 1997 for the first refresh of his dad’s Gold. Great attention was paid to re-grading slopes to prevent collection areas on these rolling fairways. New back tees were added, and the refresh paved the way for various USGA championships in the coming years.

Rees will tell you more dirt was tossed around during that job than the 2017 restoration, which focused mainly on playability and agronomy. Bunkers were rebuilt with the increasingly popular Better Billy Bunker system and nine new forward tees were added. The layout was re-grassed wall- to-wall, highlighted by resurfaced greens with 007 Bentgrass turf. Four green complexes were rebuilt, most notably the 18th, which was lowered a bit to promote balls feeding down into the green on this long, par-4 dogleg left.

But at its core, the Gold is a layout that frankly shouldn’t — and hasn’t — been toyed with too much over the years.

“I think the reason [my father] called it one of his favorites,” said Jones. “Is because the land was so spectacular. The routing worked perfectly [on the site], which has a lot of movement.”

Jones Sr. built the Gold in the decade following his work at Augusta National. The terrain for the two courses aren’t terribly dissimilar in elevation changes and canopy, and it’s rather easy to sense an Augusta influence on the Gold. Numerous elevated greens, (some unapologetically uphill like the 17th), holes with curvy, sloping fairways mean few shots are played to the same elevation.

You can cut loose with a driver on just about any hole you’d like and, if off the fairway, finesse a heroic recovery shot from pine straw. Doglegs in each direction encourage better players to carve it both ways. High drama, particularly on the par 3s — a foursome as fun as it gets in public golf — await around every corner. It’s walkable and Golden Horseshoe provides caddie services.

What hasn’t changed is the coolest spot on the course: a collection of four greens located beside a pond in a low-lying amphitheater where golfers gather within close range of one another. Foursomes can seek strength in a moment of solidarity as they wage their respective battles before scattering onward.

Golden Horseshoe (Gold)
A collection of greens sit in a natural amphitheater and share a pond at the Gold Course. (Brandon Tucker/Golf Advisor)