photography by LINCOLN BARBOUR
The view from the 18th tee at the Full Cry golf course is so spectacular that it’s easy to forget what you’re doing and end up yanking a drive into the cavernous hazard below.
The 467-yard par four offers a panorama of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains and a perfect vantage from which to see the 48-room Italianate country estate that serves as the hotel for this beautiful little resort.
It’s important you focus, because the ideal spot on the narrow fairway is more than 250 yards away, with water and bunkers on one side and thick, high grass on the other. An errant shot would make for a tough end to the round. But then, that’s the way it should be at this recently redesigned course.
Keswick Hall and Golf Club, located just outside Charlottesville, has reinvented itself several times during its more than 100-year history. It has gone from country home to country club to full-on resort, complete with swimming pools, five-star dining and tennis courts. But it’s the golf course, which requires membership or a stay at the hotel to play, that could make you forget about the beach for a few days.
Built by Fred Findlay in 1949, spruced up by Arnold Palmer in the early 1990s, Full Cry at Keswick Hall, a name derived from the hunting term, was given new life – and new bite – when the Riverstone Group purchased it in 2011.
The company, which also owns the Kiawah Island and Sea Pines resorts in South Carolina, hired legendary designer Pete Dye to overhaul the course. The renovation cost more than $10 million and resulted in a first-class experience that offers a tough challenge for low handicappers and a forgiving 18 for duffers.
What would seem like a contradiction is part of the genius of Dye, one of the most in-demand designers on the PGA tour and architect of such seminal courses as TPC Sawgrass, Kiawah’s Ocean Course and the Harbour Town Golf Links in Hilton Head.
“When Arnold did his changes to the course, he changed very little of the actual layout,” says Eric McGraw, head pro since 1999. “What Dye did was lay a new golf course over the top of the old one.”
McGraw watched the 89-year-old master walk the course several times, mapping out the changes in his head before committing them to paper. Dye completely changed seven of the 18 holes and removed so many trees that you can easily see the hotel from most of the course.
Dye courses are notoriously tough; some would say unfairly so. He favors small greens with tough pin placements, deep bunkers and strategically placed hazards that even the playing field between long hitters and accurate ones.
Full Cry offers most of these characteristics, save for the deep bunkers. The greens are postage-stamp small and fast. The fairways are narrow and rarely level. The rough (there are five types of grass) will grab your club. Accuracy is a must.
But the real brilliance of Dye’s design at Full Cry is in how differently it plays depending on which tee you use. The course offers six options (most offer four), creating a track that plays between 4,809 and 7,134 yards. Moves back on the tees often change the angles of attack and bring new hazards into play (see sidebar for detailed breakdown).
“The old course, I always thought, was incredibly penal to the high-handicapper,” McGraw says. “Dye’s design is more fun for the weekend player and more challenging for the better golfer.”
The course does feature some tough par-3s and drivable par-4s, but as usual with Dye, aggression can be your undoing. Course managers have paid close attention to detail, using beautiful wooden flag sticks, bunker rakes and tee markers. The grounds crew maintains an immaculate course, with greens that are fast but not pool-table slick.
Keswick does offer other amenities. There are three swimming pools, including a beautiful infinity pool, tennis courts, a workout center, a bar and restaurant, and enough surrounding beauty to keep even the non-golfers in your family happy. But the real attraction here is Full Cry, a course that is now worthy of its surroundings.
Probably the most famous Dye hole is No. 17 at TPC Sawgrass – the dreaded island green. Well, No. 7 at Full Cry is not technically an island green, but it sure feels like one. Playing at its longest, 193 yards uphill, this challenging par 3 requires both length and accuracy. Odds are you will end up in the sand. Pray for a good lie.
The finishing par 4 tees off from high atop the hills looking down into a valley, with lots of water to the left and hills and deep grass to the right. If you play from the back tees, you’ll need to pipe your driver at least 250 to cut the corner and clear the hazard. Water is not the problem from the closer tees; over-driving the fairway is. And if you manage to get an approach shot from inside of 150 yards, you’ll have to land a tiny, elevated green, guarded by four bunkers on the left.