When Golden Horseshoe Golf Club at Colonial Williamsburg opened in 1963, Robert Trent Jones, Sr. called it, “my finest design,” and “the equal of Augusta National.”
In the golf world, it’s borderline heresy to compare another course to Augusta National; it’s the equivalent of comparing a hockey player to Wayne Gretzky. But when the man who makes the comparison redesigned parts of Augusta himself (as Trent Jones did), well, then you’ve got our attention. It’s clear he brought that same design philosophy with him to Colonial Williamsburg.
Good news: Every golfer has an opportunity to walk the fairways of the Gold, which tips out at an approachable 6,817 yards, offers tee times for under $100, and promises a memorable 18 holes as part of a golf trip to Williamsburg, Va.
So, what makes the Gold worthy of such lofty comparisons? Let’s explore.
If you strolled the property without thinking of the golf holes themselves, already you’d feel the flow that makes this place special. As the landscape rises and falls from hole to hole, corridors appear in every direction, making sense of the airy forest. Wide swaths of fairway and green are interrupted by stands of massive pines, but there’s an openness to the woods that allows light, air, golfers, and golf balls to pass easily through.
The Gold boasts an unmistakably modern design. The bold landscape demands the golfer navigate valleys, ravines, forced carries over water. It’s remarkable, then, that this course has been here for more than half a century. While that’s hardly “old” by Williamsburg’s standards, it’s a testament to the timelessness of the original design — and the effectiveness of Rees Jones’ 2017 touch-up.
As Rees once told GOLF of his father’s design: “The original tailor cut a great suit.”
THE HERO SHOTS
At the Gold, it takes exactly one-and-a-half holes before you get your first risk-reward challenge. When you crest the hill on the reachable par-5 second, you’ll see the green guarded by a massive pond in front. Short, in other words, is out of the question. And long is no fun either. Do you go for the green or lay up and save the challenge for your wedge shot?
In addition to the forced carries, the Gold allows you opportunities for Mickelson-esque recovery shots from the pine straw. When you inevitably find yourself off the fairway, you’ll be glad the maintenance crew keeps the alleyways so clean, setting you up for heroic comebacks. You’re often not in as much trouble as you might think.
A five-acre lake winds its way through the middle of the Gold and exists to add drama to a breathtaking quartet of par-3s. No. 3 tips out just over 200 yards and demands a carry over the water in front while negotiating a two-tiered green and bunkers guarding the front right and back left portions of the green. No. 7 may be the hardest of the four; from high atop a bluff, you send your tee shot back over the same lake you crossed at No. 2, navigating wind and elevation to a lunch-tray green set into the hill on the far side.
Water guards the entire right side at No. 12, offering golfers a dare. Do you want to gun for the flag and bring water into play? Or will you bail out to safety short and left of the green. No. 16, an appropriate finisher, was built for postcards. Golfers step onto an elevated tee box and gaze out 160 yards to see one of the world’s first island-green par-3s, which is framed by elegant bridges, white-sand bunkers, and that massive lake.
I teed off at the Gold just after lunch and arrived at No. 16 as the sun was setting low in the sky. The tee box would have been a nice spot to sit for a while and watch the world go by, had three tantalizing golf holes not stretched out ahead.
WHILE YOU’RE THERE
Williamsburg, Va., boasts a number of excellent golf courses. Nearby Kingsmill, one prominent example, has hosted events on both the PGA and LPGA Tours. Its courses track along the river, through the woods, to open vistas, alongside numerous historic sites. You could build a week’s itinerary on the golf alone.
Check out our Williamsburg Course Guide here to learn more.