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Intro

Vishal (@GolfLug) organized a group outing at Royal New Kent Golf Club (https://www.royalnewkent.com) on Sunday, November 1. Some of my thoughts on the course follow, with a link to the photo gallery from the event at the very bottom.

 


Review

"It's only blind the first time."

They say that about courses, because once you know what's over that hill, you can remember it for the next time. But who cares about the next time on a course you're likely only going to play once every several years (at most)?

Mike Strantz designed a reasonable number of courses in his time on earth, before losing the battle to cancer at the age of 50. Caledonia Golf & Fish Club and True Blue across the street are a pair of classic, traditional style courses in the Myrtle Beach area. He designed the wild rollercoaster of Tobacco Road and Tot Hill Farm near the classic, traditional Pinehurst area of North Carolina.

And he designed an Irish-themed course with dunes and wild waving grasses and severely undulating greens near Richmond, VA.

Royal New Kent (it isn't really royal, of course) is located just east of Richmond and the starter will tell you that it's the 15th toughest course (by rating and slope) in the United States. And that part is likely true: the back ("Invicta") tees tip out at 7440 yards with a rating and slope of 76.8/154. The third up tees (that I played on this day) are 6733 and 73.6/149 off a par of 72. Heck, the whites are under 6200 yards but still rate 71.1/142.

image.pngRoyal New Kent is a course with two nines. The front nine starts off with a BIG splash, with a massive diagonal dune coming in from the left and baiting you into going for the carry. Don't - or if you do, barely chip a bit off the edge. Unlike the first tee shot at Tobacco Road, there's a LOT of yucky crap over the left side - the carry to the fairway is quite a bit more than you might think. The visual trickery continues on the second, with the tee shot being safely played much farther left than it appears from the tee, and one of Strantz's "fish hook" par fives. Unless you're tempted to go for it, the shots are fairly boring for a decent player - it's a driver, a 6I, and a partial sand wedge. The third is a par three with a crazy green, and the fourth has a mound that blocks 90% of the fairway from view from the back three tees. The fifth hole continues the trend of blind shots, as your second shot on the par five will often be blind. The sixth, you can finally see everything, but the green has a six-foot-tall tier. Seven is a par three with a very narrow, twisty green (with a big tier) and a creek nearby. Eight has two potentially blind shots, though you should NOT challenge the massive dune to the right, even if that means just laying out a hybrid to the left. Your approach shot, well, you probably won't even see the green let alone the flagstick. Nine is a reasonably simple hole… where you can't see the entire flagstick for your short approach.

The back nine is a lot more of a traditional course, unfortunately and fortunately, as it wanders through a housing development for the majority of the holes. Ten is a good par five, with a tough layup but an even tougher "go for it" zone. Had the fairways not literally been soaked and drives had run out, the choice may have been tougher, but as it is, it was a driver, layup, wedge to a back tier that again rose some four or five feet up. I wonder how many greens staff fall off their mowers when mowing some of these greens? 11 and 12 are good holes, but you'll see housing (and not particularly good housing) relatively close to the course. 14 is a bad hole, in my opinions, with the hole cut on about a 5% slope the day I played. It's a layup and a wedge.

The course finishes strong with 16, 17, and, well, 18 is not strong, but it's at least got an interesting approach shot. A good par four up and over a hill and to the left, where the ideal line is actually around or over the trees left. The par-five 17th isn't reachable in two… when the ground is soaked, but on a dry day it may have been more interesting, as the green sits on the right side of a creek that runs up the whole right side of the hole. The 18th has you driving over a hill to a blind pond (it's only blind once!), and then hitting across that pond to a green that's one of the tamer ones on the course.

Like Tobacco Road, Royal New Kent offers what are actually wide fairways and relatively straightforward decision-making if your intent is to score. If you can keep the ball in play, and on a few holes, get the ball onto the proper tier (or at least onto the fringe or rough near the proper tier) of the multi-level greens, you'll shoot a good score, course rating be damned.

Where RNK falls in comparison to Tobacco Road is that the course may not have enough of the truly tempting shots. Perhaps it's different when the course is firm, but there were virtually no shots where anyone in our group of 12 decided to "take on" something.

RNK is longer than Tobacco Road, and the areas off the fairway are often unplayable. We spent more time than we should have looking for balls due to the fact that we could lose them in the fairway when they plugged, but balls into the hay were quickly given up on.

I "get" what they are going for with the "Irish" theme, and the front nine definitely carries that torch proudly, but features too many blind shots, too many undulating (and yet narrow?) greens, and just… "too much." The back nine is a more solid nine, a better test of golf, a more traditional looking and feeling and playing golf course, but the houses detract mightily.

Look, this isn't much of a review because… I only played the course once. I played it when it was wet as heck, with balls plugging immediately upon landing most of the time, and I played it blind and without a guide in my group who has played it before. So these are more thoughts than anything, and quick ones at that.

My final thought: despite having relatively large greens, due to the tiers and the shapes of some of them, there are surprisingly few hole locations. RNK uses a 1-2-3 tee sheet, so it's quite possible that when you show up to play again years later, you're going to play the same exact setup as the last time you were there. If you played on a "3" day, and show up on a "3" day, the holes might all be within five or ten feet of where they were the last time you played. I've never liked that, particularly for courses you don't get to play fairly often, and even more so for courses you do play frequently, as you don't get as much variety.

If I use a 1-10 rating system for courses, with 5 being an "average" course, RNK is definitely above average. Tobacco Road, I'll give a 7.0 to, and as I like that course more than RNK, I'll give RNK a 6.5. My scale isn't a bell curve, but it's not linear either. So, take that however you want. 🙂


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I was talking with my dad about the two courses I played. Bedford Springs and Royal Kent. I told him I enjoyed Bedford Springs much more. 

I agree with everything you mentioned. I had a hole were I hit a PW over a hill and ended up back left. It was impossible to get a solid line with out climbing a steep slope. 

I did enjoy Royal Kent, but to many blind shots. On hole #2, I thought I pulled my driver left and ended up in the right rough. 

I would like to play the course when it’s dry out.

I would give Royal Kent a 6.5-7.0 out of 10.

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On 11/4/2020 at 5:11 PM, iacas said:

If I use a 1-10 rating system for courses, with 5 being an "average" course, RNK is definitely above average. Tobacco Road, I'll give a 7.0 to, and as I like that course more than RNK, I'll give RNK a 6.5. My scale isn't a bell curve, but it's not linear either. So, take that however you want. 🙂

So would say that's likely a 5 on the Doak Scale? A well above average course thats worth seeing if you are in the area, but not going out of your way to see? 

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2 minutes ago, HJJ003 said:

 An above average course thats worth seeing if you are in the area, but not going out of your way to see? 

IMO, I’d agree with this (with small personal edits to your statement)

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8 minutes ago, HJJ003 said:

So would say that's likely a 5 on the Doak Scale? A well above average course thats worth seeing if you are in the area, but not going out of your way to see? 

I think the front nine is worth going out of your way a bit to see, because it's so unusual and different from what we're used to seeing. But that's more from an "interest" perspective, not an "architectural" one.

And the back nine is a let-down. So that might drag it down, yeah.

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I agree with most of what has been posted here. The course was interesting to me but also felt a bit gimmicky. Part of it was the numerous blind shots, and part of it was the greens just being so extra. There were a number of times I said, "If I knew the hole was like that, I would have hit a different shot," and that's not exactly a compliment.

The course would have definitely been more interesting from a strategic standpoint if we had played in dry weather. There were a few holes I was able to hit driver on because it was cold and wet out and knew I couldn't reach the trouble. Layups were the opposite. Going for it never even crossed my mind on any of the par 5s, and the par 4 tee shots weren't worth the risk over laying up off the tee.

The front nine was definitely the more interesting of the two, but I think the back nine would have been just as good if it wasn't run (stupidly, at times) through the housing development. 18 was a lackluster finishing hole, though. Seemed a little out of place from the rest of the course.

5 hours ago, HJJ003 said:

So would say that's likely a 5 on the Doak Scale? A well above average course thats worth seeing if you are in the area, but not going out of your way to see? 

It's a little more than that, IMO. I definitely went out of my way to play it and I wasn't disappointed.

Would I go back and play it again? That's a different story.

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20 minutes ago, billchao said:

The front nine was definitely the more interesting of the two, but I think the back nine would have been just as good if it wasn't run (stupidly, at times) through the housing development. 18 was a lackluster finishing hole, though. Seemed a little out of place from the rest of the course.

Agree about 18, and apparently the housing development is "newer" but still, they didn't own the land around it, so that was perhaps bound to happen.

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7 minutes ago, iacas said:

Agree about 18, and apparently the housing development is "newer" but still, they didn't own the land around it, so that was perhaps bound to happen.

That makes it a little better then, because I honestly thought, "WTF was he thinking when he developed this property?" as we played 12-16.

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58 minutes ago, billchao said:

That makes it a little better then, because I honestly thought, "WTF was he thinking when he developed this property?" as we played 12-16.

I looked at Google Earth and there were roads there even in 2003, so much of that back nine was developed or known to be in development even back then.

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RNK's calling card was never about shot value/ risk/reward, etc. Yes, quite un-noteworthy actually. Mike Stranz never pretended it was. He wanted to bring a 'bit of Ireland' in Virginia. Even in it's contrivance, the scattered dunes (he moved a LOT of land), the windy, bleak, gruff landscape give it bit of soul. From that perspective it is fine knockoff for folks like us who haven't had the fortune of having played the genuine stuff across the pond.  

The gimmicky blind greens (8th is the worst) gets whistles from the peanut gallery and wish he hadn't done that but oh well. And sure, '15th hardest course in the country' claim is a bit silly. In Virginia maybe.   

I have played before the development showed up (or was a fraction of it is now) and yeah that robbed bunch of character on the back nine that already struggles to live up to the promise of the front nine.     

But hey, all of this is relative. It's a big course and fine departure from the parkland duds I play here locally. I thoroughly enjoy my time out there. Glad it's here in my backyard. 

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22 minutes ago, GolfLug said:

RNK's calling card was never about shot value/ risk/reward, etc. Yes, quite un-noteworthy actually. Mike Stranz never pretended it was. He wanted to bring a 'bit of Ireland' in Virginia. Even in it's contrivance, the scattered dunes (he moved a LOT of land), the windy, bleak, gruff landscape give it bit of soul. From that perspective it is fine knockoff for folks like us who haven't had the fortune of having played the genuine stuff across the pond.  

The gimmicky blind greens (8th is the worst) gets whistles from the peanut gallery and wish he hadn't done that but oh well. And sure, '15th hardest course in the country' claim is a bit silly. In Virginia maybe.   

I have played before the development showed up (or was a fraction of it is now) and yeah that robbed bunch of character on the back nine that already struggles to live up to the promise of the front nine.     

But hey, all of this is relative. It's a big course and fine departure from the parkland duds I play here locally. I thoroughly enjoy my time out there. Glad it's here in my backyard. 

I did give it a 6.5. And it'd probably be a bit ahead of the 7.0 I give TR if the back nine didn't have the dwellings… and felt a bit more like the front nine.

And #8 is lame.

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41 minutes ago, GolfLug said:

RNK's calling card was never about shot value/ risk/reward, etc. Yes, quite un-noteworthy actually. Mike Stranz never pretended it was. He wanted to bring a 'bit of Ireland' in Virginia. Even in it's contrivance, the scattered dunes (he moved a LOT of land), the windy, bleak, gruff landscape give it bit of soul. From that perspective it is fine knockoff for folks like us who haven't had the fortune of having played the genuine stuff across the pond.  

The gimmicky blind greens (8th is the worst) gets whistles from the peanut gallery and wish he hadn't done that but oh well. And sure, '15th hardest course in the country' claim is a bit silly. In Virginia maybe.   

I have played before the development showed up (or was a fraction of it is now) and yeah that robbed bunch of character on the back nine that already struggles to live up to the promise of the front nine.     

But hey, all of this is relative. It's a big course and fine departure from the parkland duds I play here locally. I thoroughly enjoy my time out there. Glad it's here in my backyard. 

I’m glad someone enjoys this dog track.  :beer:

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@GolfLug, I always like seeing a new course and this was no different...wish I would’ve putted better, but such is life. It was definitely a different set up than what I generally see around Richmond area. 

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3 hours ago, iacas said:

And #8 is lame.

So is 14th. But TR has the lamest approach in all of golf - 13th par 5 amphitheatre green. Obviously he did these greens for nothing more than first time shock value. 

3 hours ago, iacas said:

I did give it a 6.5. And it'd probably be a bit ahead of the 7.0 I give TR if the back nine didn't have the dwellings… and felt a bit more like the front nine.

Oh yeah, I think 6.5 or 7.0 is actually a little on the generous side. Stranz's  better work is down in Myrtle and he wasn't exactly a top caliber designer to begin with.

3 hours ago, jsgolfer said:

I’m glad someone enjoys this dog track.  :beer:

Yes, we all know the reigning NC MVP has very high standards. Thanks for giving it the consideration you did. We are richer for it. :-)

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4 minutes ago, GolfLug said:

Oh yeah, I think 6.5 or 7.0 is actually a little on the generous side. Stranz's  better work is down in Myrtle and he wasn't exactly a top caliber designer to begin with.

5.0 is average. 6.5/7.0 aren't exactly super high scores.

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