KESWICK, Va. -- Pete Dye is in my head and has been for awhile now, in a big way. He chewed me up on the Straits Course at Whistling Straits and later spit me out on the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass a couple years later.
I've walked off his courses pondering a switch to left-handed clubs.
Dye, now 89 years young and going strong with numerous projects currently on the books, unveiled a brand new course, Full Cry at Keswick Golf Club. It sits atop a former Arnold Palmer design dating back to the 1990s.
"Full Cry" is a hunting term -- not one used to describe a poor sap in a Dye pot bunker -- for when hounds are in hot pursuit of a scent. And frankly, this is an effort from Dye that isn't terribly sinister compared to those that show up on the major championship rota. In fact, it's surprising to see that Full Cry is in many ways more playable than the shorter course it replaced. The previous design, while just about 6,500 yards from the back tees, had a lot of elevated greens and high native grasses guarding them in front.
"It was really penal for the average player," said Eric McGraw, head professional at Keswick Club for the past 15 years. "But the good player would never see any of those spots."
Now with the new layout by Dye, the scales have tipped the other direction. Low-handicappers can step to the back or middle-back tees and take on a true Dye examination over 7,100 yards long, full of mid-iron approaches into small targets and some tough decision making.
For the rest of us, Dye implemented fewer forced carries and lots of bailout and run-up areas (the short, par-3 seventh hole, encircled by a horseshoe-shaped sand trap, is the only exception). The angles from each tee set are as significant as their yardage differences. Generally speaking, the further up a tee box is on a hole, the lesser the danger between tee and green.
No matter which tee set you're playing, short-siding your approaches results in far more double bogeys than up-and-downs for par. Play the course a couple times, and the green complexes open up a little bit to the eye no matter how tucked the pin may seem.
The hole variety, thanks in part to a great piece of rolling land with a lot of neat features -- from creeks to forests to higher, more-open vistas -- is also top notch. The collection of par 5s is excellent (diverse designs but each with inviting landing zones off the tee that, with a good poke, are all reachable in two shots) but easier said than done.
Better yet, something a little surprising for a Dye design, is that three to four par 4s are legitimately drivable for longer hitters, all in the neighborhood of 280-330 yards.
Full Cry has also made Keswick a little more walker friendly, and a good deal of the membership takes advantage. On a Friday morning, it appeared there were as many hoofers and riders scattered amongst the course. And to the right of the second hole, a large pack of hunting hounds could be spotted time-to-time out for a morning stretch.
Stay and play at Keswick Hall
Keswick Hall -- owned by the same group as such golfopolises as 54-hole Sea Pines Resort in Hilton Head and 90-hole Kiawah Island Resort -- is on a boutique scale. There are just 48 rooms and 18 holes with a tidy membership that accounts for the vast majority of rounds played.
In fact, in years past, staff says golfers would book a stay at Keswick Hall without even knowing there was a course on site. Those reports should become few and far between as Mid-Atlantic golfers (Richmond is an hour's drive, Washington D.C. two) have a new course to discover in their backyard that should be included in the top resort golf courses in Virginia.
Around the property, there are a handful of pools, none more striking than the infinity pool beside the hotel overlooking the course. Guests have full disposal of the club facilities, like the spa and fitness center.
Fossett's is the hotel's main draw for dining: a beautiful, airy setting for breakfast in the morning and then a more intimate and stylish setting for dinner. Most ingredients, from produce to meats, are sourced locally, and a short drive from Charlottesville Airport to the resort, passing pleasant, rolling countryside most of the way, means it isn't much of a stretch to find them.
Between the farms in this rural part of the state there are plenty of attractions, too. Around the corner from the hotel, you can visit Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, eat some fried chicken at historic Michie's Tavern, then head to Charlottesville and tour the Grounds Jefferson laid out at the University of Virginia -- all making for a pleasant day off the course.
More golf around Charlottesville
In Gordonsville east of Charlottesville, give Spring Creek Golf Club a try. Opened in 2006 and playing over 7,300 yards from the tips, it has a nearly perfect score by GolfAdvisor raters.