Golfers in the Virginia Beach area are fortunate to have low-cost municipal courses designed by the legendary Robert Trent Jones and his son Rees Jones, the famed "Open Doctor" known for his diabolical alterations of U.S. Open courses.
Aside from their exclusive pedigree, however, the courses have little in common. While Stumpy Lake is a traditional design in a pristine setting in a wildlife preserve, Honey Bee has modern architectural touches and winds its way through a bustling housing development.
The facilities are a microcosm of the seven diverse offerings from Hampton Roads Golf Clubs, which has something for players of all levels and tastes.
Hampton Roads Golf Clubs
Consider Cypress Point Country Club in Virginia Beach, the priciest of the seven courses, with rates topping out at $60. The Tom Clark design ups the ante for housing development golf, featuring a seamless layout, outstanding Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens, and enough length (6,541 yards), undulation, twists and turns to challenge top players.
At the other end of the spectrum is Owl's Creek Golf Course in Virginia Beach, a 3,779-yard par 62 that runs $30 and is ideal for seniors, women, children and players looking for a quick round on the run. The course also caters to practice players, housing the Hampton Roads golf academy, with a heated and covered driving range that includes artificial and natural turf stations.
Lake Wright Golf Course in Norfolk, an aging 6,157-yard par 72, gets more play than any of the seven courses due to a steady stream of longtime regulars drawn by its parkland setting in an urban location and attractive greens fees ($34). The location is so good, however, that the land has become more valuable for other interests. Plans for an outlet mall have been drawn up but have yet to be finalized, according to a Virginian-Pilot article in October 2013.
Like Lake Wright, Chesapeake Golf Club owes its advantage to price ($34) and location as the only municipal course in the town of Chesapeake. The 6,159-yard par 71 is a low-cost alternative to the adjacent daily-fee gem, Cahoon Plantation Golf Club, where players pay nearly twice as much for a round.
There's little question as to what is the most unique facility in the Hampton Roads portfolio. Lambert's Point Golf Course is a 2,789-yard par 34, built on a landfill that juts into the Elizabeth River. Designed by Lester George and opened in 2005, Lambert's Point has a windswept, Scottish feel, which sets it apart from any course -- public or private -- in the low-lying Hampton Roads area.
Bordered by heavy industry, low-income housing and Old Dominion University, Lambert's Point is one of the least likely locations for a golf course. An indicator of Lambert Point's juxtaposed location is its parking lot, which it shares with the Powhatan Sports Complex, which houses football, field hockey, lacrosse and strength and conditioning facilities for ODU.
"People who are familiar with this area but haven't been here say, 'Where did they have room to build a golf course?' It's kind of a surprise to drive through this neighborhood and come upon this place," said Marcus Cutrell, general manager and head professional at Lambert's Point.
Play the stunning final five holes, all overlooking the river, and it's clear that Lambert's Point is much more than a unique concept course. No facility under the Hampton Roads umbrella has better conditioned greens than the smooth, true bentgrass surfaces of superintendent Jimmy Leach.
The opening hole might sound rinky-dink -- a par 5 that measures 434 yards from the back tees. But rising from the clubhouse to the highest point in Norfolk, into the wind, toward the water and to a small green guarded by deep bunkers, No. 1 plays long and surprisingly tough. Many other holes have a similar degree of difficulty as wind coming off the water -- even on a still day -- factors heavily.
Before Lambert's point was opened, the newest courses in the Hampton Roads group were built during the golf boom of the 1980s. Honey Bee (1988), Owl's Creek (1988), Cypress Point (1987) and Chesapeake (1986) are just starting to show their age. Meanwhile, Stumpy Lake (1953) grows old gracefully, with beautiful tree-lined holes, including the final six which run along the still waters of the lake, where players are likely to see eagles, blue heron and snow white egrets.
A peaceful afternoon at serene Stumpy Lake makes one realize what drew Robert Trent Jones to the land. It's also a reminder of how rare it is in a booming population center to find a golf course where no homes are visible and no passing trucks can be heard. For a maximum price of $43, with improved conditions under superintendent Charlie Womble, and with Jones' sophisticated design touches that highlight risk/reward and strategy off the tee, Stumpy Lake is a perfect example of the value available through Hampton Roads Golf Clubs.