Jack Nicklaus answers the King's challenge at Bay Creek Resort & Club on Virginia's Eastern Shore

A little healthy competition between two golf icons helped spur Jack Nicklaus into creating a memorable test of golf at Bay Creek Resort & Club

CAPE CHARLES, Va. - They were rivals when they played. The Golden Bear vs. the King. They are rivals in the golf course design business.

But on one project, at least, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer outdid themselves when they came together at the Bay Creek Resort & Club.

Hired by Baymark Construction owner Dickie Foster, each was given a piece of shoreline on Virginia's eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay with which to work as well as portion of the Old Plantation Creek. Each turned in an exceptional effort.

Palmer's course, with its large, deep bunkers and undulating greens opened first in 2003. Nicklaus followed in 2006. He created a look that's both links style and traditional, taking advantage of the natural wetlands and shoreline as well as the tall Virginia Pines.

Which golf course is better is really depends on your mood and taste, said Joe Burbee, director of golf at Bay Creek Resort & Club. Both are ranked among the best in the state by major golf publications.

"I know Zach Pfingst, our head pro, really likes the Palmer Course," said Burbee, who has an affinity for the Nicklaus Course. "They're both really good."

You'll find plenty of bunkers on both golf courses. The 7,412 par 72 Nicklaus Course has 100 of them to be exact, as well large waste bunkers. You'll also find azaleas, shell cart paths, sea gulls, and if you're lucky, you might even sight a hawk or two or a rare bald eagle.

But more than anything, on the Nicklaus Course, you'll experience some pretty unforgettable golf holes and scenery.

"I believe we have given everyone a golf course they can be proud of here at Bay Creek," Nicklaus said. "It's very pleasing to the eye. It has great views, particularly looking out at the water. It's very pretty area and environmentally sensitive."

Bridge work really sets off the Nicklaus' front nine

As a young man Foster once worked on the 23-mile Chesapeake Bay Bridge and Tunnel that you have to cross to get to Bay Creek from the Norfolk and the Virginia Beach area. Little did the Virgina Beach developer know that he would someday be building the link to his own 1,729-acre, master-planned community.

Perhaps it was that experience nearly a half century ago that led to the bridge work on the front nine. It comes between the fourth and fifth hole, on a cart bridge that connects them over wetlands. There, you'll find a scaled down scale replica of the Cape Charles Lighthouse, with Chesapeake Bay in the background.

Of course, the holes there are pretty good, too, perhaps the most memorable on the golf course. The 158-yard par-3 fourth backs up against the bay, surrounded by marsh grasses and reminiscent of the great seaside links courses across the pond.

The fifth, a 459-yard par 4, runs along the coastline and may be the most difficult on the course. Even after a good drive, you're faced with a very small green, surrounded by high grass to the right and left. Miss the green, and finding your ball is problematic, much less getting up and down.

That's followed by another links-style par 3, this one 200 yards from the back tee, before you start heading inland again.

The back nine may not be as scenic, but it's definitely no easier. The 14th hole, for example, is a dogleg right, 498-yard, par 4 that can be unreachable in regulation if it plays into the wind. The 16th is a 607-yard par 5, and the 18th is a 452-yard par 4 that features a large water hazard behind the green.

Bay Creek Resort & Club's Nicklaus Course: The verdict

Nicklaus has done more than 200 golf courses around the world, and this is definitely among his best.

No doubt with the Palmer Course already in place, Nicklaus made sure his would not be overshadowed, and it isn't.

This one is really part design and part Mother Nature. The natural backdrop of Chesapeake Bay and the landscape provided Nicklaus with a great canvas.

As expected, course conditions here are flawless (green fees are $85 to $115 during peak season). The greens are A-4 bentgrass, and the Bermuda fairways are pristine as well.

The 19,000 square-foot clubhouse replicates a 19th century stable and houses the Bay Creek Golf Shop and Coach House Tavern.

Golf lessons and practice facilities at Bay Creek

Practice facilities, which include a large range, practice bunkers, chipping green and putting green are reminiscent of what you might get at an extremely high-end club, which is what Bay Creek Resort & Club is when it's not catering to resort play. Both group and individual lessons, as well as golf schools, are available.

Stay and play at Bay Creek Resort & Club

Less than four hours southeast of Washington, D.C. and two hours east of Richmond - on a sliver of land at the southwestern corner of the Delmarva Peninsula - Bay Creek Resort & Club is an easy weekend getaway.

The resort offers a variety of rentals, including golf condos, golf course homes and marine homes, all with full kitchens and bed and bath linens.

In addition to golf, Bay Creek Resort & Club has a deepwater marina, boutique shopping, dining, walking trails and beaches along Virginia's eastern shore. For more information, www.baycreek.net.

Mike Bailey is a senior staff writer based in Houston. Focusing primarily on golf in the United States, Canada, the Caribbean and Latin America with an occasional trip to Europe and beyond, he contributes course reviews, travel stories and features as well as the occasional equipment review. An award-winning writer and past president of Texas Golf Writers Association, he has more than 25 years in the golf industry. Before accepting his current position in 2008, he was on staff at PGA Magazine, The Golfweek Group and AvidGolfer Magazine. Follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeBaileyGA and Instagram at @MikeStefanBailey.
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Jack Nicklaus answers the King's challenge at Bay Creek Resort & Club on Virginia's Eastern Shore