Mike Strantz fans rejoice: One of his designs is coming back online

Royal New Kent is a prime example of the imagination of the late architect Mike Strantz. Pictured is the par-4 seventh hole.

Mike Strantz unfortunately isn't around anymore to create any of his quirky, wonderful designs. But for those of us who appreciate the late architect's artistry, it looks like we're getting one back.

Strantz's Maverick Golf Design only completed nine jobs before he passed away from cancer at the age of 50. Two of these courses have closed, but one of his most imaginative works is getting new life. Royal New Kent will be restored by its new ownership group, led by Wingfield Golf Management Services. (Strantz had seven original designs, but had a hand in many other well-known courses as well.)

Located midway between Richmond and Williamsburg in Providence Forge, Va., what used to be known as The Tradition at Royal New Kent was designed as a tribute to the fabled seaside links of the Emerald Isle. It placed an emphasis on the character and feel of two of his favorites — Ireland's Royal County Down and Ballybunion. For those who love Strantz's work, this is a great news. For those who have never played a Strantz course, this will serve as a great way to experience his genius.

Royal New Kent was actually the third Strantz design I played after True Blue and Caledonia Golf & Fish Club in the Myrtle Beach, S.C. area. True Blue and Caledonia were already two of my favorites before I really knew much about Strantz's style. Those two courses are certainly beyond the bounds of traditional architecture, but they're not as dramatic as Royal New Kent and perhaps Strantz's most lauded design, Tobacco Road, located in the Sandhills region of North Carolina. For me, Royal New Kent was actually a great warm-up for Tobacco Road, which I finally played last year (See my review on Royal New Kent here).

Tobacco Road is one of America's truly unique golf course designs.

The day I played Royal New Kent, one of the players in our group, a long-hitting assistant pro, shot 29 on the front, so it was definitely getable. Having the guidance of head pro Lester Poole was invaluable for me, since the holes aren't exactly obvious off the tee. And while I didn't shoot 66 like the young pro did, I did come in below my 6.9 handicap index, which I rarely do on courses I've played for the first time.

On Strantz's courses, the holes not being obvious is part of the charm. It's an enjoyable riddle he put there for you to solve. There's usually more room to hit it than it appears, and how you shape your shots and the direction from where you approach greens and pin placements take on more importance than they do on traditional courses.

My round at Royal New Kent was three years ago, and while the course wasn't in terrible shape, it had seen better days apparently. By this January, the course as well as its sister course, Stonehouse in Toano, were shut down by its then owner, Traditional Golf Properties and put up for sale. Only Royal New Kent sold the sale was finalized in June), so it doesn't appear that Stonehouse, which is more of a parkland design, has a future at this time.

But Royal New Kent has a bright future indeed. Wingfield Golf Chairman Barton Tuck and President Noel Tuck have partnered with local resident and golf enthusiast Willie Downs to restore Royal New Kent to its original condition. Barton Tuck spent some time with Strantz's widow Heidi, who provided him with many of her late husband's original drawings. In addition, fans of Royal New Kent have sent in old photographs of the course that will also assist in the renovation. Wingfield, which is based in Greenville, S.C., has even brought back two of Strantz's original shapers who constructed the course initially to perform the restoration work.

"We had a lot of help from people giving us information that will get us back to where (Strantz) started," Tuck said. "We’re getting back as close as we can to what he designed."

Wingfield Golf is trucking in 2,300 tons of new sand to redo the Royal New Kent bunkers. The greens have been converted from bentgrass to Champion Bermuda grass, while substantial upgrades are also being made to the clubhouse. The irrigation system includes a new pump station, and all 120 inlets will be rebuilt for better drainage.

The golf course is expected to reopen in April 2019.

Wingfield also owns the nearby Club at Viniterra, which opened in late 2009, and is one of Rees Jones' finest designs. The company also manages The Golf Club at Brickshire, where two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange, working with Ault, Clark and Associates, designed a course that emulates holes from some of Strange’s favorite courses -- Augusta National, Pinehurst No. 2, Riviera and The Old Course at St. Andrews. Adding Royal New Kent back into the mix makes for a really nice trio of destination golf courses.

The par-5 10th is the signature hole at The Club at Viniterra in New Kent, Va.

"This area is very accessible from most of the east coast," said Tuck, whose company also manages six other golf courses in Florida, Northern Virginia and Mississippi. "We believe there will be both local membership appeal and a lot of packaging business for golfers coming off the interstate."

But for now the focus is on Royal New Kent and reinvigorating the legacy of one of golf course architecture's most legendary figures.

"Mike Strantz was a tremendously talented and gifted architect whose career was, unfortunately, cut short," Tuck said. "It is an honor to have the opportunity to take one of his best back to what he originally designed and get it back in tip-top shape, and to play a part in preserving Strantz’s legacy for golfers to enjoy for many years to come."

Browse golf courses designed by the architect and read golfer reviews.

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.
9 Comments
Commented on

Great news. Royal New Kent is my favorite course in Virginia. Stunning design. I first played there in early 2002, and became a Mike Strantz fan. The new owners might want to note this, though, the EXORBITANT green fees caused many golfers to take a pass. Fewer paying customers = less money for course upkeep = less than favorable reviews = less interest in playing a course = less rounds =less cash flow = You get the idea. Many of the courses that have closed in the last decade basically overcharged themselves out of business. Stonehouse is also a very dramatic and challenging course. Brickshire is meh. It benefitted from its' location more than anything, and though it it is an okay track, it is not in the same league (design, or challenge) as Stonehouse, Royal New Kent, the courses at colonial Williamsburg, Vinterra, the Ford's Colony courses, or the very nice Arthur Hills layout in Williamsburg, whose name escapes me just now. Mike Strantz has more imagination in 18 holes than Jack Nicklaus designs have in 180 holes. Wish Mike Strantz was still here to bring some "WHOA!" to golf course design. Play Tobacco Road, and you'll see what I mean.

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Tpu are correct, Mike Strantz is a golf course design legend. I've been blessed to play all of his designs except for the course in California. We playTobacco Road, Caledonia, and True Blue every year. I played Royal New Kent and Stonehouse back in 2007. Both good but Royal New Kent has the Tobacco Road feel. Can't wait to play it again after the redo. Bulls Bay is also no slouch. Mr. Strantz understood that courses need playability as well as charm and excitement. Thanks Mike!

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When RNK closed last Sept I was disappointed quite a bit. I had been following the news and did a drive by a six months ago as I was in the area. I was surprised that the grass was being cut so I held hope for a resurrection. When I heard about the sale I wrote to Wingfield. I was quite surprised when my phone rang an hour later and Barton was contacting me. We spoke for some time and he passionately delivered details of the plans. This is so fantastic that this Strantz gem shall receive a proper reopening. Strantz's works deserve this type of respect.

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I have played 4 of his courses and would say that by far, Caledonia is the best . The others have way to many blind shots, hitting to posts way away from where you think you should be playing. That in my opinion is not golf, especially when these are not courses you would regularly play many times. Personally , I like to see what’s before me as it can get in your head mentally easier than blind shots which add more luck to the game . Just a contrarian opinion.

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A True Mike Strantz patron.
I have not had the opportunity to play NRK but I have played True Blue, Caledonia, Tobacco Road and "Tot Hill Farm", a Strantz jewel located around Asheboro, NC.
Tot Hill is a bit like Tobacco Road but on steroids. More rocks, more intersecting streams, a lot more elevation changes and another visual road trip for the 'not so faint at heart'.
If you like his other works, now Tot Hill Farm should be on your 'Must Play' List.
It is always on mine.

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This is great news in my book. I am local to the area, and loved playing Royal New Kent. I was so disappointed when it closed, and I am happy to not only see it reoepn, but with improvements. It had gotten rough around the edges, especially the bunkers, so I am very excited for next April's reopening.

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I've played RNK a few times and also got to play the 2 Myrtle beach courses this past spring.. I still consider RNK the best course of the 3 and probably the best course i ever played.. I also got to play Stonehouse a few years back on our trip to Williamsburgh.. Had my best 9 hole score ever on that front 9(34) but blew it on the back for an 80! It's a shame to see it go.. Maybe we'll get lucky and someone will buy and save that course too!

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I’ve played Tobacco Road twice & if you are a devoted Golfer you must play it before you die! An unbelievable experience!

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I loved both the VA and MB courses when I got to play them in the early 2000s, its good to see that Royal New Kent is coming back. I hope Stonehouse somehow makes it back as well. I've yet to play Tobacco Road (or Tot Hill Farms) but once I get a trip for NC together they'll surely be in my plans.

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Mike Strantz fans rejoice: One of his designs is coming back online