- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 17, 2007

Golf writer Barker Davis of The Washington Times takes a look at one of the area’s newest public courses. Ratings are based on a scale of one to five.

BLUE RIDGE SHADOWS

Location: Front Royal — Take I-66 West toward Front Royal to Exit 6. Pick up U.S.-340/522 North and follow it 1 1/2 miles to Shadows Drive on left and proceed to the clubhouse.

Yardage/par: 7,315 yards, par-72

Rating/slope: 75.5/143

Architect: Tom Clark (2007)

Fees: $49-72

Phone: 866/631-9661; www.blueridgeshadows.com

Driving range: Mats

Layout

Given the must-play fanfare that accompanied the long-awaited opening of Blue Ridge Shadows in March, the bar was set fairly high for this Tom Clark design. With its signature waterfalls, stunning vistas and gorgeous mountainside property, the layout is definitely an aesthetic success. From a playing perspective, however, there are a number of significant issues with this plan.

Basically, this is the Britney Spears of area courses. From a distance, it looks extraordinary. But upon more critical inspection, the layout has a handful of rather disconcerting flaws.

On the first tee, players are greeted with a problem afflicting many mountainside layouts: the blind shot. Without any natural framing, and no help from the scorecard, signage or a GPS cart system, players have very little idea on which line to strike their initial tee ball. Given the severity of the first fairway, which lists from high right to low left, that’s a definite design drawback. Similar problems with sightlines or yardages to landing areas rear their heads on Nos. 2 (approach), 4, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17 and 18.

As the list suggests, the front nine is relatively strong, featuring a pair of bearish par-3s (averaging 241 yards from the tips) and a superb closing stretch (Nos. 5-9) tumbling through an array of hardwoods rarely encountered on an immature mountainside layout. A player’s only gripe during the run is an unnecessary false front at the 7th. Given the dramatic elevation changes consistent throughout, there’s no need for such a contrivance, which also makes a notable appearances at No. 14.

If the front nine is just a yardage guide and a few turf tweaks from remarkable, the back nine’s warts are considerably more glaring. With the exception of the visually stunning 13th, the layout’s signature loop (Nos. 10-14) has a definite claustrophobic feel. The par-5 11th, with its two-way penalty off the tee, cramped lay-up and mid-green ravine, is one of two extremely poor holes (No. 18) on the closing nine.

Once again, the par-3s (Nos. 14 and 16) are the strongest holes in evidence. The 17th, which shares an excellently executed double green with the 15th, might be the best hole on the property. But the 18th, like its fellow par-5 11th, is a mess in terms of design integrity, posing a blind tee shot toward an unseen water hazard, an abandoned split fairway and either a 9-iron-9-iron finish or an all-risk/no-reward second shot around a superfluous stand of trees and over water to a treacherous green.

Conditions/Facilities

Like most area facilities, Blue Ridge Shadows could really use some rain. The recent dry run has left greenside chipping and pitching areas very spotty and forced the course to keep its greens somewhat hairy and slow. The off-course amenities are strong, as a full-service clubhouse is scheduled to be joined this fall by a Holiday Inn featuring spa services.

Overall Value

Given the estimated drive time from the District (90 minutes), handful of design issues and moderate price point ($50 isn’t cheap for Front Royal), Blue Ridge Shadows rates in the middle portion of the region’s daily-fee facilities. For those more interested in natural beauty than their scorecard, it’s a definite winner. But the premium here isn’t on shot values, which is why one’s enjoyment at Blue Ridge Shadows is likely to be inversely proportional to his handicap.

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