Nestled into the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, just a few miles outside Charlottesville, Virginia, sits Keswick Hall, a sprawling resort that features fine dining; a world-class spa; European red-clay tennis courts; a jaw-dropping infinity pool; access to a wealth of regional attractions; and championship golf on Full Cry, one of Pete Dye's final designs. Only a short drive from Shenandoah National Park, Thomas Jefferson's Monticello, and James Madison's Montpelier, Keswick Hall offers a quiet respite or a bit of adventure, paired with all the classic southern charm one would expect of a top-tier resort in central Virginia.
I visited Keswick Hall in the fall with plans to play Full Cry in the morning and nearby Spring Creek Golf Club in the afternoon. Full Cry currently ranks No. 69 on Golfweek's list of the top 100 public courses in the country. Access to the golf course is reserved for resort guests and Keswick Hall members.
My understanding is that the accommodations at the resort are five-star but also quite pricey, and I was thrilled to have connected with a member who was able to host me (albeit unaccompanied), which helped to keep costs for the trip a bit more reasonable. (Chasing top 100 lists is incredible fund, but it ain't cheap!)
Built in 1912, Keswick Hall has evolved and expanded over more than a century. At various times it's been a private estate, country club and hotel. The original golf course was built by Fred Findlay in 1949 and renovated by Arnold Palmer in 1991. After a change in ownership in 2012, Pete Dye was brought in for what became an almost complete reimagination of the course. Dye's work to create a more walkable course, more playable and enjoyable for golfers of all skill levels, and -- importantly -- a course that could be played in 4 hours or less, took the better part of two years. And when Full Cry reopened for play in 2014, members and resort guests alike found a course that harkens back to some of Dye's earliest and most beloved course designs with generous fairways, shorter distances between greens and tees, opportunities to play through the air or along the ground, challenging but fair greens, strategically placed bunkers, and routing that would require players to play every club in the bag and different shot shapes and trajectories to score well.
Situated among Virginia horse and cattle farms, Keswick Hall was built on land that has been home to fox chasing (importantly, not fox hunting, as the goal is not to kill but rather to experience the thrill of the chase) for more than a century before golf was ever played on the property. And fox chasing remains an important part of the region's appeal to locals and visitors alike. Fox hounds are still raised and trained on the property, and the golf course at Keswick Hall takes its name, Full Cry, from the hunt. It's a term describing the state of hounds that have caught the scent of the fox and are in heated pursuit of their game.
The day I visited Keswick Hall, I'd been scheduled to play in the fourth or fifth group off the tee, slotted in to play alongside a threesome with whom the club had paired me. I was early to arrive, however, and the starter ushered me out to the first tee just as the first foursome of the day was scheduled to tee off. I didn't ask to jump ahead of anyone, and I would have been happy to play with the three resort guests with whom I'd been scheduled, but as I talked with the starter while getting set up on my cart, he suggested that if I got out first I could play quickly and give myself more time for lunch and travel to Spring Creek for my afternoon round. Fortunately, the foursome on the first tee were members who knew the starter well, and they were very gracious when he asked if he could send me off ahead of them -- just a little more of that Southern charm for which the resort and club are known. So, with the foursome and starter standing on the tee behind me ... and having had no time to take some swings at the range ... I stepped to the first tee and thankfully hit a terrific tee shot down the left side of the fairway. And with that, I was off!
Fully Cry stretches out to 7,134 yards from the tips. I played from the Dye tees, at 6,382 yards, which offered plenty of both the challenge and enjoyment I look for in any course. Distances listed throughout the remainder of this blog post will be from the Dye tees unless otherwise noted.
Hole 1 - Par 4 - 358 Yards
The first hole plays from the tee to a fairway angled gently from left to right, inviting a fade (for right handers). But don't overcut it; the only real trouble off the first tee is to the right -- a small stream that runs the length of the hole, along with dense trees and a 100-yard-long bunker that begins about 250 yards from the tee and stretches down the right side all the way to the green. There's no real danger in staying left apart from having to potentially contend with a lie in the rough. The pond to the left of the tee is primarily decorative on the first hole but is in play on the ninth hole.
The left side of the fairway offers the ideal angle of approach, taking the 100-yard bunker and the very small pot bunker front-right of the green mostly out of play. From the left side, players have the option to fly the ball into the green or to play a low, running shot through the fairway into this green this long, narrow green.
Hole 2 - Par 5 - 526 Yards
No. 2 is a straightaway par-5 that plays longer than the yardage on the card as the hole climbs uphill the entire way from tee to green. Trees on the left crowd tight in toward the fairway, and a series of small fairway bunkers extends up the right side of the hole. These bunkers, much like the small greenside pot bunker on the first hole, are challenging not because they're particularly deep but because they're so small (or, in this case, narrow) that it can be difficult to establish a comfortable stance over a ball in the sand. It won't be unusual for players who find these bunkers to have to stand outside the bunker in order to play their ball, making for an even more challenging recovery shot.
Big hitters may be able to go for this green in two, but four bunkers that creep in from the left, starting at about 50 yards from the green, may give you pause. Conservative players may want to lay up either to a yardage that allows them to play a full wedge into the green or to a distance that feels ripe for a bump and run approach. For those who do choose to go for this green in two, the play is made more difficult by the fact that the fairway narrows and bows out to the right before bending back to the green. From 250 or so yards out, running a ball into this green may prove difficult.
This look back from the green on the second hole offers a look at the density of the trees down the right side of the hole and a sense of the beauty of the surroundings in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Hole 3 - Par 4 - 329 Yards
The third hole was possibly my favorite on the front nine at Full Cry. The shape of the hole calls for a left-to-right tee shot, but a fairway bunker on the right must be avoided. Shorter drives played to the left side of the sloping fairway will feed back to the middle, but beyond the fairway bunker, the fairway levels out and begins to slope from right to left as you approach the green. Players may find that the small bunker left of the green provides an ideal aiming line at which to play a fade in order to find the short grass here.
From the right side of the fairway on No. 3, players will find themselves with an opportunity to play through the air or along the ground as a wide open throat of fairway leads to the front of the putting surface. The bunkering and angle of the green to players on the left side of the hole, however, may present quite the challenge, especially as drives closer to the green leave players with awkward half-wedge shots into a green that will play as much more shallow from the left -- part of the mastery of Pete Dye's design, turning a short par-4 into a hole that demands the player's focus on every swing.
Hole 4 - Par 3 - 174 Yards
The first of Fully Cry's par-3 holes, No. 4 offers plenty of challenge -- a mid- to long-iron shot to a kidney-shaped green guarded by seven bunkers left (some of which seem to exist more for the sake of being visually intimidating than otherwise challenging) and a bunker short-right of the green that sits above the putting surface and can make for a very awkward downhill sand shot to a green that runs away from the player. From the tee, it appears that balls played right of the green ought to feed down and onto the putting surface, but thick rough and contouring to the right make it just as likely that balls missing the green on that side will get hung up and leave the player with a difficult chip. The best miss on this hole is likely short of the green, in the fairway cut, setting up a straightforward chip or pitch to the hole.
Hole 5 - Par 4 - 405 Yards
There's a lot to love about the 5th hole. Visually, it's one of my favorite on the front nine. The late and wetlands right of the tee complex and short of the fairway, along with the high native grasses on the hillside left of the fairway -- especially in the golden morning sunlight when I played here -- make for a very pretty hole. But a creek and the dense tree line down the entire right side of the hole, along with the threat of a lost ball on the hill to the left, make this one of the more challenging tee shots on the course. A couple of fairway bunkers left don't make it any easier, encouraging players to aim their tee shots farther out to the right, toward the potential danger of the tree line.
For longer hitters, a series of fairway bunkers on the right may either prove a help or a hindrance -- catching wayward balls and preventing them from shooting into the creek but also leaving players with awkward stances and long bunker shots to try to reach this green. From the fairway, players may want to run a low ball into the left side of this green in order to avoid the greenside bunkers to the right. Distance control on the approach may well determine whether this is a birdie hole or a three-putt bogey hole.
Hole 6 - Par 4 - 395 Yards
From the right tee box on No. 6, it's impossible to get the thought of the water out of your mind. That said, it only requires a carry of 150 yards or so to cross the hazard and reach the fairway. The ideal shot from the tee here is played down the left side of the fairway, just over or to the right of the leftward bend in the cart path and using the hillside left of the hole to bring the ball back toward the center of the fairway.
One of the things you notice by about this point in your round at Full Cry is that many of the fairways are sloped left or right but play to relatively level greens. Here at No. 6, a good drive leaves the player with a sidehill lie into a green with trouble to the right, where three bunkers await any ball that leaks to the right on the approach. This is an ideal place to play a bump and run out to the left and allow the contours of the fairway to send the ball chasing down and onto the green.
Hole 7 - Par 3 - 178 Yards
Taking a page out of Seth Raynor's design book, perhaps, the par-3 7th hole features a large wrap-around bunker that nearly encircles the entirety of the green complex. A mid-iron shot for most players, direction is more important than distance on this hole. The relatively narrow green is about 35 yards long from front to back but less than 20 yards wide. Finding the putting surface is the most important goal for the tee shot. From there, it's a relatively routine par. But from the wraparound bunker -- and certainly from the small pot bunker short-left of the green -- the hole becomes much more challenging.
Hole 8 - Par 5 - 519 Yards
Hole No. 8 is a challenging par-5 requiring three solid shots (or two monstrous ones) to set up a birdie (or eagle) opportunity. The landing area off the tee is generous, with 30-yard-long, narrow fairway bunker just right of the fairway. High natural grass right and left of the hole do threaten to become permanent homes for balls hit particularly far offline, but most players should find ample room off the tee on this hole.
The greater challenge on No. 2 comes as the player approaches the green, with the fairway narrowing and bunkers right and left affecting how and where to lay up. The hole also plays uphill from here, which will affect players' thoughts on the idea of going for this green in two. Players who elect to lay up short of the fairway bunker on the right in order to avoid trouble will find themselves with short- or even mid-iron approach shots into this par-5.
The approach on 8 plays to a narrow green protected on the left by two bunkers that sit below putting surface. Playing from either of these bunkers may feel like you're short-sided no matter where the pin is located simply because of how narrow the green really is. As tempting as it may be to fire right at the flag on No. 8, players may find it more prudent to play a low-running shot into the right side of this green even if doing so sets up a more likely par than a birdie.
Hole 9 - Par 4 - 302 Yards
Facing a short, straight par-4 to finish the front nine, players may opt for something other than driver off the tee on this hole. Big hitters may find that a driver brings the water left of the green into play. Apart from the water left and the high fescue that adorns the hill above the right side of the fairway, there isn't much trouble off the tee on No. 9. A fairway wood or even a hybrid is likely all it will take to set up a wedge into this green.
The view of the ninth green from the hillside short-right of the hole offers a look at not only the small, two-tiered green but also the grandeur of Keswick Hall high on the hill above the golf course in the background. Don't be distracted by the view, however. Do all you can to keep your approach below the hole on this green, and stroke your putt confidently for the birdie to close out your front nine.
Hole 10 - Par 4 - 343 Yards
My favorite view on the course the 10th tee also sets up one of the most deceptively challenging drives of your round. The slope of the fairway from right to left, along with the angle of the fairway turns balls that look like they've been perfectly driven down the middle into difficult sidehill lies in the left rough. Either a fade or a drive up the right side of the fairway will give players the best chance to find a fairway lie. Bunkers left of the fairway further complicate the tee shot. Don't let the beauty of this hole from the tee compromise your focus as you set up over this tee shot.
The approach on No. 10 requires both accuracy and distance control. Bunkers left of the green are an almost sure setup for bogey, and the back third or so of the green runs away from the player. The conservative play is a high ball to the front-right of the putting surface, setting up what may be a long birdie putt but protecting against the likelihood of an above-par score. The more aggressive shot may be along the ground into the right side of the green, using the slope to chase the ball in toward the hole.
Hole 11 - Par 3 - 173 Yards
With a 40-yard-deep green, No. 11 can play three clubs different from one day to another. This par-3 requires an accurate iron shot, ideally played to the right side of the green, where it can ride the contours of the putting surface toward the center. Three bunkers left of the green stretch almost completely from front to back and make for a difficult recovery. A fourth bunker should not be in play but for the worst mishits from the tee. Rather, the mound into which it is dug, rises and obscures the right side of the hole, hiding the fact that there is significant room right of the green to play either a low, running shot into this green or even to just bail out short of the green and set up a relatively straightforward pitch or chip to the hole.
Hole 12 - Par 5 - 518 Yards
The 12th hole is a dogleg-left three-shotter that plays around mature trees that demand a player respect the corner. Players who find the left side of the fairway may -- MAY -- have a longshot opportunity to go for this green in two. But conservative players may opt to simply aim at the short tree in the distance and simply attempt to find the short grass from the tee.
Players who find the fairway are likely to be met with a lie in which the ball is above their feet. Those who play for the green in two have to guard against hooking the ball from that lie into either the rough or, worse, the higher natural grass to the left, from which it may be impossible to play. They also have to avoid laying off at impact and sending their shot into one of the challenging bunkers right of the green. Those who choose to lay up must avoid the center bunker about 60 yards short of the green. Although this is a (somewhat) reachable par-5, players should consider par a solid score on this hole, where each shot proves more challenging than the last and the green is among the smallest on the course at less than 4,500 square feet.
Hole 13 - Par 4 - 292 Yards
At 292 yards, albeit uphill, many players may opt to simply pull the big dog and swing for the green on the par-4 13th. But Dye -- always the devil of a designer -- does nothing to make this hole easy. Missing left will leave players with a difficult downhill chip to a green that runs away. Missing short runs the risk of winding up in a central fairway bunker that may not yield a stance, let alone much chance of recovery. And missing right will either leave you with a short-sided pitch from thick rough or a long, difficult bunker shot from 30 yards or so.
Alternatively, players may opt to play a shot of less than 200 yards from the tee to the right side of the fairway for safety, but doing so will leave you with a difficult uphill wedge or short-iron shot that will have to carry multiple bunkers and not spin back of the green (and either down the fairway a long way or into the thick rough. Bottom line -- although this hole is only 292 yards, there is no easy way to play it and no shortage of creative options to get from tee to green.
Hole 14 - Par 4 - 286 Yards
A second consecutive par-4 playing shorter than 300 yards, the 14th hole offers players a completely different challenge. The hole doglegs left around a tall Oak and other trees that make the prospect of going at this green from the tee very risky business. a long bunker beyond the bend in the fairway makes for a further challenge from the tee. Players may want to take a shorter club -- potentially a hybrid or long-iron -- and play out to the right side of the fairway in order to set up a straightforward pitch downhill to the green. But more aggressive players can consider playing a draw around the trees in an effort to either find the green or leave themselves with little more than a chip to set up birdie. Find the trees, however, and it may be quite the adventure simply finding your ball, let alone playing to the green and making par.
From the right side of the fairway, the pitch to the green still must negotiate the overhanging limbs of the tall Oak tree at the bend. A low bump-and-run is likely the safest play to this green, which is guarded by three bunkers short-right. Hole locations tucked in the back-right of the green may call for a higher, lofted shot to carry the sand and set up a chance at birdie.
Hole 15 - Par 4 - 446 Yards
After holes 13 and 14, the 15th hole may be a shock to the golfer's system. This long, nearly 450-yard par-4 may feel like a grueling par-5 following the sub-300-yard holes that precede it. The hole calls for a fade off the tee, played out to the left side of the fairway in order to avoid the narrow bunker to the right, from which par becomes a near impossibility. But the farther left you play for safety, the more challenging the second shot it takes to reach this green in two.
From the fairway, it's at least a solid mid-iron to the 15th green and may be as long as a hybrid for some players, depending on where they've positioned their tee shot. The narrow green is protected by two bunkers to the right and high fescue to the left. This is not a birdie hole under all but the luckiest circumstances. Players may want to consider laying back with their approach shots to a comfortable distance in order to pitch onto the green in hopes of scrambling for par.
Hole 16 - Par 3 - 203 Yards
The 16th hole is the longest par-3 on the course. Playing to a long, elevated green, the challenge for those who pull enough club to reach the putting surface may be holding this green. Still, even at a length of 200 yards, this may be the easiest scoring hole of any par-3 on the course. Balls short of this green -- the largest on the course, by the way -- will allow for a relatively simple chip to the hole. And those that miss the green left or long will find a not-too-difficult pitch onto this putting surface. A small bunker left of the green, however, will make for an awkward stance and a challenging up-and-down for those unlucky enough to find it from the tee.
Hole 17 - Par 5 - 526 Yards
Fans of Pete Dye are used to seeing the various ways he tended to work railroad ties into his layouts, but it's a rare treat to come across a course on which he's worked an actual railroad car into the design! When Dye renovated Full Cry, he turned an actual flatbed railroad car into a bridge traversing this ravine. He constructed the tees for No. 17 on the opposite side so that players cross the railroad car bridge to reach the tee and then again after playing the hole's opening shot.
From the tee, the 17th offers up the club's one blind tee shot, playing up and over a rise in the fairway to the unseen landing area. Players can't see the way the fairway bends to the right or how it winds its way to the green well beyond the crest in the hill. Familiar players will aim their tee shots to the right side of the fairway and over the rise. I, on the other hand, hit my worst tee shot of the day here -- a dreadful pop-up to left field that settled just past the small bunker near the 16th green.
Uncertain of where I was headed, I picked a spot in the distance, said a quick prayer, and then smashed a perfect hybrid up and over the fescue between the holes and disappearing over the rise. I didn't know if I'd found fairway, rough, or the far-off tree line, and I was thankful to find when I made my way back to the 17th hole, that my ball had wound up perfectly placed in the center of the fairway, just left of a fairway bunker only about 80 yards from the green.
The approach to No. 17 plays to the second-smallest green on the course and the only green other than No. 12 that measures less than 5,000 square feet. Three bunkers front-left guard this small green, which slopes from back to front. Players may choose to play lofted shots into this green but need to account for the spin and slope, flying the ball beyond the flag in order keep it from coming back and off the front of the green. Or, they may opt to play a low-trajectory pitch shot or bump-and-run, using the slope of the green to stop their ball below the hole.
Hole 18 - Par 4 - 408 Yards
The finishing hole is classic Pete Dye, similar to the well-known 18th at TPC Sawgrass or the 18th at my home club, Pete Dye Golf Club, as it plays out to a fairway that looks more narrow than it is due to the way it angles from right to left with water to the left. A draw played up the right side of the fairway -- at the right corner of the main resort building in the distance -- will ride the slope of the fairway and set up the ideal approach to this green. But those with less control of the big stick may prefer to play a fairway wood off the tee and simply aim to land the ball in the most generous portion of the fairway to avoid either pulling the ball into the water or spraying it so far to the right that they have no shot at getting home in two.
With four bunkers left of the green (and water even farther left), the smart approach into 18 green is played out to the right, where the fairway extends beside the green and can be used to run a ball into this green. At just over 400 yards, this isn't a birdie hole, but it is a finishing hole on which birdies can be scored, allowing for a wonderfully dramatic conclusion to a round in competition. Any player who scores a birdie or even a par on No. 18 at Full Cry should feel a sense of accomplishment.
I really enjoyed my round at Keswick Hall. I'm sorry the member who arranged my round was unable to join me, but I really appreciated the opportunity to experience the course on such a terrific October day. And it was a treat that I was able to meet and host him at Pete Dye just a couple of weeks later.
Full Cry offers both variation and challenge aplenty from the first hole to the last. It's pure Pete Dye. But it also felt a bit like a kinder, gentler Pete Dye than the architect I encounter each time I play at home or on so many other Dye designs. It's evident he understood the assignment to make this a course that was fun, first and foremost -- a place where members and resort guests would enjoy playing without feeling like they'd been put through the wringer. It was a real joy to play and a course I'd be glad to return to any time I find myself in central Virginia looking for a place to swing the sticks.