Following my round at Keswick Hall, I made the short, 20-minute, drive east on I-64 to Zion Crossing, Virginia, and Spring Creek Golf Club. Spring Creek currently ranks No. 100 on Golf Digest's list of the Top 100 Public Courses in the U.S. The course was designed by Ed Carton, a one-time disciple of Tom Fazio, and opened in 2006, when Golf Digest ranked it the No. 1 Best New Affordable Course in the Nation.
I didn't know much about Spring Creek coming into my visit. It was a new addition to the Golf Digest rankings in 2021, and in my haste to plan this overnight, 36-hole road trip, I hadn't taken much time to research the course. When I arrived, my first impression was that it felt very much like a private club. From the team of young staff waiting at the bag drop to the conditions of the grounds and impressiveness of the clubhouse, I started to understand that this would be an elevated public course experience. In point of fact, Spring Creek does have an active membership, but that membership seems to be focused more on convenience (earlier access to tee times, discounts on merch and golf fees for guests, etc.) versus exclusivity. And, playing in the fall, I was able to book a Saturday afternoon tee time for about $70, cart included.
Spring Creek may not win awards for architectural significance, but you'll be hard-pressed to find a prettier, better-conditioned public course that winds through a residential community the way this course does. Thoughtful routing has made it such that the nearby homes really never come into play as you make your way through the valleys and over the ravines that border and shape Spring Creek. The course measures 7,348 yards from the Championship tees -- long enough to challenge just about anybody. Four other sets of tees offer options all the way down to 4,677 yards. Further, the scorecard offers combination tees for a grand total of eight different course lengths, making Spring Creek enjoyable for players of just about any skill. I played from the 6,555-yard combo tees, so all yardadges mentioned from this point forward in this blog post will reflect the distances that tee set.
(Of note, each of the holes at Spring Creek bears a name in Middle English, and I've been working to figure out why those names in that specific form of English were used. Often times, when you find a course where the holes are named and the naming convention for the holes involves a language or dialect other than modern English, there's an obvious connection to be made. In some cases, it may be the language of Native Americans who are local to the area. Or, it might be the language of those Europeans who first settled in a particular region. But Middle English -- a language that hasn't been in use since the late 1400s -- was a mystery. I reached out to Kevin Haney, PGA Head Professional at Spring Creek, and Kevin was kind enough to do some digging. He called the club's original director of golf and even reached out directly to course architect Ed Carton, but neither of them had an answer. What Kevin could point out is that the Middle English words used from hole to hole do align with some of the characteristics of each hole. But, like the mystery of the word "Croatoan," carved into a tree where the lost colony of Roanoke Island disappeared in the late 1500s, the answer to the question of why Middle English was used to name the holes continues to elude me. If and when I do find an answer, I'll be sure to return and share it here. In the meantime, the University of Michigan has a terrific Middle English compendium online where you can look up the names of the holes at Spring Creek if you're so inclined.)
I knew I was in for a long round when I reached the first tee. There was a foursome in the fairway just across the span of the forced carry and another foursome just beyond the fairway bunkers in the distance, waiting to hit their approach shots into the green. Playing as a single, I was paired with a bit of an odd couple -- a twosome made up of a high school junior and a late-20s former Marine who claimed to work for a "three-letter federal agency," which may or may not have been true. They'd apparently met at some point at an in-door golf simulator, and I never could quite figure out their friendship. But they were nice-enough golfing partners, and as we worked our way through what turned out to be a five-hour round, I allowed myself to find more amusement than I should have in their constant commentary about how much better they both were than their play ever indicated.
Hole No. 1 - Par 4 - 389 Yards - "Springe Creke"
The opening hole at Spring Creek is an uphill dogleg-left featuring an 80-yard-long fairway bunker on the left. It takes quite the bomb off the tee -- about 260 yards -- to clear that bunker. The safer play is to aim at the far fairway bunker -- 290 yards out -- and keep it to the right half of the fairway. The tee shot through the chute in the trees can be a bit intimidating to open the around, especially with the forced carry over the brush and high grass, but the course opens up considerably after about 150 yards.
From the right side of the fairway, most players will likely face a mid-iron shot into this large green. A single large bunker wraps its way around the green from front-center to back-left, and players may want to bail out a bit to the right, where the fairway cut will allow the contours near the green to feed the ball back toward the putting surface.
Hole No. 2 - Par 5 - 532 Yards - "Ambicioun"
No. 2 is a long, straightaway par-5. The tee shot should be played to the right side of the fairway, away from the fairway bunkers and forest to the left. There is room to miss right of the fairway without too much penalty. A small creek traverses the fairway and might come into play off the tee for long hitters. It was about 270 yards out from the tees I played. Big bombers may want to lay back with a fairway wood to ensure they stay dry for their second shot.
Having popped my tee shot up a bit and off to the right, I found myself with a fine lie in the rough off the fairway. I'm sure this course can be conditioned to play very difficult when they grow the rough up, but it was a reasonable length for recreational play the day I visited, and it was easy enough to get a hybrid on the ball for my second shot across the creek. Again, the best play is to stay down the right side of the hole, but be sure to take enough club to carry the fairway bunker on the right in order to avoid giving up a stroke and keep alive your chances of reaching the green in regulation.
The approach to the green on No. 2 offers players the option to run the ball into the left side or take on the bunker that guards the right side of this large green. Despite its length, this hole offers players a reasonable scoring opportunity with generous landing areas and a relatively flat green. Lay up to the right position and knock a wedge close, and you could come away with a not-so-difficult birdie.
Hole No. 3 - Par 4 - 389 Yards - "Bulwerk"
The high grass and brush in front of the tee on No. 3 work to create the illusion of trouble at Spring Creek and can really work on a player's confidence. But much like the first tee, that hazard only stretches out 150 yards or so. The real trouble off the tee on the third hole is the fairway bunker on the right side of the hole. Another bunker left of the fairway is only in play for short hitters or in the event of a mis-hit. Beyond about 200 yards, there is plenty of room to miss left of this fairway.
Players who find the fairway off the tee are likely to have no more than a mid- or short-iron into this green. The approach shot plays across a creek and must avoid the huge greenside bunker left to a green that slopes hard from left to right. There is room to miss the green to the right, leaving an uphill chip to try to save par. This was one of those fun holes where both of my playing partners hit terrible approach shots into the creek and then assured one another that they'd both be putting for birdie if they hadn't just let the club slip a little or lifted just a bit at impact because of some imaginary bird chirping in the woods. Seriously, it might have been annoying if they weren't so good-natured, but I think they really were convinced that they're just a couple of adjustments from playing on the PGA Tour. And I enjoyed the back-and-forth between them as our slow day continued.
Hole No. 4 - Par 4 - 362 Yards - "Narwe"
Playing parallel to and in the opposite direction of No. 3, the fourth hole is much tighter off the tee. The fairway appears wide -- and it is until you get about 220 yards out from the tee, at which point it pinches in to a very narrow runway with a large fairway bunker to the right. There is room to miss left, but strategic players may opt to lay up off the tee and play a shot of 150 yards or so into this large green.
The fairway bunker on No. 3 -- like most bunkers on the course -- isn't particularly deep and may not prove to be terribly difficult for good bunker players. Still, the inconsistency of playing long iron shots from the sand can make these bunkers a challenging obstacle for players in pursuit of pars at Spring Creek.
From the fairway, the approach shot plays slightly uphill to a large green protected by two bunkers short-right. Players who go long of this green will be met with a very difficult recovery shot to a green that runs from back to front. The safest approach may be a low, running shot through the opening in the fairway, using the slope of the green as a backstop keep the ball on the green and set up a possible birdie opportunity.
Hole No. 5 - Par 3 - 167 Yards - "Protecten"
No. 5 is a mid-length par-3, playing downhill to a boomerang-shaped green guarded by bunkers left, right and long. With a forced carry off the tee to a green that slopes away from right to left, any shot that finishes on the putting surface is a good tee shot. When the flag is on the right side of the green, any ball played to that half could yield a birdie. But when the hole is cut on the left side of the green, players may want to stay conservative and play for par versus challenging the bunkers or risking a difficult short-sided chip by aiming at the flag.
Hole No. 6 - Par 4 - 369 Yards - "Chalenge"
Spring Creek's signature hole, No. 6 beckons players to tee it high and attempt to fly the 40-yard-long bunker on the right side of the fairway. For those who do -- and who successfully carry the 235 yards or so it'll take to make it over the bunker -- the reward is a relatively easy short-iron shot into this green and a very real chance at making birdie. Players who aim more to the left have about 250 yards of fairway before reaching the far fairway bunker. But beware; balls pulled too far left will will bound downhill to the left toward the forest.
The approach on No. 6 plays to a green that runs from back to front and gets wider as it gets deeper. Landing the approach on the front of the putting surface may offer the best chance at an uphill birdie putt, particularly to a front or middle pin position, but finding the narrow slip of green may prove a challenge. Meanwhile, the back half of the green is easier to hit with your short-iron approach, but you may very well be left with a downhill putt that proves difficult to stop near the hole. Pick your poison.
Hole No. 7 - Par 4 - 426 Yards - "Bitwene"
The 7th hole is possibly the most difficult driving hole on the golf course with a 40-yard-long bunker left of the fairway, and a 75-yard-long bunker right. At more than 425 yards, most players will feel the pressure to hit driver off this tee in order to have a chance at reaching the green in regulation, but there's no room to sacrifice accuracy for distance here. This is one hole on the front nine -- perhaps the only hole -- where the player's tee shot needs to be long and straight.
The hole bends slightly from left to right, and players will find the approach easier from the left side of the fairway, which will allow you to run your second shot through the fairway, up onto the left side of the green. A large bunker guards the front-right side of the green and sits well below the putting surface, making for a difficult recovery, especially when the pin is tucked on the right side. The safe miss on No. 7 is left of the green, where a collection area offers the opportunity to chip or even putt onto the green and potentially save par.
Hole No. 8 - Par 3 - 151 Yards - "Benigne"
This mid-length par-3 is probably my favorite one-shot hole on the course. The two on the back nine are both good holes, but I particularly like the openness of No. 8, which plays downhill to a green that runs away from front-right to back-left. A large bunker protects almost the entire front side of the green, and the farther left the hole is tucked, the more difficult the shot to carry the sand. The smart miss on this hole is front-right of the green to the fairway cut, which could carry the ball onto the putting surface or, at the least, leave the player with a reasonable opportunity to scramble for par.
Hole No. 9 - Par 5 - 495 Yards - "Connen"
From the tee, No. 9 looks a bit similar to the 7th hole, bending gently from left to right, with fairway bunkers on both sides of the hole. In this case, however, they exist more for the psychological effect than any actual impact they might have on the shot. The bunkers on the right are nearly 300 yards away from the tee, and the bunkers on the left are even farther. Save for the trees on either side, there is a lot of room to tee it up and let it fly. This is a scoring hole -- the easiest hole on the front nine -- and the only things you need to do for a successful tee shot here are to hit it as far as you can and keep it in play.
From the fairway, players have the option to lay up -- needing only to play a short- or maybe a mid-iron to get beyond the fairway bunkers and set up a wedge into this green. Or, they can go for the green in two with the confidence that comes from knowing there's no significant trouble in the vicinity of the putting surface. No. 9 is the only hole on the front nine with no greenside bunkers, and the wide open fairway serves as runway, making it relatively easy to bounce a fairway wood, hybrid or long-iron onto the putting surface. Barring a mis-hit into trees, this hole is the best opportunity for birdie on the front and will give up more than its fair share of eagles.
Hole No. 10 - Par 4 - 384 Yards - "Rigge"
The back nine opens with a really fun dogleg-right par-4. Conservative players can aim a 200-yard shot at the far bunkers to set up a mid- to long-iron approach into the green. More aggressive players may aim over the right bunker, where it'll take a shot of about 215 yards to reach the fairway. Be warned, however, that another bunker on the left side of the fairway will capture balls on that line if they run out beyond 255 yards or so. And very adventurous players will setup to start their drive over the fairway bunker on the right with a fade around the trees. Failure -- a slice into the trees -- could be disastrous. But success could result in a shot of just 80 or 90 yards into this green.
The approach on No. 10 plays uphill to a large green -- some 100 feet long by 75 feet wide -- guarded by a long bunker short-right. The green itself sits in a bit of a bowl with mounding left, right and long such that almost any chip shot from off the green will be played downhill to a green that runs back toward the fairway except for the back left, where the putting surface falls off sharply. The safe miss on this hole is short-left, but players will find this generally receptive to most approach shots.
Hole No. 11 - Par 4 - 377 Yards - "Magnificence"
Hole No. 11 is a straight, mid-length par-4 playing across a creek and uphill from tee to green as you climb toward the highest point on the golf course. A fairway bunker on the right side sits about 220 yards out from the tee, while another on the left rests about 260 away. Players may opt to aim toward the left fairway bunker and play a cut to hold the right-to-left sloping fairway. And longer hitters may want to play a fairway wood off the tee to keep their tee shot short of the bunker on the left, setting up a short-iron into the green.
The approach on No. 11 plays to an elevated green. The rising face of the greenside bunker makes it appear as though there's a significant portion of the putting surface on the other side of the sand. In fact, though, the green is primarily right of the bunker, sloping from back to front and left to right. Although this looks like a relatively simple approach, don't lose focus. Playing out of the greenside bunker can make for a near-impossible up-and-down.
Hole No. 12 - Par 5 - 499 Yards - "Precis"
A reachable, downhill par-5, No. 12 begins with a semi-blind tee shot to a fairway that crests a rise roughly 210 yards off the tee. Avoid the bunker on the left; there's nothing to be gained by trying to carry it on that line. Rather, aim down the right side of the fairway and swing away. Balls that reach the other side of the rise will run out a long way and ride the slope of the fairway back toward the center.
Those who intend to go for this green in two need to contend with the dual bunkers short-right. Players can run a low ball into the far left side of the putting surface, and the day I played Spring Creek, that was ideal with a front-left pin position. But when the hole is cut back right on this green that slopes from right to left, players with eagle on the brain may want to play a high fade into this green, risking that any ball that comes up short may wind up beached and require a short-side up-and-down for any hope of a birdie. More conservative players should find this hole a fairly simple three-shot hole with no trouble laying up and reaching the green with a wedge from a distance they prefer. No. 12 isn't an easy birdie hole, but par should feel fairly routine to most players.
Hole No. 13 - Par 3 - 176 Yards - "Prudent"
The 13th hole is a challenging mid-length par-3 with large bunkers front-left and front-right. This T-shaped green features a significant false front, meaning most pin positions will require a shot over one of the two bunkers. A center-cut hole location will have little level ground toward the back of the green to hold a ball, while those that find the false front will wind up in a collection area significantly below the putting surface. No matter where the hole is cut, No. 13 proves a challenging hole where par is a very good score.
Hole No. 14 - Par 4 - 379 Yards - "Streme"
No. 14 is a mid-length par-4 featuring a double fairway, separated by 60-yard length of mounding and rough that snakes its way up the center of the hole right in the landing area. The hole is situated on a hillside that slopes from right to left, and players who find the lower portion of the fairway on the left will have an easier angle of attack to the green, playing into the hillside. The fairway is wider to the right, however. The trade, then, is a more difficult tee shot for an easier approach or an easier tee shot for a more difficult approach.
From the left side of the fairway, players have the option to play the ball right at the flag, knowing that they'll be able to stop their approach on the green with the help of the hillside sloping in from the right and from behind the putting surface at this angle.
From the right side of the fairway, anything left of the flag risks running off the green and down into the thick rough that sits below the putting surface to the left. The safer option from this side is to play a low, running shot up the right side of the fairway and allow the hillside to bring the ball back toward the center of the green. This is the only hole on the back nine without bunkers, but don't let that trick you into believing this hole is an easy birdie or even a par. From the split fairway, the thick trees, the hillside, and the greenside low areas of rough, to one of the more undulating greens on the course, the 14th holds plenty of challenge.
Hole No. 15 - Par 4 - 420 Yards - "Enticen"
From the back tees, No. 15 plays as a long par-4 with the opening tee shot across needing to carry Bear Creek Parkway, a two-lane road that cuts through the Spring Creek development, and then over a valley of dense natural vegetation before reaching the fairway. It's a forced carry of about 180 yards to reach the short grass. The fairway itself is generous and gently sloped from right to left. From the back, it's a long way out to reach the fairway bunker on the right -- a poke of about 280 yards. But for those who play from the middle and forward tees across the parkway, the bunker is very much in play.
From the fairway, the approach plays to an elevated green guarded by a deep bunker that sits well below the putting surface on the left. Players will do well to aim the second shot well right of the flag and allow the hillside to feed the ball back toward the hole. Take care to pull the right club for this shot. This green measures 40 yards in length, and playing to the right distance could very well be the difference between a birdie or a bogey.
Hole No. 16 - Par 4 - 344 Yards - "Forteress"
Everybody loves the 18th hole at Spring Creek, and it'll be easy to see why when we get there in a few minutes. But I actually think the 16th may be my personal favorite. This is a birdie hole that offers players multiple strategic options from the tee. A mid-length par-4 that doglegs left, No. 16 offers big hitters the option to play a draw around the trees and set up an easy wedge to the green. But another split fairway creates an interesting choice and challenge from the tee for players of more moderate length. Playing to the left side -- the lower side of the fairway -- will set players up with the shorter shot into this green, while playing to the right side of the fairway will yield a longer approach but more opportunity to play through the air or along the ground, using the full depth of the green to get your ball close to the hole.
Much like the 15th green, the putting surface on No. 16 sits below a hillside to the right and well above a large, deep bunker to the left. The bunker is to be avoided at all cost, as any play from there will feel like a short-sided shot to this long, narrow green. The farther right you are in the fairway, the easier it is to run a low shot along the ground into the right side of this two-tiered green that runs from front to back.
This is my favorite photo from my day at Spring Creek, looking back at No. 16 from behind the green. By this point in the afternoon, our round had taken about 4:20 already as we played behind the slow groups in front of us. The sun was starting to set, and I love the way the trees above the hole caught the golden light so late in the day. When I saw that, I also started to worry that we might be finishing in the dark!
Hole No. 17 - Par 3 - 181 Yards - "Grandis"
The 17th is a challenging par-3 guarded by a large bunker that sits below the green to the left and a low collection area in the fairway cut short and right of the green. The green itself is narrow in the front and grows wider as it moves toward the rear. Find the right level on this two-tier green, and there may be a birdie to be found. But playing to the back of the green when the pin is up front can make for a difficult two-putt just to save par.
Hole No. 18 - Par 5 - 515 Yards - "Formidablis"
The 18th hole is Spring Creek's signature hole and undoubtedly its most dynamic. This long par-5 features water down the entire left side, cutting in at multiple points along the way to pinch the fairway and force players to contend with the water as they work reach the green. As we stepped to the tee and looked at the hole in front of us ... how the colors of the sunset reflected in the lake ... I pegged my ball and told my playing companions that there's nothing out there but fairway. Then, after playing a very nice drive down the right side that seemed to give the other guys confidence about their own upcoming tee shots, I said, "Of course ... if I knew you guys better ... if you were friends of mine ... I would have pointed out instead that that lake is huge! Just massive, really, and hungry for golf balls." I'm not 100% sure what effect that had on their confidence, but sometimes ... when you're approaching five hours on a golf course ... a little mischief is in order. The fact that they both proceeded to hook their tee shots into the middle of the lake was probably just coincidence. Regardless, they allowed each other mulligans and did manage to put those balls down the left side of the fairway.
Another snake-like mound of thick fairway in the center of the fairway on No. 18 -- much like similar features on the 14th and 16th holes -- can turn a well-struck tee shot into a challenging second shot. Players on the left side of the fairway need to play their second shots over a slip of water that cuts into the fairway, laying up in the direction of the right fairway bunker in the distance. Longer players off the tee may consider going for this green in two, but it's a lot more risk than reward, as the hole narrows the closer one gets to the green. Such a shot either needs to carry more than 200 yards of water or draw in from the right and avoid both the water and the sand that guards the green.
From the top of the mounding in this split fairway, it's a bit easier to see how prominent the water plays all the way to the green, as well as the challenge of the bunkers that guard the green left-front and long-right. Most players will want to simply lay up down the right side of the hole to a spot in the fairway that affords them a comfortable wedge into this green.
It was darker than this photo indicates as I reached my ball for my third shot on No. 18. I hadn't played my second far enough or right enough to make this approach as straightforward as it ought to have been. From here, the options are to contend with the water and the large bunker short-left of the green or to play farther out to the right, hoping to catch the small bit of green front-right, where the pin happened to be on this particular day.
With the clubhouse in the background across the water, you can see in this photograph that the green slopes from back to front across two tiers and falls off sharply to the front. Landing your approach on the proper tier is paramount, as putting on this green can be difficult at best when playing from the wrong level of this green. Furthermore, it's easy to see here how daunting it might be to play from the right bunker, with a relatively narrow green and both sand and water lurking on the other side. Seeing a par-5 closing hole on the scorecard may give players hopes of finishing with a birdie, but anyone who finishes out their round at Spring Creek with a par on No. 18 will have earned it.
The sun was fully set by the time I unloaded my clubs from my cart, and I was really thankful that we just barely got the round in before it became too dark to play. Spring Creek's finishing hole is worthy of being remembered, and I would have hated to have missed out on playing it. It's a terrific end to a really strong course. It's easy to see why the club's members and the public who play it enjoy this course so much. From the impeccable conditioning to a layout that is both challenging and a lot of fun, it's a course I can definitely imagine coming back to play again some time ... though maybe a little earlier in the day, when I may sweat the shots I need to play but not so much the dying of the light.