It is a tragedy that talented architect Mike Strantz passed away at the age of 50 after succumbing to cancer in 2005. Strantz blossomed as an architect with a wide range of impressive courses. Many of his designs went beyond traditional formulas and often involved complex land movements which called for a consistently high level of short-making.
Strantz “cut his teeth” in working for Tom Fazio and in 1988 branched out onto his own. Although he only created nine courses at the time of his death — the finished efforts are still well regarded.
One of his most challenging layouts is located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Royal New Kent actually closed for a period of time and was fortunate to be rescued by a new management group. Located halfway between Richmond and Williamsburg, Royal New Kent provides a rollercoaster round of excitement. Reminiscent of an Irish links, the land twists and turns and demands a keen sense of direction at all times. Strantz eschewed boring flat bottom fairways and Royal New Kent mandates golfers pay strict attention in securing the best angle into the vexing putting surfaces because commonplace flat lies will be the exception and not the rule.
Among the finest holes is the devilish par-4 8th. Here you face a dog-leg right that provides a fairway comparable to the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy day. The key is trying to position one’s tee shot as close to the right side without being slammed by fairways bunkers on that side and rough that will swallow you as quickly as the shark in
“Jaws.” Keep in mind, a pesky stream lurks down the left side for those erring too far to that side.
Where you end up in the fairway dictates how much of the green one can see. Again, Strantz masterfully uses the land to keep players off balance. The putting surface contains plenty of internal movements and it pays to hit one’s approach to the correct side otherwise a quick and painful three-putt or worse awaits.
Beauty, challenge and shotmaking superbly intersect at the 8th. It would have been a real pity to see this course plowed under. Now, it’s the golfers who face being plowed under by not just the 8th hole but the course in its totality.
Welcome back Royal New Kent.