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Golden Eagle Golf Club, Hidden Gem of the Chesapeake

John Torsiello, Contributing Golf and Travel Writer

Golden Eagle Golf Club
The Golden Eagle Golf Club, called by one golf publication "the toughest course that no one has ever heard of."
Irvington, VA (Sports Network) - For a quiet golf getaway it's hard to beat one of the real hidden gems of the East Coast - The Tides Inn and Golden Eagle Golf Club in Irvington, Virginia.

Nestled by Carters Creek and the Rappahannock River on the Chesapeake Bay, The Tides is a classic inn, located on 480 acres and surrounded by gardens and hidden sitting areas. The inn boasts 106 impeccably appointed and spacious rooms and suites and has four restaurants.

We were fortunate to stay for two nights and days in one of the inn's suites overlooking the Rappahannock and the inn's marina, which can accommodate yachts up to 125 feet in length. There's a neat little par-three course set up on the grounds of the inn and plenty of other recreational opportunities, including tennis, fishing and croquet. The center of Irvington, a sleepy little village far away from the hustle of bustle of Washington, D.C. some two and a half hours away, is a just short stroll from The Tides.

But for golfers the real attraction of the Tides Inn is the Golden Eagle Golf Club, called by one golf publication "the toughest course that no one has ever heard of." The Golden Eagle is carved out of Virginia woodlands dotted with dogwoods, hollies and mountain laurel, and routed around a 50-acre lake. The course opened for play in 1976, with the layout deigned by noted architect George Cobb and his associate, John LaFoy. The course features elevation changes and some 90 bunkers. It is considered such a fine tract that it has been chosen to host a number of regional tournaments.

The Golden Eagle recently underwent renovations that included the rebuilding of tees on numbers 11, 14 and 17, the complete redesign of the ninth-hole, re- sanding and edging of most frequently visited bunkers, and the removal of one bunker.

Cobb, who was a resident consultant at Augusta National when he designed the Golden Eagle, considered the Irvington layout one of the three best courses he ever designed. Paul Clute was in charge of the renovations to the course and the development of a long-term master plan. Clute has built over 100 courses and has earned numerous accolades for his work.

"Our priority was to restore the course to its original prominence," said Sedona Resorts' president George Lidicker, whose company manages The Tides Inn. "We are pleased with Clute's vision because it respected the Golden Eagle's original character yet clearly re-establishes it as one of the finest courses in the mid-Atlantic."

There are a number of superb holes at the Golden Eagle, making one play simply not enough. Number five is considered the toughest hole on the course. The tee shot must carry water guarding the entire left side of this demanding 463-yard par-four. This sets up a mid to long iron the green.

The real teeth of the course comes at the end. Number 16 is a long, 569-yard par-five that is almost impossible to reach in two. Number 17 is a testy 205- yard uphill par-three that might have even the best payers reaching for a fairway wood. And the 18th, a 380-yard par-four is a great finishing hole. The tee shot needs to be down the left side to avoid bunkers on the right. The second shot has settled many a match as it is across water to an elevated green. Bogey or worse is always in the equation here.

Golden Eagle Golf Club
The Golden Eagle, a par-72, plays to only 6,511 yards from the tips. But several doglegs and elevated greens make the course seem much longer than its actual yardage.
The Golden Eagle, a par-72, plays to only 6,511 yards from the tips. But several doglegs and elevated greens make the course seem much longer than its actual yardage.

Other Playing Options: If you're staying for a while in the Irvington area, there are several other good courses to check out, like The Tartan Golf Course in nearby Weems. The 6,586-yard tract was designed by Sir Guy Campbell of St. Andrews' Scotland and it's his only work in America. One of the best holes at the Tartan is the 553- yard, par-five third, which is guarded by two lakes that protect both the landing area for the layup shot and the putting surface itself. The sixth hole, a 479-par-five, has water on three sides of the green, making going for the tightly mowed grass in two a risky proposition.

Golf by the Piankatank River: Hop over the causeway that spans the Rappahannock River and head south a few miles and you'll find the Piankatank River Golf Club, considered one of the more scenic courses in the state. The front nine is tree lined with gentle rolling hills, while the back side flattens out and offers three holes routed along the Piankatank River.

Piankatank River, designed by Algie Pulley, is a challenging yet very enjoyable 6,751-yard, par-72 layout that demands precise shot making and nerves of steel. The best hole on the front nine is the monstrous, 460-yard, par-four eighth. Wetlands guard the entire left side of the hole and a fairway wood or long-iron approach must clear wetlands to find a small green. The 132- yard 11th is a nice little par three, which demands a tee shot over a pond with the Piankatank River lurking behind the putting surface. The par-five, 501-yard 16th is a superb risk-reward hole. The smart play is to lay up the left of the green to leave a short-iron third shot. Long hitters will be tempted to go for the green, but the approach must fly over wetlands.

A Player Friendly Tract: Quinton Oaks Golf Course, located a bit to the north of Irvington in Callao, bills itself as a player-friendly course with some of the best greens in Virginia. Water comes into play on several holes. The forward tees at Quinton Oaks were set by Alice Dye, president of the American Society of Golf Course Architects, and were designed specifically for female players. Perhaps the best hole at Quinton Oaks is the 515-yard, par-five 16th. It can be attacked in two by long hitters, but water guards the putting surface, making the safer play a layup and a short iron into the small green.

There's a nine-hole course called The Windjammer at the Windmill Point Resort in White Stone, only a few long tee shots away from The Tides.

For apr?s golf there are plenty are sightseeing opportunities and side trips to the numerous historic sites that dot what is known as "The Northern Neck" of Virginia. Again, this part of Virginia is a nice alternative to the more crowded and hectic Williamsburg area located further down the Chesapeake.

For information on The Tides Inn call 800-843-3746 or visit www.tidesinn.com. To contact The Golden Eagle Golf Club, call 888-528-1905. Other contact numbers: The Tartan Golf Course (804-438-6200); Piankatank River Golf Club (804-776-6516); Quinton Oaks Golf Course (804-529-5367).