Field report:

Woodberry Forest Golf Club

By Michael J. Fay

Woodberry Forest Golf Club is a nine hole facility that is built on the grounds of the Woodberry Forest School. Woodberry Forest School is a private secondary school tucked in the woods a little north of Charlottesville Virginia. At least two famous figures of the golf world have graduated from Woodberry Forest, Watts Gunn (runner-up to Bobby Jones in the ’25 US AM) and Ike Grainger (President of the USGA at the time of the unification of the Rules of Golf with the R&A).

Two of the first three holes have been slightly re-routed due to expansion of facilities for the school, yet remain well within the parameters of the original design. Greens for number one and three have been altered (#3 is a green from another time, yet quite in line with Ross strategy). The second hole, one of three fine par three holes, remains pretty much what it was at the outset. Four through nine are exactly where Ross and McGovern put them. The essence of this routing is the maximum usage of the movement in the land. Tees are built on convenient promontories and the greens are of the push-up style allowing for efficient drainage.

The course is constructed as three triangles. One through three are par four, three and four with the three acting as the base for the triangle. The same can be said of four, five and six. Four plays down a slope to a delightful push-up green; five is a devilish short par three with a nasty end of the earth Ross green and six moves around a corner and back up the hill. Seven, eight and nine are quite clever. Seven is a five par that makes the player clear a water hazard on the second shot and play to a raised and somewhat obscured green. Eight is a shorter but no less demanding par five. It plays up a significant slope to a small, well guarded green. Number nine is the piece de resistance. At 190 yards it is a difficult club choice. Anything left, right or long is destined for a high number but a well struck shot that finds the green will be rewarded. The green defends par with a vengeance sloping significantly from back to front.

No plans remain for the Woodberry Forest Golf Club, but there is an aerial from possibly the 30’s on display in Walker Hall, the main building of the school. The aerial clearly shows that the course was once free of the many trees that now encroach. The other transparency is that the bunkering has almost fully changed over the years. Instead of the classic deep small bunkers for which Ross was so well known, the course now sports shallow, more decorative bunkers like those made popular in the 60’s and 70’s.

The trees and the bunkers aside, the course is in very good playing condition. The fairway grasses and the greens are uniform and healthy. The green surfaces are smooth and just grainy enough to make the man with the rolling iron think twice before striking a putt. The rough is a bear. A mixture of fescue grasses and Kentucky blue grass the rough will teach the player to be conservative off the tee. Finding the fairway is imperative.

Woodberry Forest School is enchanting. Tucked away in the hills of Virginia it is a modern secondary school with a long and revered heritage with emphasis on those values that have been proven to bring success to the graduates of the past 120 years.

The Ross course at Woodberry Forest is much like the school itself, an honored and respected institution.

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