Bill Goodwin loves golf courses and also loves famed architect Pete Dye. When it came time to refashion Keswick Hall’s course, Goodwin had Dye on speed dial.
“Mr. Goodwin called me and said he wanted me to fix up a golf course for him, and I said fine,” Dye said Friday during a “soft opening” of his latest work. “But then, he started to hang up and I said, ‘Mr. Goodwin, do you mind telling me where it is?’”
Over the past year, Dye has become quite familiar with Keswick Hall and the result was on display Friday for a select few to experience.
With fox hunting having long been a portion of Keswick’s heritage, the new course bares out the history with a new name. “Full Cry,” a hunting term meaning to be in hot pursuit, takes its place as part of Dye’s long legacy of spectacular golf courses.
The grand opening won’t occur until sometime next spring, but there was no doubt that Dye had rebuilt Keswick into a winner for Goodwin. In fact, Full Cry has been named one of America’s Best New Courses of 2014 by Golf Digest’s Ron Whitten.
“I’m proud of this day, but I’m really excited about Pete Dye,” said Goodwin, president and chairman of CCA Industries, which owns Keswick along with a number of the nation’s top resorts. “Pete is the only one I know that I can give an unlimited budget and still exceed it.”
Joking aside, Goodwin has a long admiration for the 89-year-old Dye, going back to the early 1990s when they met in a courtroom. Goodwin, who had bought the Ocean Course at Kiawah, was there to confer with Dye, who had built the course and was testifying over an environmental issue. The two have been friends ever since, often calling one another for an hour or so, “just to shoot the bull,” Goodwin said.
The two have been involved with six courses since their friendship began.
“I wanted Pete to do one more for me, to be honest,” Goodwin said. “And this was available.”
Keswick’s original course was built in 1948 by Fred Findlay and renovated in 1992 by Arnold Palmer.
“I called up Arnold and told him that I have a job and it’s your golf course,” Dye said about the Keswick project. “I told Arnold that I planned to change it quite a bit and he said, ‘Oh, go ahead.’”
Dye, one of only four course architects inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame (Bobby Jones, Donald Ross and Alister Mackenzie are the others) did just that. Dye wanted to build a course that will challenge a really good player but at the same time be fair for high handicappers.
The championship tees are stretched back to more than 7,000 yards. Dye didn’t like Palmer’s bunkering in front of greens, making it too challenging, too penal for the high handicapper, so he opened up the fronts of greens so that players can approach the green via running the ball up along the ground or through the air.
Also, if a green is heavily bunkered on one side, that indicates to golfers that it’s wide open on the other, giving a player the option of bailing out.
Dye also dramatically changed several holes, including two of the tougher holes on the course, No. 9 and No. 18. The No. 9 green is now short of the road (Dye doesn’t believe that fairways should cross roads), and the No. 18 green now sits about where the old No. 9 green used to be.
“It’s a great piece of ground,” Dye said of Keswick’s Full Cry. “I wanted to make it so that everyone can walk the course if they choose. Even the high handicapper can walk it. You’ve got to make it walkable.”
Dye said he rebuilt all the greens, which golfers raved about during Friday’s round. He also put in a new irrigation system.
“We changed some holes,” Dye said modestly. “The second hole was a short par-4, and the third was a par-3, so I combined them and made a par-5 out of it. We put in a new hole somewhere along the line. The backside topography was different than the front but I was able to tie it together so that it’s not too hard to walk.”
The five different grasses Dye used on the course are just now starting to reach the desired point of progress, which pleased him greatly.
“Today, it just looks magnificent,” Dye smiled.
Goodwin was more than pleased with his new golf course.
“I love the par fours,” Goodwin said. “A lot of courses have par fours that are sort of similar. They’re dogleg right or dogleg left, but they’re 372 or 383 yards. On this course, you have a great variance of some really short par fours that you can have fun with, and some long par fours and some in the middle. I think it makes it more enjoyable to play.”
Most golfers agreed Friday that Keswick’s last three finishing holes are of high quality, certainly as challenging a finish as there can be found in Virginia.
The par-3, 16th is modeled after the 15th at Scotland’s North Berwick, deep bunkers on either side of the slanted green. Train tracks, a staple of Dye’s work for decades, run parallel to the par-5, 17th, which features an old flatbed railway car as the bridge to the tee boxes, surrounded by stately pines. The hole can stretch to nearly 600 yards, giving golfers as much challenge as they care to choose.
Full Cry’s 18th offers a dramatic change from its former finishing hole. With the same panoramic view of the hotel as before, the lake on the left becomes more into play than before.
“Our splendid new Pete Dye course puts us right on the map as a destination for golfers seeking the ‘best of the best’ courses,” said Greg Sligh, CEO and managing partner of Keswick Hall. “It has been and honor working with Pete and we can’t thank him enough for his design genius, creativity and passion for the game.”