‘I see a hundred great golf holes here, my challenge is to pick the best 18.’ Tom Fazio
One of the more fascinating inland courses from the 1990s, Victoria National is a private members club built on a reclaimed strip mine near the small southern Indiana town of Newburgh. Dominated by a complex system of lakes and ravines, the layout is among the best by architect Tom Fazio, due to his intelligent use of the existing hazards and his ability to fashion some fairly severe features into exciting golf. These remarkable ‘natural’ features were actually a by-product of almost 50 years of mining operations on the site, the lakes formed when miners reached underground springs and the exhumed areas filled with water.
Running through the property with great irregularity, the lakes are a mix of widths and depths and often come complete with vertical cliffs crashing directly down into the water below. The ideal landscape for an eye-catching modern design, Fazio’s great achievement here was to integrate the hazards into a seamless, walkable course that both thrills the average golfer and tests the better hitters. From the back tees the layout is a little tighter than some will expect from Fazio, while the greens are also unusually steep and in many areas are built with effective chase-in areas that allow players the option of flirting with a hazardous side by bouncing in their approach shots.
The routing is Victoria National’s real strength, however, as twelve holes touch water and the rest are blessed with enough elevation change to create interesting challenges. A river bending around the 2nd and 3rd fairways acts as a course boundary and feeds a large interior lake that the designer used to separate his two nines. The opening and closing areas are probably the most impressive parts of the course, the central holes not lacking for drama or visual excitement but the first six and final few are where most of the quality can be found.
Of the longer holes, early standouts include the strategic mid-length 2nd, played over and along steep cliffs and with its green bunkered to favor a tee shot placed down the dangerous left side. Another is the bunkerless par four 6th, dominated by a large triple-tier target collapsing to the front and built with a substantial left-to-right slope. The par fives are equally intriguing, the 3rd initially follows the perimeter river but turns sharply inland as you near a skinny front-to-back green hidden behind a large mound while the 9th is a solid driving hole that heads over a bunkered crest and then down along a split fairway toward the main lake. On the back nine the heavily treed 14th is an excellent two-shotter that rises steeply into a tiered green fronted by a large depression. The 15th is then an heroic risk/reward par five that demands an accurate drive through trees followed by either an aggressive shot from a falling fairway over a pond or a really tight layback squeezed between water and thick native grasses.
The par threes are also outstanding. Aside from the 7th, each measures in excess of 200 yards and is dominated by water, the best being the spectacular 5th, which crosses two fingers of water and has a third located behind its narrow peninsula green. The most frightening is the 16th, played downhill to a small putting surface almost totally surrounded by trouble. Completing a treacherous finishing stretch, the next two are long par fours bending right around lakes. The 17th heads into an elevated green guarded by sand on one side and clever swales on the other, while the 18th turns 90 degrees around a lake meaning most approach shots are hit with a long iron from the neck of the fairway to a nasty green that falls toward the water.
For an architect like Tom Fazio Victoria National was an extraordinary opportunity, as it is hard to imagine any client allowing him the freedom and budget to shape such vast lake structures. Of all the Golf Digest Top 100 courses overlooked by Golf Magazine, this is the highest ranked and, given its quality, one of the most surprising omissions, especially considering that other Fazio track’s like Sea Island and Trump National appear on their list. Victoria National is more impressive than both of these courses and, if given the opportunity, is a layout that readers will thoroughly enjoy playing.