Back in March of this year I received an email from Jeff, a member at Victoria National Golf Club, inviting me to join him for a game sometime. Of course I immediately accepted and we made plans that would suit both of our schedules since Jeff lives several hours away in St. Louis and would be traveling to the club as well. Victoria National is located in Newburgh, Indiana, near Evansville, and I determined that the most sensible approach would be to fly into the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport and rent a car so I could make a few other stops along the way and create a little golf trip of it.
Upon arrival in Kentucky I drove to Louisville for a visit to Valhalla. After spending the afternoon trying, unsuccessfully I might add, to wait out a rainstorm I finally gave up and struck out from the bluegrass state for bluer skies. I had a two hour drive ahead of me to get to Victoria National Golf Club where I would be playing the next day. Thankfully once I got outside the Louisville area the rain stopped and I had nice weather for my drive.
As I made my way to Newburgh from Louisville the drive was really quite pleasant. As usual I was very thankful to have my GPS unit on board to guide me through the numerous twists, turns and rural roads which would have made it incredibly easy to get lost along the way. At times I was really driving though the boonies. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so much corn . . . and I grew up in Nebraska!
Upon arrival I met Jeff and his friend Scott, also from St. Louis, at the clubhouse for dinner. It turns out that Jeff and Scott met on a flight going to St. Louis and struck up a conversation about golf which included Scott talking about my website. The two of them became friends and Scott suggested that Jeff invite me to Victoria National in order to help me with my Top 100 Quest. Luckily for me Jeff thought it was a good idea and extended the invitation. I’ve had a lot of random things lead to me playing Top 100 courses, but I have to say I really like that story.
So, once I arrived Jeff gave a quick tour of the clubhouse and a little history while we ate an excellent dinner and drank some fantastic wine. Like many other great golf clubs Victoria National is the result of one man’s dream. Terry Friedman had a dream to build a championship golf course that would one day be able to host a U.S. Open Championship. Mr. Friedman acquired a piece of property that had previously been used for strip mining, brought in his friend Tom Fazio to design and build the course, and when it was all said and done Victoria National Golf Club was born. Unfortunately, Mr. Friedman passed away March 20, 2004 having never seen his dream of hosting a U.S. Open realized. His final round of golf was played at the course he created, Victoria National, on March 19th the day before he passed away. This seems quite fitting to me. Also fitting is that the U.S.G.A. contested the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship at Victoria National in 2006. I’m sure Mr. Friedman would have been pleased.
The next morning we headed over the the golf course with ominous clouds overhead. It had been raining off and on in Evansville where we stayed, so I was hoping that I would not experience another rain out like I had the day before at Valhalla. Unfortunately, once we got to the club it really started pouring. We waited around in the pro shop for a break and watched the staff answer the phone as the tee time cancellations poured in. We decided that we were going out regardless and made the plan to switch from walking to taking carts. We thought this might keep us just a tiny bit more protected from the elements. After my visit to Bandon Dunes in June anything less than a monsoon was ideal playing conditions to me!
Now that we were mentally committed to getting the round in we loaded up the carts, took a few practice swings at the range and headed to the first tee. We decided to play from the “Chinook” tees which played 6,598 yards. With the course being so wet and the lack of roll this was about all the golf course we needed. I did find it a little humorous that Jeff referred to these as the “salmon” colored tees . . . The looked suspiciously like the “pink” tees to me! Regardless of color, these tees were no joke and boasted a rating and slope of 73.5 and 142 respectively.
Luckily for us, as we drove to the first tee the rain let up considerably. By time we were halfway down the 1st hole it had nearly stopped all together and that ended up being the last of the bad weather for the entire day. What an unexpected stroke of good luck. From the way things looked 20 minutes prior we were going to have a VERY wet day.
After a very soft and friendly start on the 1st hole I saw what Victoria National is all about on the 2nd hole. This short par 4 plays 323 yards and the drive requires a carry over water. The photo below was taken from the tee box and the safest line is to fire at the bunkers with a 200-210 yard club. Its not a hard shot, but it is as visually intimidating as they come.
The photo below is of the approach shot on the 2nd hole. Note the hole location which brings the bunker squarely into play.
Below is a photo of the approach at the 338 yard 4th hole which plays as a par 4. I feel like this picture is fairly indicative of what I found at Victoria National. Even a shot that looks fairly harmless has trouble lurking everywhere. To the left is a severe drop off with thick rough, shots that go long find a scrub area and the right side is protected by bunkers. Here you need to either hit it on the green or short. Very little room for error. I would find this all day long.
The 5th hole, pictured below, is the first par 3 we came to and it played from 183 yards from the Chinook tees. This is a demanding shot that requires precision with a long iron for most players.
Here is a bit closer look at the green. Getting it to the putting surface is only half the battle. Once the ball is there getting in the hole is no simple task either.
Next we have the hardest hole on the course as far as handicapping is concerned. This brute plays 427 yards from our Chinook tees (474 from the back tees) to a par of 4. The photo below was taken from the “salmon” tee box. Again the water doesn’t really come into play, but the visual intimidation factor cannot be underestimated.
Once you arrive at the green on the 6th hole it will be time for some flatstick magic. The photo below shows the undulations of the green. I thought this hole was deserving of its high handicap rating.
The 7th hole is another par 3 and this one played 152 yards from our tees. This one is pretty straight forward and I made a nice and simple par by hitting the green in regulation and two putts. That was my first green in regulation and my first par since the 1st hole! It was not going to be my day for scoring.
Closing out the first nine holes is the very solid 508 yard, par 5, 9th hole. The photo below was taken from the tee box and there is plenty of bunker trouble to be found for drives that are pulled or hooked. This one is reachable in two for fairly long hitters.
The 11th hole pictured below is another tricky par 3. This one played 176 yards from our tees and clearly there is no room for error short or to the left. The par 3s here really don’t provide any kind of relief. Each one of them is a tough shot.
Here is a little closer view of the green. This photo shows some of the contour of the green.
The second hardest hole on the course from a handicap standpoint is the 14th. This one is a par 4 that plays 471 yards from the back tees. The photo below was taken from the back tee box.
This photo below was taken from our shorter tee box and is a little less intimidating view. It is a fairly narrow fairway with little room for error to the left or right.
The 15th hole is a par 5 that we played from 535 yards. It doglegs pretty hard to the right and its important to hit a drive that favors the left side of the fairway so that the second shot will be hit from the ideal position.
The photo below was taken right at the dogleg. I hit a bad tee shot here (which is pretty much what I did all day) which did not put me in a good position for my second shot. For my third shot I still had a good 200 yards to go and I managed to stiff it to about six feet and make the birdie putt. The third shot here was definitely my best of the day.
Below is a photo of the 16th hole which is the final par 3. We played this one from 168 yards. Three of the four par 3 holes had water hazards and every one of them was tough. For all intents and purposes this one is an island green. Not an easy shot with a mid-iron.
And below is a closer look. This green is a pretty small target.
The final photo below was taken from the 17th tee. We played this hole as a 414 yard par 4. The key here is to be sure to carry the water and be sure to stay to the left and avoid the bunker.
I did not play well at Victoria National Golf Club. Part of it was was my fault and part of it was that the course is simply a stern test of golf. To play well here requires precision shots with steady ball striking and I was just not able to do that. There is a great deal of visual intimidation all over the course that didn’t exactly help with my lack of swing confidence. One misstep and things can go very very badly. Unfortunately, that is the thought that crept into my head most of the day as I stood over my shots.
Some days you play well and some days you just have fun and enjoy the company. Today was the latter for me. Jeff and Scott were good fun and we had a great time making our way around the course. If you are planning to visit Victoria National be sure to practice up and be ready to execute if you are hoping to score well. This course is no joke, but at least if it gets the better of you there is much to be enjoyed there outside of the scorecard. The course is aesthetically a pleasure to see and there are many opportunities to hit fun and exciting golf shots. Now I’ve got to hit the road and make my way back to Valhalla to see if I can get in an afternoon game without being rained out.