Using his golf course design skills to toughen-up seven U.S. Open venues, including Bethpage Black and Congressional, Rees Jones has earned the nickname the "Open Doctor." To hear players describe him, however, Dr. Kevorkian might be more appropriate.
After playing Jones' redesigned Cog Hill (Ill.) in 2010, an exasperated Phil Mickelson said: "I just don't think I'm good enough to play this golf course."
But there are few such complaints at the Club at Viniterra, an original Jones design east of Richmond. The big, muscular course has wide, tree-lined fairways, expansive greens and only one significant water hazard.
In addition, Viniterra has a unique hook, sharing land with New Kent Winery, just a gap wedge from the clubhouse across Angel's Share Drive. The course incorporates working vineyards alongside some of the fairways, which may whet the appetite for an award-winning, post-round Chardonnay in the elegant winery instead of a beer in the clubhouse.
|The Club at Viniterra|
|Where » New Kent, Va.|
|Designer » Rees Jones|
A drink could be necessary for those bold enough to play from the back tees, which measure 7,725 yards. But if there's a course one could comprehend taking on such length, it's Viniterra.
Many of the tees are elevated. Many of the holes are downhill and few are visually intimidating. Difficulty comes in the form of deep, sprawling, artistic bunkers, which provide definition and dictate strategy.
"We've designed this golf course for everybody," Jones told reporters at the course in May. "We've got length for the bombers and shorter tees for those like myself who don't hit it very far anymore. What you see is what you get in terms of being able to see most every shot on the golf course."
Viniterra was opened in 2009, but until recently was closed to public play. With tee-time websites offering rounds for as low as $40, many golfers are discovering the course and the winery.
"It has a different feel than any course I've played around here -- new and still traditional," said Jerry Mitchell of Petersburg. "Everything is right in front of you, no surprises. If you get in trouble here, it's because you've hit a bad shot."
Competing with one of the most highly acclaimed courses in Virginia, Royal New Kent, seven miles to the southeast, is difficult. In 1997, Golf Digest named the Scottish-style throwback the best new upscale course in America.
But aside from their proximity and excellence, the courses have nothing in common. While Royal New Kent is full of quirky twists, turns and blind shots, Viniterra is straight-forward and uncomplicated.
"There are generous fairways and open approaches to many of the greens," Jones said. "If you happen to go over some greens, there are catch basins and grass hollows to capture those shots."
In other words, those expecting a brutal U.S. Open-like challenge from the evil Open Doctor, should check into Bethpage or Pinehurst No. 2.