CHESAPEAKE, VA. -- Few golf courses have undergone as many changes in as little time as Cahoon Plantation Golf Club . It once had an 18-hole, par-3 course and 27 regulation holes. It once was surrounded by nothing but open fields.
Located three miles from I-64 in the rapidly growing Hampton Roads area of Virginia, development was inevitable. The par-3 course was eliminated in 2005, replaced by housing. The third nine disappeared the following year. On the back nine, new homes now line most of the fairways. Adjacent to the front, farmland has been replaced by concrete, making way for condominiums, which will be finished in the summer of 2014.
While the changes aren't what Cahoon Plantation had in mind when it opened in 1999, what remains is a stellar and unique 18 holes. From a flat, treeless, windswept canvas, designer Tom Clark fashioned a course with Scottish accents, setting it apart from the low-lying courses of the region.
Large mounds frame the fairways and hide surrounding homes. Raised greens give several holes majestic presence. Bunkers are large and plentiful, defining many of the green sites and fairways, though some are now filled with grass to cut maintenance costs.
Another aspect unique to Cahoon Plantation is the conditioning. While most of the courses of the Hampton Roads area have heat-resistant Bermuda -- and its customary sticky greens, wiry rough and spongy fairways -- Cahoon Plantation is the only course south of Richmond standout Kinloch that is all bentgrass. While the fairway lies are tight, the rough is consistent, and the greens are smooth, quick and true.
Only the longest of hitters will be able to tackle the tips at Cahoon, which measure 7,141 yards, playing to a rating of 74.5 and a slope of 137. The next longest set of five tees comes in at 6,456 yards with a rating of 71.4 and slope of 130.
Cahoon Plantation: The course
Players head in opposite directions from the clubhouse to reach the distinctly different nines. Holes on the front are crowded on a rectangular parcel of land, which is dotted by five ponds. Though running straight and parallel, the holes remain separate entities because of the extensive mounding.
While few homes are visible on the front nine at Cahoon Plantation, there isn't a hole on the back where homes aren't in play. Another prevailing theme on the second nine is water. No. 16 is the only hole where water is out of play.
The highlights are plentiful, beginning with No. 3, a gem of a short par 4, all visible from the tee, downhill to the fairway and uphill to the green. No. 6, the shortest par 4 on the course at 319 yards, comes with a decision to hit right to an ample fairway, left to a narrow one or straight at the green, and over a hill and a bunker. At 228 yards, No. 8 is by far the longest par 3 at Cahoon Plantation but plays to a generous, scenic plateau green.
The best holes on the back nine are 12 -- a 410-yard par 4 with spectacular bunkering around a tiny green -- and No. 15, a straightforward but strategic, 137-yard par 3 where players have to carefully choose their target on a sloped green fronted by a pond and backed by bunkers.
There are a few lowlights on the back. The first two holes seemed jammed into the property. No. 18 finishes in fine fashion with an approach toward the clubhouse and over water. But the tee shot, over a road and to a pinched landing area, is severe.
Cahoon Plantation Golf Club: The verdict
Getting to Cahoon Plantation Golf Club can be chancy as the primary access route, Route 17, narrows from four lanes to a two-lane drawbridge, crossing the Elizabeth River. Construction of a raised, four-lane span is underway but won't be complete until 2017 and will come with a toll.
Those who reach Cahoon Plantation find a stimulating layout. Designer Clark gave the featureless property character by moving lots of earth. Cahoon flows well and doesn't seem contrived.
Rates top out at $65, a small price to pay for a quality course that offers diversion with its Scottish feel and fine bentgrass conditions.