My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#18, Par 4, 390 Yards
The final hole at Victoria National is a classic "Cape" hole where the question is how much of the water to carry to leave a shorter yardage into the hole. Water runs along the right side the entire way, as well as into the green. Playing Crooked Stick the day before, this hole was somewhat familiar as a finisher, except there was no strategic reason to hug the water, like Pete Dye had presented the day before. Just keep it on land and you'll have a reasonably shot into the green. No reason to be a hero and take on too much of the water.
Like many private clubs with "National" in their name, Victoria National partly caters to national members who travel from a long distance to get to the course. With that in mine, there are guest cottages on site to house visitors. I was a day-tripper, so I didn't get a chance to check these out. If I lived in Indianapolis, Louisville, or another city that was a short drive away, I'd say that this would be a good club at which to be a national member. It's a very challenging course that tests every club in your bag. Tee balls need to be accurate, as do approaches into the green. The test doesn't end once you arrive at the green either as the greens have a great deal of undulation and present few putts that are no-brainer two-putts. With that said, Victoria National seems to be a very polarizing course. Golf Digest has it in the nation's Top 50, while Golf Magazine doesn't rank it in its Top 100. Even more interesting is that Golfweek doesn't even rank it in the Top 100 of modern courses (built since 1960). In my opinion, Top 50 is a little high, but Top 100 is appropriate. I enjoyed my day at Victoria National, and it was a great way to finish off a fantastic weekend of great golf and great golf courses. Thanks so much to my host for making it happen.
#17, Par 4, 414 Yards
#17 and #18 are back-to-back par 4's with water on the right both times. Both holes are doglegs to the right. On this one though, it's a shot straight-away with no question of how much water to carry. Sand is on the right off the tee and also on the right into the green. Don't be silly and think you can carry the bunker off the tee. Just get it safely out there onto the fairway and keep away from all of the trouble.
#16, Par 3, 168 Yards
Probably the prettiest and most intimidating hole on the course. There is nowhere to miss on this shot with water on three sides. Actually the best place to miss is slightly short of the green, which luckily is where my miss-hit ended up. I only made two pars on the back side, and one of them was here. So, I had that going for me, which was nice.
#15, Par 5, 530 Yards
The last par 5 on the course is a chance to get home in two and score for the gutsy long hitter and a chance to manage your game and fight for par for the rest of us. The drive needs to get out there as far as possible and ideally down the left side. From there, it's a decision of how much risk to take. Getting to the green in two requires an heroic carry over water, though there is plenty of room to bail out on the right. The lay-up area if you don't want to go for the green isn't a hole lot easier. It's narrow and still requires you to take the water into account.
#14, Par 4, 406 Yards
The hardest hole on the side, and arguably the hardest hole on the course. It's a fairly long par 4 that goes uphill with a tight driving area that has woods on either side. There are no bunkers around the green, but it's all carry, and anything short presents a tough recovery. Par on this hole is a definite achievement.
#13, Par 4, 345 Yards
A straight-away shortish par 4 here. The ideal line is as far to the right of the fairway as you can get without ending up in the fairway bunker. Sand guards the entrance into the green from the left side, and it's well below the level of the green, making for a tough up-and-down. It gets pretty tough after this hole, so get a good score on this straight-forward hole while you can.
#12, Par 4, 317 Yards
Another short par 4, and again, it bends to the left, just like #2 and #4. This one is a bit different in that it has the fairway bunker on the inside elbow of the dogleg. However, it's still a drive and a pitch and favors a draw off the tee just like the first two short 4's. Fazio built three good short par 4's at Victoria, but I just wish he would have provided a bit more variety in them. If you're going to miss the green on your pitch shot, miss to the right as the left is ugly.
#11, Par 3, 176 Yards
The 11th will get your heartbeat going a bit, with water short and left. However, a good swing will result in a satisfying shot into the green. No tricks. Just step up and get it done.
#10, Par 5, 506 Yards
Making the turn to the second nine presents the second consecutive par 5. The 10th isn't anything terribly special, but it's still a solid hole. From the tee, there are bunkers on either side. Next, the hole bends to the left with an approach to the green that is a bit uphill with a large fall-off to the left of the green. It rained on us again as we approached the green, but after playing through a brief downpour, the rest of the day would be dry.
#9, Par 5, 508 Yards
Avoiding the fairway bunkers on either side is the key off the tee. From there, the second shot is played to a divided fairway with a bunker in between the two sides. A pot bunker side right at the front of the green which is flanked on the left by closely-mown grass and on the right by water. This is definitely a birdie opportunity to finish the opening nine strongly.
#8, Par 4, 391 Yards
It's about 250 yards to the fairway bunker on the right. While the hole is pretty straight as the crow flies, it plays as a subtle dogleg right. The drive needs to be aimed a bit left, and then a slight turn back to the right on the approach. Small pot bunker style traps are on either side of the green.
#7, Par 3, 152 Yards
Not a long shot here but a pretty intimidating one to a pretty narrow target. A long and slender bunker awaits on the left of the green, with hills on either side of the hole for a shot that misses the target.
#6, Par 4, 420 Yards
I said earlier that distance isn't really critical at Victoria National and placement is the key. The sixth hole is one of the exceptions to that rule. 420 yards from our tees made a driver necessary for the common man. The drive carries a ravine that should never come into play. The hole is bunker-free, but the #1 handicap, and it plays as hard as the hype. Missing to the right of the green makes for a very difficult up-and-down.
#5, Par 3, 170 Yards
After loosening back up on the fourth hole, it was time to take on the course's first one-shotter. The sun poked out, and it turned quite hot and humid as we faced this tricky shot. I was warned not to miss the green long and left no matter what, especially with the hole located in the back left corner. With the pin up on a plateau in the back of the green, it required a lot of restraint to not aim for the correct level of the green though. Bailing out into the middle of the green means a tough two-putt. Risk/reward at it's best.
#4, Par 4, 311 Yards
After some thunder and a bit of rain, it was safe to head back out. It was as if Fazio knew this would happen, since he built another short par four to face us after our bodies tightened up in the grill room. My only complaint with this hole is that it really wasn't loads different from the second hole. It's another soft bend to the left with bunkers on the outer side of the dogleg and again with sand guarding the front right of the green. Of course, the contours of the land make it look a bit different, but it plays quite similarly.
After hitting our approach to the third, we heard the first rumble of thunder of the day and were told to head into the clubhouse. This wasn't my host's first rodeo, and he headed right to the nearby shelter, which was something of a bunker dug through the hills. It was clear that they know that strong storms come through this area frequently and legitimate shelter is necessary. After being in there for a few minutes, we were summoned by the staff to come all the way into the clubhouse, where we'd hang out for an hour or so until the skies cleared and it was safe to head back out.
#3, Par 5, 508 Yards
Water lines the entire length of the left side but should be far enough left to be out of play for all but the worst of hooks. The approach into the green will be blind for those who don't hit their second shot far and up the left side.
#2, Par 4, 323 Yards
The second hole gives you your first look at the abandoned mining areas and ravines you'll see throughout the day. The hole is a short one, and definitely a chance to score with a good drive and a pitch. The hole bends a bit to the left, with fairway bunkers at the outer elbow of the dogleg. You can hit basically whatever you want from the tee.
#1, Par 4, 388 Yards
From the Chinook tees, the rule of the day will be to hit whatever club finds the fairways. The course isn't horribly long from these tees, but if you get out of position, you'll pay. The fairway bunker on the left can be carried, but doing so, lands you in a much narrower section of the fairway. Hanging back a ways is rewarded with a much wider target, but will obviously present a longer shot into the green. The green is guarded by two bunkers on the front right. A relatively tame opening hole, relative to some of the holes you'll face today.
Victoria National was my last stop on a whirlwind weekend of golf in Kentucky and Indiana. Driving from Detroit down I-75, I hit Valhalla first. After dodging some raindrops in Louisville, it was on to Indianapolis to play Crooked Stick the next day. After finishing a great round there, it was a three hour drive in the wrong direction to reach Victoria National for my final round of the trip. Was it worth driving three hours out of the way to see Victoria National? Definitely. All three clubs on this trip were modern designs, but Victoria National was the newest of them, having opened in 1998. The land at Victoria had been used for strip mines until 1977 and the course weaves wonderfully through the abandoned mining areas.
Victoria National was the dream of Terry Friedman, who wanted a course to host national tournaments and to test the world's best players. To achieve this goal, Friedman acquired 400 acres in Southern Indiana and hired a friend of his, Tom Fazio, to build a course. Fazio spend a lot of time on-site, working to try to build a masterpiece for his friend.
Of course, with the way national championships are awarded these days, it was probably a lost cause from day one to think that a US Open would ever come to Evansville, Indiana, but that isn't because the course isn't good enough. Simply put, Victoria National is a very hard and demanding golf course. Drives need to avoid ample trouble that exists at nearly every turn. Approaches need to find the correct section of the green to avoid a roller-coaster putt, and then the putts need to find the hole. I wouldn't saying playing Victoria National is necessarily "fun" golf, because you're seemingly always on your heels fighting for pars. However, it's still very good golf, and the landscape that faces you is gorgeous, extremely well-manicured, and very much worth seeing. The Web.com Tour agrees, as it brings its annual United Leasing Championship to Victoria National to test up-and-coming golfers looking to gain access to the PGA Tour. While most of the tournaments on the Web.com Tour are won at more than 20 under par, the winner of this year's tournament at Victoria finished at only -9. The course is a bear.
Friedman had hoped to get a US Open to come to Evansville, but so far it's the Web.com and a US Senior Amateur that have booked the course. Friedman died in 2004 before he saw his full dream of a US Open realized.
When I play Top 100 courses, more often than not, I look for a set of tees that measure somewhere in the 6,400-6,600 yard range. Being a 6-8 handicap and not all that long of a hitter, it usually presents enough of a test for me. With that said, I know I'm playing a nasty golf course when there are two or more sets of tees behind me, and that was the case at Victoria. The Chinook Tees are where we played from, which measure 6,423 yards and are rated at a strong 73.5 / 142 with a par of 72. That was enough statistical intimidation for me to not have any interest in testing my skills from further back. The Tecumseh Tees are 6,848 yards (75.1 / 145) while the tips, called the Victorian Tees," go all the way to 7,242 yards, and play are rated at a whopping 77.0 / 148. I'll quote the Chinook Tees below: