Waterford Offers Friendly Layout at a Friendly Price

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

Editor's note: Waterford Golf Club is the No. 5 Course on our Top 10 Best Values of Charlotte list. Read on for reviews of our No. 4 course, Crescent Golf Club, our No. 3 course, Olde Sycamore, as well as reviews of our No. 2 course, Charlotte National, and our No. 1 selection, Stonebridge Golf Club.

ROCK HILL, SC – It is hard not to like Hale Irwin the golfer. And playing his cleverly designed layout at the Waterford Golf Club certainly won’t help you develop any ill will towards Irwin, the course designer. On the Senior Tour, Irwin is congenial and fan friendly. But when it comes time to get down to business and pocket a first place paycheck, the former U.S. Open champion is calculating and competitive.

If people tend to look like their pets, then golf courses tend to take on the personality of their designers. Waterford is an extremely playable course, from its opening par 4 dogleg right (deep sigh of relief slicers) to its dramatic 434-yard finishing hole.

“One of the things we tried to do is make it (this course) very user friendly,” says head professional Jeff Holler. “We don’t have a par-3 until the fifth hole to help out pace of play. The first hole is a dog leg right, which makes it easier for the average player that hits a slice.”

And the pace of play considerations don’t stop there.

“At 548 yards, the par 5 second hole is just long enough so good players can get on in two,” says Holler. “But your average players will have to get on in three. That way we don’t have people waiting in the fairway.”

But Waterford is about a lot more than pace of play considerations. For one, there is the piece of land. Hale Irwin is a lot of things, but an engineer he is not. So the native Missourian must have had some trepidation about constructing a golf course along the side of the Catawba River.

If he did, Irwin wasted little time in confronting his fears. The aforementioned No. 2 hole plays right along the banks of the river, and is one of the most beautifully designed holes in the Charlotte area. The tee shot is to a medium width fairway that narrows as it approaches the end of the landing area.

The second shot enables lower handicap players to shape an approach shot to the green, and higher handicap players the opportunity to lay-up to a generous area front and right of the green. “The property we bought here is heavily wooded and it looks like the course has been here for years, even from the first day it opened,” says Holler. “Hale actually did not move very much earth at all, so it really wasn’t that big of a feat from a technical standpoint.”

The only real trouble you’ll find at Waterford is the type that comes along with poorly struck shots. The course does play along the river on a number of holes, so water is a factor by way of an occasional lateral hazard here and there.

There are just 29 bunkers on the entire course, the vast majority of which are located greenside. The No. 1 handicap hole on the course is the 423-yard par 4 13th, which features a small stream running along the entire left side of the fairway.

The hole takes an abrupt turn to the left, and calls for a slightly drawn approach shot back over the creek. The real nuance to the hole is the two-tiered fairway that forces players to choose a route to the green from the moment they set foot on the tee box.

“That is the hole most people talk about because it has a two tiered fairway,” Holler says. “Depending on which you choose, there is risk/reward in both of them. The lower tier is much narrower, and brings a lateral hazard into play, but it is a closer shot to the hole.”

But after playing a round, you can make a good argument for the 434-yard par 4 18th hole as the toughest challenge on the course. From the tips, the tee shot requires a forced carry over a marshy streambed. Long hitters have to be careful not to drive their balls into a lateral water hazard that splits the fairway about 290 yards from the tee box.

If you like to think your way around a golf course that is heavy on strategy but light on tricks, Waterford will be to your liking, and may even emerge as one of your favorite courses in the Charlotte area.

“It is a good course for the average player, because if you play from the right tees, it can be really enjoyable,” Holler says. “But from the back tees, you have to be on your game. For the good player playing from the back, you have to think about what you are doing, and then do it.”

In terms of its overall feel, you’ll find a layout at the Waterford that exudes coziness. With its towering hardwood trees and narrow fairways, it is easy to feel like you are the only one out on the golf course.

“There is a lot of pitch and roll to the golf course,” Holler says. “The fairways are a little bit tighter than most of the fairways around. The greens are undulating but not like you’ll find on a Palmer or Nicklaus course.”

Like many Charlotte area courses, Waterford features immaculately groomed bent grass greens that just keep getting better as the weather gets cooler. If you are looking for greens to muscle your putts around, however, you have come to the wrong place.

“One thing we don’t mind doing in terms of pace of play is keeping these greens fast,” says Holler. People like to come down and play these greens for that reason alone.”

Players used to knocking it around on Florida or Myrtle Beach tracks will be pleasantly surprised at the conspicuous lack of housing on the Waterford’s fairways and greens.

“The front nine will never have any development on it because of the property it is built on,” says Holler. That is a step back from the trends these days where most courses are used as bait for housing developments.”

Asked if there is a signature hole on the course, Holler just chuckles the way most head pro’s do when asked that obligatory, rhetorical question.

“Hale was asked by the media what the signature hole is, and he said if you can only pick one hole, then you don’t have that good a golf course,” Holler explains with a grin. “We have a wide variety of holes, and you will remember them all.”

Holler feels that Waterford is especially playable for women, and he even envisions some improvements to the course to make it even friendlier.

“We have a lot of ladies that play out here, and the vast majority of them love it,” he says. “There are a couple of holes that we are looking at shortening for them. I would like to see use build a shorter tee box for No. 9 and an alternate tee box on the other side of the hazard.”

Holler and Hale – always the gentlemen.


Conditions: A-
Layout: A
Service: B-
Practice Fac.: B+
Club House/Pro Shop: B
Pace of Play: B
Value: A
Overall Rating: A-/B+

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment