Course Name: Birdwood Golf Course
Designer: Lindsay Ervin (1984), Pete Dye (2005, bunker redesign)
Location: Charlottesville, Virginia
History: Built on historical farmland nickamed the “upland wildnerness”, Birdwood Golf Course was designed in 1984 by Lindsay Ervin to be the official golf course for the University of Virginia. In 2005, Pete Dye redid some of the bunkers. Countless ACC golf stars have teed it up here, and Birdwood is consistently ranked one of the top college golf courses, ranking number 25 in Golfweek’s 2016 edition.
Conditions: 7/10, I had a hard time ascertaining the conditions as it was still winter when I played and the Bermuda fairways were dormant. However, the greens rolled true and fast and the bunkers were fantastic. Apparently, the course is in very good shape by about April once everything starts blooming.
Value: 6/10, The winter walking rates were ridiculously good, and I only paid $22 to walk 18 holes. However, Birdwood gets a bit pricier in season and costs upwards of $60. Students of UVA also get discounts.
Tee Par Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 72 6920 74.2 140
Blue/White 72 6634 72.9 137
White 72 6322 71.5 134
Gold 72 5746 68.7 127
Orange 72 5075 69.7 125
Best Score: 87 (White Tees), 3/16/2017 by myself until the final 2 holes – played with member
Front 9 Best: 43 (White Tees), 3/16/2017 by myself
Back 9 Best: 44 (White Tees), 3/16/2017 by myself until the final 2 holes – played with member
Hole Highlights: Having only designed one course previously, relatively obscure architect Lindsay Ervin’s main architectural objective at Birdwood was to provide the golfer a visual landing spot on every hole. Even on holes with extreme elevation changes and no green in sight, Ervin accomplished this goal. While pretty tight, Birdwood was very visually attractive to the eye off the teebox. This is seen on the 1st hole, a downhill 368 yard par 4. This fairway is tight here, but there’s no real danger off the fairway besides rough and two bunkers about 240 yards out on both sides. Like many holes at Birdwood, the approach shot here runs uphill to an elevated green guarded by a bunker on the right. On only the 2nd hole of your round, you are faced with a very intimidating driving hole. On this short par 5 that plays 476 yards, water lines the entire left side. This tight fairway is also guarded by two bunkers on the right starting at 225 yards. While the fairway opens up a bit for a layup, the hole slides left and features a very narrow, long green flanked by bunkers on both sides. The 3rd hole is an interesting uphill par 4 that plays 342 yards. You need to carry your drive about 150 yards over a valley to a fairly generous fairway guarded by trees on the right and the parking lot far to the left. The approach on this hole is straight uphill to an gigantic elevated green that I and many other people have three-putted. The 4th hole is the first of several very impressive par threes. At 151 yards, this hole plays downhill to a large back-to-front green. Water guards the entire length of the hole and several tough plateaus on this green make it a very difficult par.
The 5th hole is a short, reachable par 5 that plays only 481 yards. Trees line both sides of this fairway but are pretty removed from it. At about 330 yards from the tee, this hole turns sharply right and uphill to an elevated green. Long players can definitely cut the corner here and only have long iron in. At only 297 yards, the risk/reward par 4 6th offers another good chance at birdie. The fairway here is wide, but water lines the entire right side of the hole. A trio of bunkers 210 yards out catches drives that go long left. Pete Dye’s input is easily seen in the characteristic railroad ties that raise the green out of the water. The hardest hole on the front side, the 374 yard par 4 7th is a strong par 4 lined by trees on the left and a bunker on the right at about 240 yards. A tree overhangs just before the left side of this green and can knock down pulled approach shots, as I learned the hard way. By far the weakest par 3 on the course, the 8th hole is a 160 yarder that features a giant elevated green surrounded by three bunkers. The finishing hole on the front side is another strong par 4 that plays uphill at 356 yards. While the fairway is wide here, drives too far right will most likely be OB. Two bunkers line the left side of this fairway at 220 yards and two bunkers flank the sides of this narrow green that runs from back-to-front.
While the front side was enjoyable, I cannot overstate how much better the back side is. Heading into the “upland wilderness,” this nine was rugged, featured extreme elevation changes, and was a real pleasure to play. The opener on the back plays like the front 9, as a straightaway 367 yard par 4. This hole is visually appealing, but rather bland. The 11th hole, however, is a different animal. The number 1 handicap hole, this wonky 405 yard par 4 is quite polarizing reading other reviews online. Some people thought it was a stupid design, some thought it was great, and some thought it was the “hardest par 4 in Virginia.” Having only played two courses in Virginia, I can’t attest to the latter but I do have to say I was a fan of the 11th hole. Pictured below, this hole runs straight downhill to a very narrow landing area on the drive. From the bottom of the hill, this hole turns right and runs straight uphill to a wide but protected green. Hitting this green in regulation is a feat. I was a huge fan of the par 3 12th. This hole runs downhill at 160 yards and requires a carry the entire way to this green due to tall grass and a creek that runs before the hole. There are two small bunkers that line the left side of this green. After an intense walk from the 12th green, the 13th is a beautiful par 4 that’s a bit tricky the first time you play it. The green is probably only about 300 yards from the tee, but water lines the entire way so this isn’t really an option for most players. At about 240 yards from the tee, the hole turns straight right in an L shape to the green. I thought I could carry some of this water to the fairway, but the carry was at least 250 yards and I didn’t make it. In hindsight, a straight drive of about 230 yards is probably the play here, leaving you a short iron in.
The signature hole at Birdwood is the downhill 135 yard 14th. This hole is about as close to a true island green as it gets, with water surrounding all sides and a small bridge connecting this green to the mainland. The wind was howling when I played, making it very difficult to judge the distance. The 15th was an extremely funky 503 yard par 5 that snaked through dense woods. At 240 yards from the tee, this fairway begins to turn left. Longer players can and should cut this corner but there are bunkers at the elbow of this turn that require a carry of about 250 yards to clear. After this point, the fairway is pretty narrow and gives way to rough about 50 yards before this elevated green. From this green, you must walk straight uphill through woods to the 414 yard par 4 16th. This is a very strong par 4 that runs downhill and to the right. Two bunkers on the right at 240 yards are the only real obstacle here and balls that catch the slope will roll down to the bottom. Like most holes at Birdwood, this approach shot is uphill to a wide green guarded by two short left bunkers. The longest hole at Birdwood, the uphill 543 yard 17th snakes similarly to the 15th. At 235 yards, this fairway turns right and runs out about 100 yards from the green center. A creek runs through this valley and players trying to go for this green in two should be wary of this. At 417 yards, the par 4 18th is a fantastic finishing hole with a great view of the clubhouse. The most important shot here is the drive, which must hug the left side of this narrow fairway to avoid a cliff which the right fairway slopes toward. The approach shot here is uphill to a large green that runs more back-to-front than it appears.
Best Par 3: 12th hole, 160 yards, 11th handicap. While many people will like the island green 14th hole more, I was really enamored by the 12th. I *hesitate* to compare this hole to Augusta’s famous 12th, but the hole plays similarly downhill with a creek running in front of the green.
Best Par 4: 18th hole, 417 yards, 3rd handicap. There were plenty of options here, but the 18th is a step above the rest. At 417 yards, this hole is long and requires players to use their drivers on a very intimidating driving hole. The uphill approach with the clubhouse in the background gives this hole the edge.
Best Par 5: 15th hole, 503 yards, 9th handicap. If I’m being honest, I liked the par 3’s and 4’s much more than the five-shotters at Birdwood, several of which I felt were tricked out. However, the 15th is a solid par 5 that requires three good shots for most players and two shots for elite players. Snaking through the woods here makes you feel extremely isolated, and this green is the farthest point from the clubhouse.
General Comments: As the official golf course of the University of Virginia, the practice facilities at Birdwood are top notch. The range, chipping, and putting greens are all expansive. I can’t extrapolate this for in-season play, but pace of play was extremely quick when I played in March. The back 9 at Birdwood features some extreme elevation changes and is a real challenge to walk…In addition to being associated with the University of Virginia, Birdwood is also partnered with the historic Boar’s Head Inn.
Verdict: Despite playing in cold, windy conditions, Birdwood surpassed my expectations. The design is fantastic and I highly recommend this course to anyone in the Charlottesville area. Eternally jealous of all UVA students who get to play this course during the school year.