Jack Nicklaus touts signature course at Creighton Farms Invitational

ALDIE, Va. — We don’t generally do private golf courses here on Playing Through. It takes a special exception, such as an opportunity to get a firsthand look at a local PGA tournament course. There are very few people who could sway us to come to a private course.

Jack Nicklaus is one of those people.

So when we had a chance to catch up with him after he hosted the 2018 Creighton Farms Invitational charity tournament — which raised a record $1.43 million for the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation and the National PKU Alliance — we jumped at the opportunity.

Jack Nicklaus recently hosted the Creighton Farms Invitational, which raised $1.43 million for charity. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Jack Nicklaus recently hosted the Creighton Farms Invitational, which raised $1.43 million for charity. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #1: Par 4, 416 yards from professional tees, 409 from back tees, 376 from member tees, 295 from forward tees The huge, sprawling bunker on the left side is harbinger of things to come. A moguled fairway slopes right to left, but stay as high right as you can for the best angle into the green, which is protected by another big bunker short left. Shots high will feed into a big green, offering a decent chance for a solid opening score. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #2: Par 4, 359/316/307/218 A short, skill shot par 4, take wood off the tee to leave yourself short of the bunker that separates the fairway from the green. That will leave you with a precision chip to a narrow putting surface, especially if the pin is tucked in front. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #3: Par 5, 532/503/445/401 The course’s first par 5 moves uphill over a great expanse, but traps will catch errant drives left. There’s room long and left on the approach to give you a better angle into the green. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Signature Hole Hole #4: Par 4, 482/457/413/331 This dramatic, majestic downhill par 4 is longer than it appears, forcing you to play your drive well out to the right around the lake below. Your second shot brings water into play again as a creek below the spillway splits the approach, and a couple pot bunkers guard a green that falls away from the fairway. This hole is fraught with peril, but also provides the most dramatic views on the course. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #5: Par 4, 435/408/369/296 A blind tee shot with bunkers left leads to a wide open fairway. The approach runs down to a long green guarded by bunkers short on both sides. There are a couple pockets where the pin can hide and make for tough putts, as well. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #6: Par 3, 162/146/120/96 This short par 3 features a small bunker front and center, obscuring the sightline for a left-side pin. The safe play is middle-right, but it’s pretty tight overall, forcing you to execute to hit the putting surface and give yourself a birdie putt. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #7: Par 5, 585/552/526/442 Avoid the bunker on the left side of this long par 5, as well as the tree in the fairway to the right. Your second shot eases left, but a spit of reeds eeks out from the left side, with a gully crossing another 30 yards later all the way across, so stay high and dry. The long green runs away from the fairway and is guarded by bunkers on all sides. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #8: Par 4: 477/439/363/360 A monster par 4 from the back tees, a blind tee shot leads uphill to a fairway that runs right to left heavily toward bunkers at the bottom. That landing area juts left as it winds down the hill toward the green, which is protected by bunkers short and left. A cut played in from the high side gives you the best look. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #9: Par 3, 194/180/160/68 The front side finishes with a long par 3. The shallow, wide green is protected by a pair of bunkers in front and another behind, demanding touch off the tee. A large false front short and right allows you to fee a draw into the putting surface, where a good shot is rewarded with a makable putt. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #10: Par 4, 455/412/367/320 The back nine begins with something of an awkwardly footed tee shot over fescue, running uphill with traps throughout. Your approach feeds into the left side of a long, narrow green. If the pin is in the back right of the green, you’ll have to play safe and shape the ball in to avoid the sand. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #11: Par 5, 624/556/538/440 This absolute marathon of a downhill par 5 requires a solid drive to keep from playing even longer. Considering the distance, it’s a somewhat narrow fairway, but the rough to the right isn’t as punitive as it is on the rest of the course. A creek running in front of and below the green guards you from being too aggressive on your approach in what is, at best, a three-shot hole. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #12: Par 4, 426/386/367/298 Running uphill, this par 4 doglegs left, with a trap guarding the elbow to force you out to the right. There’s plenty of room to work with, but the hole continues uphill to an elevated green (plus we had wind in our face). That can make things tough if you end up on the wrong tier, especially above the hole, coming back down a steep slope. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #13: Par 4, 453/403/341/301 This long, downhill par 4 has bunkers on both sides of the fairway and both sides of the green. But keep your ball in the middle and you can take cut a lot of yardage off and take an aggressive approach, leaving you a makable birdie putt. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #14: Par 4, 359/324/283/226 Your tee shot flies over the reeds on this short, uphill par 4. While the distance means you’ll have a much more manageable approach, you’re left with a touch shot into a tiny green protected by a front bunker. A soft approach is vital for any kind of makable putt. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #15: Par 3, 217/203/185/75 Another long par 3, your shot travels over a lake to the left, but the water doesn’t really come into play unless the pin is in the front and you leave it short. Be careful — the putting surface leans more back from the tee than appears. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #16: Par 4, 458/442/405/303 On this long, wide uphill par 4, the lake to the right is more for show than anything else. The fairway has lots of little moguls, making it tough to find a flat lie. A huge, sloping green extends well back from the front, but means that even if you hit it in regulation, putting is no picnic. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #17: Par 3, 203/173/160/133 A slightly downhill, tight par 3 feeds into a punch bowl green guarded by bunkers on all sides. Find the fringe and the ball will feed to the hole, rewarding anything close. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Hole #18: Par 5, 563/549/498/407 A fairly straightforward par 5 eases to the right off the tee. A creek catches bad second shots, and scattered bunkers above and in the middle of the fairway are there to punish further mistakes. The green has plenty of tilts and sways, making a true read tough. (WTOP/Noah Frank)
Jack Nicklaus recently hosted the Creighton Farms Invitational, which raised $1.43 million for charity. (WTOP/Noah Frank)

Now, to be clear, we didn’t actually get to play the course with the Golden Bear. That opportunity was reserved for those who actually played in the tournament, which included MLB legend Roger Clemens and former Ryder Cup Captain Darren Clarke. But we got a chance to catch up with Nicklaus before playing the course he designed, which opened back in 2007.

Creighton Farms sits just north of the intersection of Highway 50 and U.S. 15, closer to the tip of West Virginia than to Washington. It’s on a fairly large spread of land, with moderate elevation change and plenty of natural features. But all right, we’ve said enough. Let’s hear what Jack has to say.

“I think the piece of property always differentiates what you do,” he told WTOP. “If you’ve got half a brain, you try to design to what the property is. I always try to do that. Some properties don’t give you enough and you have to create a little bit. But this property gave us pretty much everything that’s here. So we had to basically find the golf course, put it here, and make sure it fit into the property and worked. And it works quite well here.”

If anything stands out right away, it’s the bunkers, especially the ornate trap on the left side of the opening hole. For a course that doesn’t have too many dramatic twists or turns (other than the third hole … more on that in a minute), the bunkers play perhaps the largest role of any hazard. The sprawling trap on the opener is something of a foreshadowing for that.

“There’s a fair number of bunkers here, because there really wasn’t a lot out in the open areas,” said Nicklaus. “The wetlands down below sort of dictated a lot of the play we had through that area, so you didn’t have to do a whole lot of other stuff. There wasn’t a lot of major trees on the golf course you had to play through. We sort of stayed away from that.”

As far as trends go, the course doesn’t really follow any single one. It’s not notably narrow or wide, short or long. The greens provide a challenge, but are not overly intricate in their design. The biggest thing is that you have to think — to really consider what you want to do and execute it — to score well.

“Creighton Farms is just a really good, solid golf course. I wasn’t trying to build a golf course for the U.S. Open. I wasn’t trying to design a golf course for everybody to shoot 60 on, either. I was trying to get a nice middle-of-the-road golf course for people to enjoy,” said Nicklaus.

As for a signature hole, well, the Golden Bear threw a wet blanket on that one.

“I always say 18,” he said, not meaning the closing hole, but all of them. “They didn’t hire me to do a signature golf hole, they asked me to do 18 signature golf holes … I’m sure there’s one or two holes out there that might be special for people, but for me, they’re all pretty special.”

Fair enough. But we still picked one.

For more information about the Creighton Farms Invitational, visit nchcf.org.

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