Review: Birdwood Golf Course

Course Name: Birdwood Golf Course

Designer: Lindsay Ervin (1984), Pete Dye (2005, Bunker Redesign), Davis Love III (2020, Redesign)

Location: Charlottesville, Virginia

History: Built on historic farmland nicknamed the “upland wilderness”, 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 all of the bunkers. In 2020, Davis Love III and his team completely redesigned the course, creating 18 new holes, a six-hole par 3 course, and an 18-hole Himalayas putting green. Countless ACC stars have teed it up here, and Birdwood is consistently ranked one of the top college golf courses in America. Accolades include:

  • #124 Best Resort Course in America – Golfweek (2022)
  • #30 Best Campus Course in America – Golfweek (2020)
  • #7 Best Course in Virginia – Golf Magazine (2020)
  • #26 Best Course in Virginia – Top100golfcourse.com (2020)
  • #7 Best Public Course in Virginia – Golfweek (2022)

Conditions: 7/10, I played in the late winter when the Bermuda fairways were dormant, but the course was still in good condition. 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: 7/10, The winter walking rates were ridiculously good, and I only paid $22 to walk 18 holes. However, Birdwood got a bit pricier in season and cost upwards of $60. Students and staff of UVA also got discounts.

Scorecard:

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

Hole Descriptions: *Disclaimer: Davis Love III’s redesign in 2020 created basically a brand new course with only 5 holes (1, 2, 9, 13, 18) retaining their basic setup. I played Birdwood several years before the renovation and will be writing about the Lindsay Ervin course.

Lindsay Ervin is a not a household name nationally, but he’s designed several well-regarded courses in the mid-Atlantic region, with Birdwood being his most famous design. Birdwood features a wonderful terrain for golf with lots of elevation changes and a rugged, difficult-to-walk terrain. While the new course is supposedly better, I really enjoyed the old course here and found the layout engaging, with some highly memorable holes.

The opening hole was a downhill dogleg left 368 yard par 4. While this fairway was tight, the only real danger was tiny bunkers on either side around 240 yards. Like many holes at Birdwood, this approach ran uphill to an elevated green guarded by a bunker on the right. This is one of the five holes that Love III decided to keep pretty much unchanged.

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The gentle par 4 opener with rolling hills in the background

Another relatively conserved hole, the old 2nd was the first of four, interesting risk/reward par fives. At just 476 yards, this hole featured an intimidating drive with water down the left side for much of the landing area and two bunkers on the right at 225 yards. While this right-to-left sloping fairway opened up a bit for a layup, the hole slid to the left and featured a very narrow, long green flanked by bunkers on both sides and water short left.

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The short par 5 2nd

The 3rd hole was an interesting uphill par 4 that played 336 yards. This teeshot required a carry of about 150 yards over a valley to a fairly generous fairway guarded by trees on the right and the parking lot to the far left. This approach played uphill to a gigantic elevated green guarded by a bunker right. This hole is now completely gone with the land being partially used for the current 9th.

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The par 4 3rd
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The approach at 3

At 151 yards, the 4th hole was the first of several very nice, albeit similarly distanced par threes. This attractive one-shotter played directly downhill over water the entire way to a severely back-to-front sloped green (which many claimed was unfair) defended by a bunker left.

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The downhill par 3 4th

Another risk/reward short par 5, the old 5th was a dogleg right at just 481 yards with a generous tree-lined fairway. At about 330 yards, this hole turned sharply right and uphill towards an elevated green. Longer players could definitely cut the corner and only have iron in. The former 6th is another extinct hole as the only reachable par 4 at just 297 yards. This risk/reward hole provided another good chance at birdie with a wide fairway lined by a trio of bunkers down the left at 210 yards and water right the entire way. Pete Dye’s input was easily seen in the characteristic railroad ties that lined the right side of this tricky green. The land on this hole is used in reverse for today’s 16th.

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The short par 4 6th

At 374 yards, the former 7th hole was a strong straightaway par 4 that featured a generous fairway lined by a bunker down the right at 240 yards and rough on either side. A tree overhung just short of the left side of this green, partially obscuring an approach from the left rough. The current 15th hole plays over the land in the opposite direction.

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The par 4 7th

Continuing the tour of extinct holes, the old 8th was the least interesting hole at Birdwood as a fairly bland 160 yard par 3. This hole featured a large green defended by deep bunkers on either side and a false front short.

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The par 3 8th won’t be missed

The former 9th hole was a strong uphill par 4 playing at 356 yards. With a brief forced carry, this hole featured an attractive teeshot to an angled fairway defended well by a pair of bunkers down the left at 220 yards. Two additional bunkers flanked either side of an elevated green with a wicked false front. The current closing hole is a beefier, improved version of this hole.

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The uphill par 4 9th

While the front side was enjoyable, it was short (over 300 yards shorter) and much less impressive than the wild back side. Heading into the “upland wilderness,” this nine was rugged, featuring extreme elevation changes. Fortunately, many of the new holes play over this terrain. The old 10th hole is somewhat conserved as a 367 yard straightaway par 4. This hole was rather boring, featuring a straightforward drive to a left-to-right sloping fairway lined by a bunker down the left. This green was defended by bunkers on either side. The new 10th is similar to the old version, but is a par 5 featuring a completely new green located down the hill on the right on the former 11th fairway. It seems like a far more engaging hole.

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The approach at 10

The former number 1 handicap, the 405 yard 11th hole was a highly polarizing and interesting downhill par 4. Considered by many to be one of the toughest par fours in Virginia, this slender dogleg right played directly downhill on the teeshot to a narrow fairway lined by water right. From the nadir of the fairway, this hole turned straight uphill at least one club and to the right. Hitting this wide green defended by bunkers left was certainly an accomplishment.

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Many online were not fans of the cartpath down the right, which caromed balls directly into the water

One of the best holes lost in the redesign was the 12th, my favorite par 3 at Birdwood and a hole with some similarities to Augusta’s famous 12th. Playing downhill at 160 yards, this one-shotter required a carry the entire way over fescue and a creek. Two small bunkers lined the left side of this green, which was almost always covered by the shadows of the trees behind.

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The downhill par 3 12th

After an intense walk from the 12th green, the 13th hole was a beautiful 373 yard par 4 that provided the golfer numerous options. This green was only about 300 yards from the teebox, but water lined the entire right side of this Cape dogleg right so going for it wasn’t really an option for most golfers. The ideal play was a lay-up down the left past the tree, leaving a dicey approach to a narrow, back-to-front sloped green defended by bunkers on either side. Today’s 5th hole is essentially the same hole with an additional teebox.

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The gorgeous par 4 13th

The final par 3 at Birdwood was the shortest and also the most picturesque as an 135 yard island green. While a bit gimmicky, this was a true island green with a tiny bridge to the left connecting the mainland and water on all sides. A tiny pot bunker guarded just left of a back-to-front sloped green. Although short, a howling wind could make this hole quite dangerous with a high ballflight.

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The signature par 3 14th

The old 15th hole was a truly wild par 5 at 503 yards featuring plenty of elevation change and an undulating fairway. A double dogleg lined by thick trees down the right and a pair of bunkers on the left, this hole featured a demanding semi-blind drive to a fairway that sloped downhill and to the right around the second dogleg. Those who didn’t carry their drives long enough would be forced to lay-up, as this green was hidden even further down the right in the trees and required a small carry from the end of the fairway. I wish I had a picture of this unique mountain golf hole. I also don’t have any of the old 16th, a wonderful 414 yard par 4 from what I can remember. Playing downhill as a dogleg right, this strong hole featured a set of bunkers down the right side and a speed slot for daring players beyond this point. This green was defended by two bunkers short.

At 543 yards, the 17th hole was the longest hole at the old Birdwood as another big dogleg right. At 235 yards, this fairway turned right and ran downhill to about 100 yards short of the green. With an uphill approach over a creek to a severely back-to-front sloped green also lined by bunkers, golfers had to strategize whether to risk this creek or lay-up well short. The final 200 yards or so of this hole is preserved as a par 3 with today’s current 13th.

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The final approach at old 17 is today a par 3

The former closing hole is fairly well-preserved as a strong 417 yard par 4. This fantastic finisher featured a difficult drive to narrow, left-to-right sloping fairway lined by OB right the entire way. This approach played uphill to an elevated, back-to-front sloped green defended by bunkers on either side. Par here was well-earned. Today’s 14th is a similar but better version.

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The epic par 4 18th
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The closing approach

General Comments: As the official golf course of the University of Virginia, the practice facilities at Birdwood were unsurprisingly top notch. The range, chipping, and putting greens were all expansive and are apparently even better now. The old course was a bear to walk given the rugged back 9, but I’m unsure how the current course is in this regard.

Verdict: Although this review is now outdated, Lindsay Ervin’s Birdwood was a strong public golf course with a fantastic hilly terrain, lots of variety, and some beautiful holes. I hear Davis Love’s redesign is even better and I hope to play it someday soon.


One thought on “Review: Birdwood Golf Course

  1. My husband and I love to play golf and 3 or 4 times a year we plan a stay and play trip usually 4 hours in any direction from our home. The Birdwood fits right under that 4 hour mark. I am a fair weather golfer so will probably save this course for next spring or summer.
    Thank you for reviewing this course. It looks like a challenge but fun.

    Liked by 1 person

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