Tee Off in 1776 at Colonial Williamsburg

Golden Horseshoe Golf Club Gold Course (Image: Colonial Williamsburg)

Legendary golf architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. designed Golden Horseshoe Golf Club’s acclaimed Gold Course. (Image: Colonial Williamsburg)

The spirit of the American Revolution lives on at Colonial Williamsburg, a remarkable living history museum in Virginia that’s also home to groundbreaking Golden Horseshoe Golf Club.

(Last updated June 2021.)

Thomas Jefferson—a golfer?

Well, that is the tale often spun in fun at Colonial Williamsburg, the renowned living history museum in Virginia that celebrates the patriots of the Revolutionary War and the early days of the United States. A bag full of antique hickory golf clubs slung over his shoulder, Jefferson—or rather, an actor portraying the American Founding Father—waxes eloquently about Virginia’s long ties to the game, which some historians date to the 18th century.

Colonial Williamsburg street scene (Image: Colonial Williamsburg)

Hundreds of re-enactors in period costume fill the streets of Colonial Williamsburg. (Image: Colonial Williamsburg)

In truth, Colonial Williamsburg’s Golden Horseshoe Golf Club is one of the newer attractions among the dozens of original or re-created buildings and other exhibits related to colonial life found throughout the museum’s 301 acres.

Opened in 1963 on the site of an 18th century plantation, Golden Horseshoe’s original Gold Course is an acclaimed Robert Trent Jones, Sr. design featuring tree-lined fairways, pinched and often sloping landing areas, and long carries to small greens. In 2017, Rees Jones, the legendary architect’s almost equally famous son, unveiled an extensive renovation of the Gold Course that included the rebuilding of bunkers and the addition of nine new forward tee boxes.

Rees Jones adopted his father’s traditional approach to course design with the property’s second 18-hole layout, the Green Course, which opened in 1991. And rounding out the lineup is the Spotswood Course, an executive-style nine-hole layout by Trent Jones, Sr. named for colonial governor Alexander Spotswood.

But no matter how beautiful Golden Horseshoe’s courses—or deep golf’s roots in the red clay of Virginia—the game plays second fiddle to the many other attractions offered at Colonial Williamsburg, which before the onset of Covid-19 annually attracted about 1.5 million visitors.

Starting in the 1920s, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., and his wife, Abbey Aldrich Rockefeller, spearheaded the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s purchase and rebuilding of the historic downtown core of the city of Williamsburg, the capital of Colonial Virginia from 1699 to 1780. Together with Jamestown and Yorktown, Williamsburg is part of Virginia’s Historic Triangle.

Colonial Williamsburg militia (Image: Colonial Williamsburg)

Street theatre scenes occur several times daily. (Image: Colonial Williamsburg)

Preserved in time are the original Courthouse and Bruton Parish Church, and reconstructed to their former glory are the Governor’s Palace, the Capitol and Raleigh Tavern. Altogether, there are more than 500 buildings in the designated Historic Area, 88 of them original.

Alehouses, theatres and the workshops of printers, coopers, cabinetmakers, wigmakers and gunsmiths are staffed by hundreds of re-enactors in period costume.

Though the final break with Britain has yet to come, in the streets of Colonial Williamsburg there is growing discontent and even calls for open rebellion.

An indignant, red-faced militia captain exhorts a gathering crowd to storm the Governor’s Palace, and demand the return of the weapons taken by the authorities from Williamsburg’s arsenal. One of a series of daily street theatre scenes, the captain’s outrage effectively draws visitors into the tension that gripped the colony.

“What we see before us,” the captain shouts, “is the erosion of the rights and liberties we have known all our lives.”

A little of that revolutionary spirit may even have infected the great Trent Jones, Sr. during the building of Golden Horseshoe’s original Gold Course. His groundbreaking par-three 16th hole, featuring one of the game’s first island greens, has been admired and copied by golf architects ever since.

Colonial Williamsburg can have that effect.

Getting There

The closest commercial airport to Williamsburg is Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, about 30 minutes away. The city is also about midway between two larger commercial airports, Richmond International and Norfolk International, each about an hour’s drive away.