The 2nd at Vista Links features a large rock outcropping that guards the left half of the fairway, setting up a risk-reward lay-up shot.
by Tim Gavrich
The Vista Links, a daily fee course located about six miles from Lexington, VA, and Interstate 81 in western Virginia, opened in August of 2004. Designed by Rick Jacobson -- a former member of the Nicklaus Design team - the course provides an engaging trip through the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills, with heaving fairways, rugged bunkering, and undulating greens. I judged it on a 1-10 scale (1 being ‘repulsive' and 10 being ‘incomparable') in the following categories:
Golf Course Setting: 8 ~~ Vista Links is sited on a large and hilly piece of property just under 1,000 feet in elevation, which adds a little distance to the longer shots. The player is afforded many wonderful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains at points throughout the round. Despite the haze on the day we played, the scenery was well worth the trip and certainly worth the modest greens fees.
Golf Course Conditions: 6 ~~ The greens rolled fairly true, but they were not terribly fast. They were reasonably firm, to be expected in a three-year-old course, but most well struck iron shots stopped just a few feet beyond their pitch marks. The fairways were quite wet and had not drained very well from the previous afternoon's rain. In addition, the grass on the fairways was quite long, so we were not able to enjoy as much roll over the wide, dramatic landing areas. On days of firm, fast fairways and greens, shot making would be at more of a premium, with extended drives but also with the risk of rolling through fairways and into Vista Links' deep and large fairway bunkers.
Quality of Green Complexes: 8 ~~ Undulations-subtle and marked-dominate the greens at Vista Links. The greens are of average to slightly larger-than-average size, but designer Jacobson has built some nooks into the corners of the greens, making for challenging pin positions and the sense the greens are smaller than they actually are. Bunkers are generally large and deep but fairly easy to negotiate around. Shoulders and small chipping areas at most greens compel extra thinking on recovery shots (e.g. whether to pitch into or over a slope bank, or to chip or putt). However, because the grass at greenside was not cut low, balls hang up on the down slopes, limiting some of the variety of recovery shots and making up and downs a little easier. With less grassy slopes to carry the ball down the hills, Vista Links would play significantly different, and harder.
Quality of Par 3s: 7 ~~ The four par 3s at Vista Links were each different and interesting. Two of them (the 5th and the 13th) played significantly downhill. We would have liked to see more variation in length among the par 3s; from the back tees they play at 148, 186, 152, and 181 yards. The highlight among them is the 5th hole, which plays sharply downhill to a large green above a small valley. It is the most visually intimidating hole on the course and, interestingly, the only hole on the course without a bunker. The green is situated such that any shot hit beyond the back edge will kick down a hill into an unplayable lie (assuming the ball can be found in the high and thick grasses).
Quality of Par 4s: 8 ~~ Vista Links' 10 par 4s are of high merit. Though none of them bend sharply to the left or right, gentle turns in the fairways necessitated a solid array of approach shots. The two shortest par 4s-the 4th and 11th-are not drivable, but they provide risk-reward opportunities that can leave the golfer with either a very reasonable birdie putt or a hard-fought par. Each nine closes with a 460 yard-plus par four, with the 18th-a 467 yard hole that challenges the player to cut off as much of a deep complex of bunkers as he dares on his final tee shot-being the longer of the two. The best feature of the par 4s at Vista Links (the par 5s, too) is that the golfer may hit driver on each. There are no forced lay-ups, and the boldest players may "swing for the fences" (but beware if you go over one of Vista's few fences).
Quality of Par 5s: 7 ~~ The four par 5s at Vista Links are each a nice change of pace from the other holes. They vary in length such that for lower-handicap players, two of them are generally reachable in two. The most compelling par 5, though essentially unreachable in two, is the 2nd hole. At 587 yards from the backmost tees, it is the longest hole at Vista Links. The fairway is a few stories below the tee, and a well-placed drive sets up a fantastic risk-reward lay-up. The conservative play is to a wide (though sharply tilted) fairway, leaving a blind third shot of about 150 yards. The aggressive play is to challenge the rock shelf that dominates the left half of the fairway, leaving an open approach of less than 100 yards to the green. It is the beginning of a pleasing set of par 5s.
Routing of Golf Course/A Good Walk Not: 5 ~~ This is the area of weakness at Vista Links. It is not a golf course that one would be happy to walk, as there are many switchback cart paths on the steep hills that are laid out like the famed Lombard Street in San Francisco, as well as some very lengthy journeys from greens to tees. The essentially treeless course offers little protection from the hot sun during the summer. The heat, combined with long walks over many hills, makes Vista Links a golf course best enjoyed from a golf cart.
Overall Rating: 7 ~~ Vista Links is a solid golf course, and a tremendous bargain, with greens fees and cart under the magic $50 mark. On wet days, the course requires more muscle than it will on days when tee shots are getting some roll down the fairways. Nevertheless, Vista Links overcomes its less-than-compact layout and walker-unfriendly nature by being challenging, fair and great fun. If the true test of a course is whether you would like to play it again, then we liked Vista Links and hope to play it many times in the future.
The Vista Links, 100 Vista Links Dr.,Buena Vista, VA 24416, (540) 261-4653