For almost three decades, Glen Byrnes has called Golden Horseshoe Golf Club in Colonial Williamsburg home. Byrnes has been witness to many changes but one thing remains constant at Golden Horseshoe. It’s a fantastic place to play golf and soak up some American history. Byrnes is in charge of golf, tennis and the spa at Colonial Williamsburg and he puts his heart and soul into making sure visitors from all over the globe, including Queen Elizabeth II get the best treatment that is possible from this location, that at one time was the heart of the Virginia Colony.
Byrnes has learned that he’s not only the caretaker of golf courses, a tennis facility and a world class spa in Williamsburg, he also is a caretaker of American history.
“I have learned more and more about the significant role Williamsburg played in the founding of this country, and then I add to that Colonial Williamsburg’s golf tradition and I couldn’t help but develop a passion for the whole experience,” explains Byrnes.
The land that Golden Horseshoe sits on can be traced back to the 1716 expedition led by Governor Alexander Spotswood. This expedition included 63 Spotswood and 63 additional men that set out to explore the western reaches of Virginia.
Now for 50 years, Golden Horseshoe has been tabbed as one of America’s Greatest 100 Courses.
“Think about that,” says Byrnes. “Consider the proliferation of golf courses built in the last 25 years; it’s astonishing we continue to make that list. The Golden Horseshoe does not have elaborate facilities; our clubhouse is still the original.”
It’s a tribute to Byrnes, his team and golfers that play this course each and every day, that have made it a “timeless classic” and a course players can enjoy over and over again.
Byrnes took time to sit down and answer some more questions about this club that is a non-proft, where all the profits earned go back to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.
Q: 2013 marked the 50th Anniversary of the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club, when did golf first appear in Williamsburg?
A: Actually, death inventories from the 17th century for the Tidewater area of Virginia list golf clubs and sticks and “featheries,” which were the earliest golf balls, so golf in this area goes back to the early Scotsmen who came to the New World and brought the game with them. In modern times, though, John D. Rockefeller Jr. wanted a nine-hole course built when the Williamsburg inn was completed in 1937. He believed in offering a variety of experiences to guests who visited the area. Fred Findlay, a Scotsman who was the greens keeper at the Country Club of Virginia, was hired to design the course. World Word II intervened, and the plans had to be shelved until after the war. Following the war, golf was seen as a way to drive business to the area, and so the nine-hole Williamsburg Inn golf course was built, opening on June 15, 1947.
Q: How did that original golf course lead to the development of what is now the Golden Horseshoe Golf Club?
A: In the 1950s, golf became more and more popular, but frankly the original golf course was not the caliber that would attract golfers. It became more important to the Rockefellers and Colonial Williamsburg to have a championship course. Robert Trent Jones Sr., who had worked on other Rockefeller properties, was hired to design what was named the Golden Horseshoe Golf Couse, which opened to the public on Sept. 11, 1963. The new 18-hole course was built using some of the land on which the original course had been built. Rockefeller later had Jones reconfigure the original nine-hole course into an executive-length course that is now the Spotswood Course, which opened in 1964. It was very creative of Rockefeller and Jones to preserve the land for golf, rather than just letting the course disappear.
Q: Talk about the Jones family – first Robert Trent Jones Sr. and then his son Rees Jones – playing such a significant role in the history of the golf courses at the Golden Horseshoe?
A: Robert Trent Jones Sr. worked with the Rockefeller family early in his career and had a very distinguished reputation as a golf course architect. People would travel long distances to play a Jones golf course, and so there was quite a buzz – even in those days – around the Golden Horseshoe, which Jones called his “finest design” when it opened. One of the first attendees in the media called it, “a course worthy hosting its own Masters.” It always has been known as a stunning golf course.
Years later, as golf boomed in the 1980s, more business was conducted on fairways than in board rooms. Colonial Williamsburg soon found that when a corporation booked the entire golf course for an event, other guests were disappointed there was no availability for them to play golf. That thus, the decision was made to build a second 18-hole golf course. By this time, Jones Sr.’s son Rees Jones had earned his own reputation as a golf course designer. Since families have always been important to Colonial Williamsburg, having the son design the new course seemed to be a perfect fit. When Rees Jones reconfigured the design of the Gold Course in 1998, he showed great respect for his father’s work, keeping the spirit of the course’s challenges while subtly adapting the design to contemporary standards.
Q: Colonial Williamsburg really has seen it all and had many important links to the legacy of the game?
A: The Golden Horseshoe has hosted several tournaments, including four USGA championships –Yana Tseng won the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links in 2004 by defeating Michelle Wie in the final match – and the NCAA Men’s Championship in 2007. And, here’s a fun fact, from 1983 to 1997, silversmiths from Colonial Williamsburg’s silver production shop made the Ryder Cup Trophy replicas presented to the captain of the winning team and to the course that hosted the tournament. Products silversmiths also made the only full-sized replica of the Wannamaker trophy designed to withstand the rigors of the tournament trail. The original was retired due to damage and the fragility of the trophy. During this same period, the silversmiths also made smaller replicas the PGA presented to the tournament winner and to the host course.
He added, “we love hosting events and we are always on the lookout for different and new events to bring to the Golden Horseshoe.”
Byrnes also want to make sure visitors don’t forget about tennis and The Spa of Williamsburg.
The top-rated spa in Virginia offers steam rooms, a signature shower, plenty of whirlpools and relaxation lounges to accompany just about any spa treatment one would desire.
Byrnes says that the spa is all about relaxation and a chance to refresh your body, mind and soul.
Byrnes essentially runs a small business that is part of a big conglomerate. As I noted, all profits from his divisions are put to good use. Seeing that what is offered in Colonial Williamsburg continues for generations to come.
Check out more at www.colonialwilliamsburg.com and more about what Byrnes has to offer in terms of golf, tennis and the spa at http://www.colonialwilliamsburg.com/do/wellness-and-recreation/golf.