MyGolfSpy Experiences is a way for us to make your golf trips easier. We make the plans, we test out the courses and then fill you in on everything else a golf destination has to offer after your 18 holes are finished. This time we’re in Virginia sampling all of your Williamsburg golf options.
Meet Your Travel Guides
We’re Harry and Miranda Nodwell, MyGolfSpy employees (and, yes, married). Harry is the Director of Testing at MGS and a professional golfer. I’m the Content Manager—aka, I make sure the content you want to read makes it from the brains of our talented team to your screens.
We live in an East Coast golf paradise: Williamsburg, Va. There are so many great courses in our area! We’ve picked three that Harry is going to break down for you. Then I’ll guide you through everything else Williamsburg has to offer.
Who better to learn from than a couple of locals?
No doubt you’ve heard of the River Course at Kingsmill as it used to host a PGA TOUR event and, since 2003, has been home to the LPGA’s Pure Silk Championship. However, there are two other courses that are open to the public: the Plantation course and the Woods course which has just opened up to the general public if you stay on property.
I’ve never played the Woods before because it had always been for members only so I was looking forward to seeing how it played compared to its two siblings. The opening hole presents little trouble so you should get off to a good start. Then the water starts to come into play for the next four holes so you have to play strategically. The eighth is a short par-3 but the green slopes back to front so any putt will be tricky. If you come up short, you will be in Death Valley. You might as well hit another one as you’re not finding your first.
The back nine adds more hills and elevation changes. You must hit the fairway on No. 10, otherwise you will be blocked out for the second shot. Once you’ve accomplished that, you have to hit a committed second shot over a valley and onto the green. Take your two putts and walk off quickly. The next hole requires nerves of steel as you shoot through a narrow runway from the back tees with no room to miss left or right. The second shot is to a green that’s 30 feet down so you must take off a few yards to get the correct number. Then you can have some fun with a mixture of par-3s, -4s and -5s before you get to the 18th hole where the green is surrounded with water waiting to capture your second shot.
Overall, the course was designed to be enjoyable from every tee box. The Woods course has some reachable par-4s and par-5s that can get you some shots back if you play them perfectly. Throw in a double green with a bunker and you have a course that you can enjoy no matter what score you shoot.
Williamsburg National is home to two courses: Yorktown and Jamestown. Both present a different test of golf. Jamestown has Bermuda greens while Yorktown, where I played, has bentgrass greens. It can turn you upside-down and take your lunch money if you’re not careful.
The first hole is straightaway with a couple of bunkers framing the left side of the fairway. The second hole can play 500 yards if the wind is in your face. The green has two tiers so hitting the correct level is essential to walk away with a par. Oh, I forgot to mention it’s a par-4—tough straight out of the gate. The third hole is a picturesque par-5 with an elevated tee shot. Once you get through the first three holes, you must remain focused as water and out of bounds lurk left and right. The seventh hole is a dogleg right with water all down the right and bunkers down the left. No room for error unless you want to bail short and right. Even then, you have a long shot into a semi-island green protected by water short and right. Be grateful for your par and walk off.
The back nine doesn’t let up. The next few holes may be shorter but they’re tight, so positioning is key. On the par-5 13th, a good drive can give you the green light to go for it in two depending on what tees you play. However, you don’t want to miss long as it’s no man’s land. The 14th is where we get into the most picturesque part of the course. The par-3 14th plays anywhere from 115 to 200 yards to a two-tiered green. This isn’t just your normal two-tiered green. I’m talking two-story building slope. From there, you have some of the best three finishing holes in Williamsburg, starting with a demanding par-5 with OB right and water left once you get to 140 yards out. If you make a birdie, you’re certainly gaining a stroke on the field. The 17th is a nerve-wracking hole if you’re protecting a good score. You must hit a good tee shot to ensure you’re hitting the green. Otherwise, you’re in the water left or you can bail out right where thick rough awaits you. The 18th is another par-5 but your tee shot needs to find the fairway for you to get the green light for going for it in two. Then you’re facing a green surrounded by bunkers and humps designed to give you a bogey sendoff.
Both courses at Williamsburg National can be demanding from whatever tees you play. But if you’re up for a challenge, make sure these courses are on your list.
Golden Horseshoe is in the heart of historical Colonial Williamsburg. Being from England, it’s my home away from home. The Horseshoe has two courses which both can be a test of golf and mental grit. The Green is your longer course topping out at 7,100 yards while the Gold tops out at 6,800.
This might seem a little biased as I’m a member at Golden Horseshoe but it’s for good reason. The Gold course is demanding from all tees. The second hole is a reachable par-5 if you get a good drive away as your ball could run all the way down to the bottom of the fairway, leaving you a short iron into the green. However, if you remain on the hill, you have a long iron or wood over water to a medium-sized green. “Risk it for the biscuit” comes to mind here. If you play the long and demanding par-3s well, you will have a good day. The third is 200 yards off the back tee over water to a two-tiered green. Good luck. The sixth is a beautiful par-5 with OB right and water left threatening your layup shot. Your third shot is to an elevated green so stopping your ball on the putting surface can prove difficult. The seventh is another long par-3 over water with long grass right of the green. There’s nowhere to miss it here. A couple of shorter dogleg par-4s round out the front nine.
The back nine can play short—or incredibly long if you play it all the way back. Whatever tees you play, you will be hitting your drives into a 20-yard-wide fairway with hazard stakes right and trees up the left. Get your par and run to the next hole. The 12th is another par-3 over the water but at least it’s downhill so club down. Your miss is certainly left here. You have a couple of par-4s before you get to the 634-yard par-5 15th. Yes, it’s straightaway but make sure your third shot doesn’t go long, otherwise you’re dead. Then you come to the signature hole on the Gold course: a downhill par-3 to an island green which will sure test your nerves. The 17th has been compared to a hole at Augusta National with its tee shot out of a chute. (I’ll let you think that one through for a second.) You finish with a dogleg-left par-4 with water left of the green and the clubhouse in the background just waiting for a cold beer to be ordered because you will need to unwind after playing the Gold course.
For those who want the full experience of Williamsburg, I highly recommend staying at the Williamsburg Inn hotel which is on the Golden Horseshoe property. It comes with a spa, swimming pool and great food. Oh, I forgot to mention that the Queen of England stays there when she comes to visit.
Whatever courses you decide to play in Williamsburg, make sure these are on your bucket list.
What We Got:
Casa Margarita, Casa Pearl “Chips and Dip”, Hush Puppies, Grilled Fish Taco, Smoked Pork Taco, Fried Chicken Taco
This one made us nervous when it popped up on our itinerary. We’ve heard rave reviews from a number of other locals but, on its home page, the restaurant gives a simple explanation of its offerings: “Oysters and Tacos.”
Oysters and tacos? I suppose there are a lot of people that would be intrigued by the combo but it made us turn our heads and think, “Huh?”. Not to mention that those are two things that at face value aren’t really our thing. That is until Casa Pearl made Taco Tuesday regulars out of us.
Our lunch was phenomenal. If the margarita is any indicator of the quality of the rest of the drink menu, then Casa Pearl’s claim to fame should be amended to read “Oysters, Tacos and Really Fantastic Drinks.”
We sat just in front of the open kitchen and watched as Mikey, the owner and executive chef, pleasantly coordinated lunch service to a packed house.
Our food arrived quickly and we dug in. Harry sampled the grilled fish taco first and his face gave it away before he had a chance to say how much he liked it.
When he was able to elaborate, he said, “I’ve just had so many flavors smack me in the face that the only thing I can think to do is try the pork one.”
Spoiler Alert: The pork and chicken tacos were equally as impressive and satisfying. I don’t think they should really even qualify as tacos because these don’t belong in the same category as your run-of-the-mill ground beef and cheese hard-shelled monstrosities. These are elite tacos … the Olympic athletes of tacos … the Augusta National of tacos.
How much should the best tacos you’ll ever have cost? According to Casa Pearl, six bucks apiece. And depending on your appetite and how many hush puppies you eat beforehand, you can leave with a full stomach after only one or two. They’re as sizeable as they are delicious.
We didn’t venture into the oysters or dessert sections of the menu (like we said, oysters really not our thing) but we did mention it to our boss, Adam Beach, and his first reaction was, “oysters and tacos! My two favorite things!” So the next weekend, he booked a table and told us his experience also deserved a standing ovation. The oysters were among the best he’s ever had.
Who would have thought a converted gas station just outside of Colonial Williamsburg would offer one of the most unique and comfortable dining experiences we locals had yet to stumble upon? We’ll be back.
What We Got:
French Onion Soup, Rotisserie Chicken, Beef Short Rib, Traditional Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate Noissette with Amaretto Sabayon
Just behind Merchant’s Square on Duke of Gloucester Street sits a staple of Colonial Williamsburg dining. Blue Talon has a cozy family atmosphere and is nestled between William and Mary dorms and an ice cream shop. If you’re walking the “colonial strip” and wander into the shops, you might not even realize you’ve stumbled upon a stronghold that’s been serving Williamsburg “serious comfort food” since 2004.
Blue Talon has an impressive drink menu with an extensive whiskey selection. We opted for a simple wine and beer but whiskey enthusiasts can have their choice here.
Their menu is stacked with one classic after another.
We decided we’d test two of their more traditional dishes. There’s usually a catch with simple staple recipes. Everyone has an idea of what they should taste like so they’re often the easiest to stumble on. You know, “my mom makes it better” kind of stuff. Blue Talon doesn’t stumble and if our moms weren’t available and we went to Blue Talon instead we’d swear she was in the kitchen. And that’s the highest compliment we can bestow on Chef David Everett.
The beef short ribs are only available on the weekends so, if you’re traveling from out of town, plan accordingly. Anything that slow cooks for 36 hours is well worth organizing a day around.
Both dishes came out of the kitchen piping hot and in what seemed like an extremely short amount of time. The short ribs were so tender they fell apart, no knife needed. The rotisserie chicken was moist and flavorful. It was the classic comfort food scene: no conversation, only deep contemplation about whether the buttons on our pants were necessary.
That’s no excuse to not have dessert. We ain’t no chumps. Chocolate was the theme of the night. We couldn’t decide if we liked our own dessert or what the other ordered better. So we shared and left the restaurant all fat and sassy.
Blue Talon did seem to be operating on COVID social-distancing rules when we visited so we’d recommend making a reservation to make sure you’re able to get a table on a busy night.
What We Got:
Prince Edward Island Mussels, Virginia Cheese and Charcuterie Board, Roast Beef and Gouda Sandwich, Tavern Burger
It’s almost unfair to think of the Gabriel Archer Tavern as only a restaurant because its backdrop is the Williamsburg Winery. A 15-minute drive from the middle of Colonial Williamsburg sends you through the gates of the winery and on a windy gravel road through the vineyard as you approach the main buildings.
Gabriel Archer is a tavern with ample indoor and outdoor seating. If you choose to sit outside, you’ll dine under a vine-covered arbor overlooking the doors of the winery.
Their lunch menu is an upscale approach on tavern-type sandwiches and local Virginia cuisine.
You could make an entire meal of appetizers and wine. They offer selections from the vineyard as well as beer and other cocktails. We grabbed some mussels and a charcuterie board. Meat and cheese boards are becoming a trendy thing on Instagram and Gabriel Archer’s is up there in terms of presentation and taste.
The mussels were tossed in white wine, fennel and garlic and pleased this picky British man who is used to his seafood being sourced from the North Sea.
Both of us enjoyed our sandwiches and house-made chips for lunch and then ventured over to the winery for a tasting.
The winery offers a variety of tastings and tours. The 1619 Pavilion is an outdoor, two-level deck overlooking the vineyards. It’s open daily for tastings and features live music regularly.
You can also do a tasting inside the winery on Saturdays and Sundays and, if you find any varieties you particularly like, you can buy a bottle or a glass to enjoy at the 1619 Pavilion.
May we recommend the Governor’s White, Viogner or a Cabernet Franc. They’re all excellent.
We stopped for a quick breakfast-to-go at the Bake Shop. All of their items are homemade in house, including all the bagels and bread. The banana bread was so heavy in its packaging that we were convinced they gave us the wrong item. Nope, it was dense, deliciously spiced banana bread with a coconut topping. Divine.
We also grabbed a Goody’s Goodies bagel sandwich, which we customized with an everything bagel.
They have all kinds of coffee offerings and two baristas dedicated to fill your order. It’s a welcome diversion from your typical Starbucks order.
If you’ve got a day in Colonial Williamsburg planned, this is a short walk from Duke of Gloucester Street and a great place to start. We stopped by at about 8 a.m. and didn’t run into any lineups. However, if you happen to visit while classes at William and Mary are still in session, you’ll likely run into plenty of students waiting to get a delicious breakfast as well.
We’d suggest getting there early and prepping yourself to stand in line during the semester.
The main attraction of Williamsburg is, of course, the colonial area. Colonial Williamsburg is a historic area that includes restored and recreated buildings that suggest what life was like when Williamsburg was the capital of Virginia in the 18th Century.
As a living history museum, staff and tour guides are dressed in period-appropriate garments and they educate you on both the ways of life and the political positions of colonies at the time.
We took a tour of the Governor’s Palace and visited the Armoury. A single day pass buys you access into all historical areas.
Even if you decided you don’t want to enter any of the historical buildings, an easy stroll up and down Duke of Gloucester Street gets you plenty of sights and shopping. There are shops where you can buy 18th-Century goods as well as modern shops for souvenirs, clothing, candy and more.
There’s plenty for everyone to enjoy. Colonial Williamsburg is the perfect place for a fun and educational family day.
We’ll remind you again that we’re locals. We had no idea that this kick-ass place was here. Billsburg is located right next to the Jamestown settlement on a 10-acre marina whose waterway leads out to the James River.
Driving up, it reminded us of a South Carolina setup. Food truck on the left, band setting up under a tent in the middle of the yard in front of the brewery, and tables and lawn chairs scattered throughout and overlooking the water.
The marina was under construction when we visited but typically you can even pull your boat up and hit up the taproom after a boat day or grab some beers to go.
The taproom had a large connected half-covered deck as well as TVs inside (which were tuned to JMU’s Cinderella run in the 2021 Women’s College World Series while we were there. Shout out to fans of women’s sports!).
We got two flights and split the menu so that we tried them all. The beers on tap rotate but we were particular fans of the “Tourist Trap”, a hazy IPA and the “Construction Zone”, a Belgian IPA.
The brewers also do a rendition of a hard seltzer which actually tastes closer to a cider. The Apfelschorle Seltzer is worth a try if you have anyone that isn’t a traditional beer drinker in the group.
It’s a great place to have a chill day with friends and good beer. Staff comes and checks on you while you’re hanging out and listening to music on the lawn, offering to run back to the taproom and get your refill for you. And at five bucks a beer (give or take a few bucks here and there), you’ll be getting refills.
While Harry was playing the Woods Course at Kingsmill, I got the opportunity to visit the Williamsburg Salt Spa for a float session in their salt tank.
It’s something I’ve never done before so I jumped at the opportunity to try something new.
When I arrived, I was given the lowdown on the benefits of floating and salt in general.
The owners said many of their regular floaters are military individuals working through PTSD. The idea is to achieve a complete desensitization.
The water is perfectly room temperature so eventually the air and the water become indiscernible. Spa music plays and you can choose what color of light you want in the tank. (You can also choose to turn both off completely.) You can close the tank or leave it open if you feel claustrophobic.
I closed the tank, chose a light blue light and left the spa music on.
I think this is something I could get better at if I floated more. It wasn’t that I struggled with the actual floating. Trust me, there’s 900 pounds of salt. I couldn’t have sank if I tried. But I never achieved a real sense of Zen. I was too alert and tuned in to my surroundings. If it was a part of a regular routine, I could see how I’d be able to drift away and achieve all the benefits that the owners advertised.
That said, the salt made my skin really soft and I enjoyed the experience despite knowing that it could have been even better. And at only $59 for an hour float, it’ll be easy to go back and try again.
I did think it would be the perfect thing to do after a massage when you’re already relaxed.
Pro Tip: They offer earplugs. Wear them. I chose not to because I’ve never had water in the ear issues. It took me a week before I got out all of the salt that was crystalizing in my ear.
If you haven’t been living under a rock, you’ve likely encountered the axe-throwing trend. If you haven’t been axe throwing and have only seen the videos on social media, you’re probably like us and thought, “That doesn’t really look that hard.” Or, if you’ve seen axes bouncing off the wall and flying back, you think, “No way. No, thank you.”
But we went to Axe Republic with an open mind and competitive attitude (nothing new in our marriage). We met our “Axepert” Erin. She’s a recent William and Mary grad so she’s a real smarty-pants and a friggin’ assassin with an axe. No kidding, this sweet, welcoming young woman opened up our introduction to axe throwing by absolutely lasering an axe straight into the bullseye with no advance notice while we picked our jaws up off the floor. DO NOT MESS WITH HER. She turned around and said, “See? Now it’s your turn.” Ok, sure.
Not so easy. There’s absolutely a technique to it. Harry is one of those people who is good at whatever he tries and he picked it up pretty quickly, which meant he got more competitive with himself while I struggled to get the darn thing to stick in the wall.
It wasn’t until the owner walked over, analyzed my throw and made me switch my dominant hand that I started dialing it in. Turns out that when it comes to axe throwing, I’m a lefty and I’m now well on my way to becoming an assassin just like Erin.
We understand the trend now. It was addicting and, at the end of our 75-minute session, we decided we would definitely have fun with a group of (trustworthy, responsible, non-liability, won’t accidentally drop an axe type) friends.
There’s a drink and bar food menu which is reasonably priced. The strawberry daquiri was one of the better we’ve had, strangely enough.
Axe throwing at Axe Republic costs $27 per person for 75 minutes.
It’s a better activity for adult night. Kids under 14 are only allowed in the lobby, kids aged 14 to 17 must throw with an adult. And don’t forget to wear closed-toe shoes.
If you catch the axe-throwing bug, every Tuesday is league night.
Other Things to Mention
Busch Gardens/ Water Country: We can’t ignore the awesome theme parks the area offers! They’re both open and back in full swing after remaining closed for the majority of COVID. You can buy a Fun Pass that gets you into both parks.
The Meadows Custard: This is simply a personal recommendation from us. We visit more than we’d like to admit. Homemade frozen custard. You’re welcome.