Mattaponi Springs Golf Club: Worth the Drive

If Mattaponi Springs were an hour closer to DC, a weekend tee time would be a pretty tough get. The only reason this course isn’t packed every day of the week as far as I can tell, is the location. A seventy-five minute drive south from the Beltway’s mixing bowl, is a hike, and that’s without traffic. However, if you’re looking for an outstanding golf course to make a day trip to, there may not be one better from the DC area. Once you have committed to the trip, the remote location becomes a blessing as upon arrival, you will not find the hustle and bustle of many golf clubs closer to the city. I have played Mattaponi and handful of times, mostly on weekdays, but each time, pace of play, packed tee sheets, or a crowded course are the furthest things from being an issue. The site itself is awfully isolated, as the roads leading to it are thin, winding, and mostly undeveloped. On my most recent visit, a gorgeous Wednesday in October, I offered my golf partner and co-pilot an over/under of 7 cars in the parking lot when we got to Mattaponi at 10am. He took the over.. when we pulled in, we were the 5th car. I find this stunning, considering Golf Digest ranked Mattaponi Springs as the 50th best public golf course in the United States. The only explanation i can come up with is the location. Even for Richmond golfers, it’s a 45 minute drive north, past a number of other strong daily-fee tracks.



Ok, enough about the location and on to the important stuff. Practice area checks all the boxes with a wide, picturesque range, a large putting and chipping green, as well as a practice bunker. The first tee box is elevated above the tree line and gives your first look at the vastness of the property. This opening hole also gives you an idea of the challenge you have in front of you for the day. The first tee shot is a tricky one as the landing area likely takes driver out of your hands if you are playing from the appropriate tees for your driving distance, as there is water dead ahead. However the distance you have to work with is deceiving as the water line cuts away from you at an angle so it can be both tempting to take more club than you need and put it left where the water cuts away from you, as well as not take enough club and leave yourself with an opening approach of 200+ yards, bringing bogey plus into play right off the bat. This is how Chicago-based course designer, Bob Lohmann, has setup several shots throughout the course. It forces you to really think about the placement of your drives and think about the subsequent shot before you pull a club. Blindly taking driver each time you step to the tee on the par 4’s and even a couple of the par 5’s will get you in trouble, almost guaranteed. This theme recurs throughout the round. On the par 5 second, visually off the tee there are bunkers left-long and right-short that both make you second guess pulling driver, though it’s likely the right play. But assuming you land your drive in the fairway, your second does not allow you to grip it and rip it, as there is a fairly large wetland on the right side of the fairway short of the green. The third is a short par 3, that will cause you do some math figuring which club will get it close, and so on with many of the shots you’ll have at Mattaponi.



As for the greens at Mattaponi Springs, they are no joke and should not be taken lightly. On this most recent visit they were running at an estimated “10” by the starter on duty, and they felt like every bit of it. When you play 80% of your rounds on muni’s that roll somewhere between 5 and 8 on the stimpmeter, a 10 is lightning quick. My scorecard from the round tells me I three-putted no less than 8 times. The speed wasn’t the only culprit in this however, as almost every green has multiple tiers or dramatic contours. The 13th green for instance has three distinct platforms on the dance floor that depending on the pin placement can make a two-putt extremely difficult if you’re approach is not on the right tier. The greenskeeper thus has the ability to make some brutal pin placements putting extra pressure on your iron game as well. At 6,890 yards from the tips, Mattaponi Springs is not crazy long, however with a rating of 74.2 and a slope of 147, it is not for the faint of heart. Playing the appropriate tees for your game and length is essential to keeping your blood pressure at a manageable level.



In exchange for requiring each golfer to bring their thinking cap to the course, Lohmann contoured the fairways with berms and mounds that seem to help the golfer more often than not. Our group had several wayward shots that found their way either in not so bad spots in light rough or sometimes sneaking back onto the fairway. When I hear golfers talk about courses that they like, the most common phrase used seems to be the overused “tough but fair”, and each time I hear it, I internally roll my eyes. However, the hypocrite in me bears it’s head when playing Mattaponi, as the term that I continually comes to mind as I find my ball in manageable spots is “fair”. The other real treat about the course is the serene feeling of isolation as there are no houses on the property. We have Alexandria-based property owner Jim Oliff to thank for this. While Mattaponi Springs will likely not be in the cards for most DC area golfers to play a round or a quick nine before work or after you cut out early, it is a very manageable distance for a day-trip as well as almost exactly halfway to Virginia Beach. So go ahead and take Friday off, grab a mid-morning tee time and you’ll be at the beach with a boat-drink in your hand by sundown.

-Alex Dickson

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Day tripping to Penn National

A buddy of mine has been telling me for 4 or 5 years now. “It’s only 90 minutes away…. 36 holes, two totally different courses …perfect day trip” .. he preached. This past month, he had an opening for a 4th on his annual day-trip up, and I could swing it. The alarm went off at 4:15 am, and we departed 7-11 with our coffees just shy of five. We held the first tee time of the day on the Founders course at 6:40am, and we made it there with 30 minutes to get our wits about ourselves and even roll a few on the practice green.

At the break of dawn, there’s not much to see through the morning mist, but when the day’s first light punches through, and you’re lining up a wedge to a green glistening with dew… it just doesn’t get much better. That is ‘til you put that shot into the lake that’s lurking 10 yards behind the green which I failed to judge threw my squinty eyes, and rickety follow-through. Regardless, the day had begun, and even if I started this highly anticipated golf outing with back-to-back 8’s on the scorecard (a Pierre Garcon as my golfing partner coined), I was pumped to be out here. The front nine is a fairly straightforward parkland layout with really no tricks to it, other than a slight left turn at the par 5 second, and a right-slanted fairway at the par 4 eighth. Unless you’re playing stiff on less than four hours sleep, there are scores to be had on the front, if you just keep in the ball in front of you. The highlight of the front nine on the Founders visually has to be the opening hole, though I thoroughly botched it, did not take away from it’s beauty.

#17, Founders Course, Par 3

#17, Founders Course, Par 3

The back nine gets a little more interesting as unlike the front fairways turn away from the tee box or have uphill drives blocking sight-lines to the green on just about every hole. Well-placed shots off the tee become increasingly vital. If I may take a side note and boast for a moment, I did achieve a first for me starting the back with three straight birdies which I had not accomplished prior to this day. Granted it was a bit late to erase the memory of opening 49 on the front side to threaten any personal bests. This nine continues upon the path of the front with fairways lined with giant trees until the par 4 sixteenth. This hole offers you a tricky tee shot target with the lake from the first in your direct line of sight about 300 yards out, but seemingly much closer. It’s followed by the signature hole of this course in my opinion, which is an uphill forced carry over the lake Par 3 to visually shallow but wide green. The branches of a giant oak tree are hanging over the tee box, daring you not to Instagram your partner’s backswing. The finishing hole on the Founders is less dramatic than the two before it, but doesn’t take away from a great challenging first 18.

The nineteenth hole needs some upgrades in the high-def tv department, but their Salmon BLT does not disappoint , and is a great segue to another round without weighing you down.

The cart ride to the 1st hole on the Iron Forge takes several minutes, and when you arrive at the tee box you feel zip codes away. Not a tree in sight, just wide open fairway on a par 5 and a landing area seemingly a mile wide. This sight remains true for the majority of the course. Where the Founders course has a woodsy feel, with trees lining almost every fairway, the Iron Forge provides vistas of vast farmland on nearly every tee box. The contrast is stark and satisfying. The front nine on the Iron Forge allows for wide open drives that can get a bit loose without punishing you with lost balls or penalty strokes on the scorecard. It does play longer so not a not walk in the park, but if you’re holding out to bring your “A” game here, than you played the day right. The highlight of the back nine for me was the par 5 eleventh, which plays long and can give you a daring second shot if you have the length to go for it in two. There are traps straight ahead off the tee that seem massive, but shouldn’t come into play, and the pond short and left of the green will make you think twice about going for it depending on the pin placement. The preserved silo just beyond the green just adds to the visual which makes this my favorite hole on the course, while also making me draw comparisons to Laurel Hill.

#11, Iron Forge Course, Par 5

#11, Iron Forge Course, Par 5

The tricky part about waking up in the 4 o’clock hour for a pre-7am tee time, 90 minutes away, is that it will likely take you a few holes to shake off the cobwebs making it tough to score well on the opening 18. Then once you find your groove, the lack of sleep and hours on the course may catch up with you on the back nine of the second track. I say this, really, because this was my exact experience. I’m a nine-ish handicap and played holes ten through twenty-five in 1-over par… trouble was , I played the other twenty holes at +25. The Iron Forge definitely plays more open than the Founders and allows for a bit more scoring as two of members of our group played the latter in double digit strokes better than the former. There are arguments to be made as to the timing of how you time your day, but I can’t complain about how much fun I had, because I wouldn’t change it for the world. We were on the road by 5pm and I was home in time to make dinner. The playing of the challenging Founders prior to it’s more forgiving and very fraternal twin is a no brainer …. as is making this trip with three of your favorite fellow golfers.

-Alex Dickson

Penn National Golf Club & Inn

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Laurel Hill – The Monster Muni

Every now and again you have a particular round of golf that stays with you for quite some time. Recently, I had this occur at a local municipal of the highest order, Laurel Hill Golf Course in Lorton, Virginia. Some of the most fun rounds of golf come on days when you had no plans to play, but manage to get out anyhow. This particular Saturday morning started out overcast & drizzly with late spotty thunderstorms in the forecast. A leisurely morning of coffee, the paper & an omelet gently eased into checking off some procrastinated chores around the house. As is often the case when I’ve accomplished anything no matter how small, and there are remaining hours of daylight left, my mind wonders to golf with my body and clubs usually right behind.

Just 10 minutes from the Beltway in Lorton, Laurel Hill Golf Course is one of the easier high-end tracks to get to in the area. Growing up in the DC area, Lorton was synonymous with just one thing… prison. The Lorton Reformatory housed a large percentage of the Washington D.C. inmate population during the better part of the 20th century. As a teenager venturing into D.C., any foray carried with it the reminder that any wrongdoing would land you in Lorton cozying up to the hardest criminals around. Although I had never been anywhere near Lorton as a kid, I had always envisioned those scared straight videos everyone was shown in school. In 2001, it was shut down due to overcrowding and being extremely outdated, so Fairfax County took ownership of the land. Laurel Hill was soon built on the grounds and is now the best municipally run golf course in the area.

So come three in the afternoon and the t-storms Doug Kammerer had been promising all day didn’t seem to be formulating, so I raced down 95, pulled up to the bag drop and asked the starter if he had room for a single before bothering to park the car. About ten minutes later, I was on the first tee introducing myself to Tom, who I’d be riding with for the day, as well as Logan and Mike who were already carrying on, busting each other’s balls about who would outplay the other. The first at Laurel Hill is a great intro for the day ahead. A mid-length par 4 with a left sloping fairway and an expansive green with bunkers left and rear right. The eye grabber of the opener is the silo just right of the fairway about 50 yards short of the green, which is the first of several structures from the reformatory days preserved either on or visible from the course. Tom, Logan and I all find the fairway off the tee while Mike duck-hooks his drive into the waist high weeds to the left, much to the enjoyment of his playing partner. Their jovial ribbing made it clear we were in for an entertaining outing. On the second tee box, Logan not only informs us that Mike is his younger brother but also gleefully explains that Mike is on a losing streak to him spanning 5 years despite almost identical handicaps. Mike appeared to be purposefully exerting extra concentration lining up his tee shot pretending not to hear Logan chuckling away, and after pushing his drive right, happily proclaims that he’s just working out the kinks.

Approach shot on #1

Approach shot on #1

Laurel Hill cordially invites you in with two holes that don’t provide too much challenge or strain on your golf bag, but that changes quickly when you arrive at #3. This is where Laurel Hill really bares her teeth and gives you an idea of the monster you’re attempting to tackle. The tee shot features a forced carry over a ravine to an uphill fairway with a bunker waiting for you right in your ideal landing area. Even if you’re fortunate enough to land it in the fairway, you are “rewarded” with an uphill approach shot that will likely either require the longest iron in your bag or a fairway wood just to reach the two-tiered sloping green. If there is a harder par 4 on a municipally run track in the D.C. metropolitan area, I haven’t played it. If this were a par 5 on the scorecard, I don’t believe many golfers would protest for one second. Tom lands his approach safely on the dance floor and is emerging as the player in the group. Mike & Logan have lit up cigars and appear determined to have a good time regardless of the punishment Laurel Hill tries to dole out.

The front nine offers a spectacular variety of golf holes with a pair of par 3’s, the 4th with a 70 foot elevation drop likely requiring a high lofted iron, and the 8th, a no frills bomb that stretches to 240 yards from the back tees to what appears from the tee as a wide shallow green. Back-to-back par 4’s at the 6th & 7th couldn’t play more opposite from one another. The 6th demands a long straight drive to have any chance at reaching in two, while the 7th is reachable from the tee, assuming you have a club in your bag that can carry 280 yards in the air and stop on a dime. The ninth hole is a terrific par 5 that will test your ability to manage a golf hole. The landing area off the tee short is nice and wide but gets thin for big hitters, which should make you club down. No one in our group does. As we exit our carts adjacent the path on the fairway, Mike appears briefly despondent as he realizes he has lost another ball in the sh*t, but snaps out of it with relentless positivity. Logan, while having his own struggles, is seemingly put in a better mood with each errant shot Mike hits. Tom & I have found the fairway, which offers a long iron or hybrid to an elevated green protected by a massive bunker and tree limbs blocking the left side of the green. The smart play is a mid-iron right of the green to a wide landing area further down the fairway. I hit a 5 iron that comes up just short and leaves me in the steepest trap on the course, and fail to get out on my first try. Tom lays up right. He pars, I bogey.

On the tee at #3

On the tee at #3

While at the turn, Mike runs in the clubhouse as Logan, Tom & I wait outside. Logan takes the opportunity to explain to us that he’s really out here with his kid brother to give him a lift in spirits and a break from his job search, that apparently has been dragging on. Just then Mike comes hustling out, arms full of hotdogs and drinks, shouting how while in the bathroom he figured out what was off with his backswing. I couldn’t help but notice Tom getting great enjoyment from Mike’s resilient optimism.

Starting off the back nine is a manageable par 4 where you need to post a decent score, as it only gets harder from that point forward. The 11th is a terrific par 3 that gives you a nice look at Lorton prison’s guard tower just beyond the property. The back three sets of tees are a forced carry all the way to the green. Here Logan continues to chide Mike, suggesting it may be safer if he teed off from the ladies tees, which requires no such forced carry. After a couple tricky par 4’s, your scorecard really gets tested with an uphill par 3, one of the hardest around. It plays at least an extra club, and it’s already long. 212 yards from the blue tees which we were playing, while another 6 yards from the tips . Waiting for you is a two-tiered green, with a deep bunker on the front right. It’s a doozy. Mike smacks a hybrid up the right side of the green, rolls halfway up the green’s slope and come back around stopping about 4 feet from the pin. Logan, giddy with excitement over his brother’s amazing shot, also reminds him that it’ll take a shot like that on every hole left in order to beat him. After, Mike makes his birdie and we all bogey or worse, we get the treat of playing Laurel Hill’s 612-yard beast under the bed. And it’s uphill. And the wind is in our face. I hit what I thought was a nice drive, then hit a 3 wood as good as I can hit it and still have 190 to the center of the green. It feels like it’s playing 700 yards. Mike has hit a few wormburners that have rolled out and finds himself with a makeable par putt after getting on in four.

The determination to beat his brother is showing on his face. His brother appears to be losing his mind on the right side of the fairway still trying to find a ball ten yards deep into the tall stuff. With Logan still making his way up the fairway, Tom asks Mike what line of work he was in, to which Mike replies he was a property manager until the company he worked for got bought out and he laid off. Conversation is interrupted by a fore yell by Logan and his ball flying just over our heads just left of the green. Mike makes his par while Logan takes a high number and it’s clear their friendly match is getting close. The hits keep coming at #16 with a picturesque par 3, that requires a mid-to-long iron over a lake. If somehow you make it this far unscathed, #17 will surely take you down a peg. It plays 466 yards from our tees but the fairway turns right making the second shot always seem to play longer than it should. With bunkers littering both sides of the fairway and a creek cutting in front of the green, par here feels alot like a birdie. As we gathered at the 18th tee box, Logan’s demeanor had soured a bit. He seemed like the beers he had been drinking all afternoon were catching up to him, and he was muttering to us about how despite his poor play he still had a two-shot lead on his brother. Mike remained as positive as can be, riding high off his stellar play over the last few holes. The 18th is a long par 5, that I personally have never witnessed a golfer reach into two, which did not change this day. There is water on the right side of the fairway threatening both your second shot and your third if you come up short or right of the green. Tom & I, not surprisingly, both made a mess of the hole, as both of us had turned our most of our attention to the final drama battle between our playing partners. Mike played it smart, working his way up the left side of the fairway and getting himself in position for a long two-putt par, as his ball sat on the front fringe after his third shot. Logan put a 3-wood in the drink on his second as he tried to force his second towards the green. On his fourth however, he was able to put mid iron, in between expletives, back over the pond onto the green to about 15 feet. They each two-putted and Logan exulted in joy as he had held onto his victory once more over his sibling.

18th at Laurel Hill

18th at Laurel Hill

I couldn’t help but feel bad for Mike, as he had done a total 180 on the hardest part of the course, and was a pleasure to play with from start to finish, which couldn’t necessarily be said for his brother. Tom clearly was thinking something similar, because as we approached the clubhouse after leaving the 18th, he handed Mike his business card and explained that he was a VP at a local housing developer that was likely getting the bid to redevelop the rest of the old Lorton Reformatory site. He said how we was highly impressed at Mike’s resiliency & positivity on the golf course, and how that was precisely the type of attitude his company seeks out in an employee. Mike’s eyes got wide, as Tom told him to call him on his cell on Monday to setup a formal interview. There’s an old quote, that everyone has heard or least a variation thereof … “to find a man’s true character, play golf with him”.  Never have I seen this sentiment play out with such immediate dividends.

-Alex Dickson

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Playing in the Shadows of History – East Potomac Park’s White Course

The executive nine hole White course at East Potomac Park has the location, price, playability, views and history that make it a must play for any local or visiting golfer who hasn’t walked the par 34 course at least once before. The golf courses at East Potomac Park in the southwest quadrant of our nation’s capital is part of the National Park system and offer a 18-hole Blue course, an executive nine as the White course, and a par-3 Red course.

The first nine holes opened in 1921 and by 1930 the 36 holes that stand today had been completed and open for business. The early years of East Potomac Park golf were a bit bumpy as it reflected much of the country’s troubling segregation policies of the era, with black golfers originally only allowed to play on Tuesday’s after 3pm. In 1925, the newly built Lincoln Memorial Golf course, across the tidal basin in West Potomac Park, was designated in Jim Crow fashion as a blacks only course making the courses at East Potomac Park whites only. This lasted through 1941, when the secretary of the interior issued an order opening up all dc courses to all golfers. An infamous incident of the first three african-american golfers playing the course after the order passed, turned ugly as the golfers being escorted by National Park Service police were harassed and threatened as they played their round. Yet despite the controversial history of early golf in the district, East Potomac Park has remained the epicenter of public golf in Washington D.C. for almost a century now, with golfers from all over the area and tourists visiting dc playing over 90,000 rounds annually. In 1994 they opened a 100 bay driving range featuring covered and heated stalls which along with a handful at the Paint Branch golf course in College Park, are the only of their kind, open to the public, inside the beltway. #1 The real scene stealers on the white course are the array of nearby monuments, memorials and points of interest that are all in plain sight from various angles of the course. While the Washington Monument can be seen from at least 7 of the holes as it seemingly towers over the latter portion of the course just to the north, don’t miss spotting the U.S. Capitol building directly down your line of sight from the 6th tee past the green, or the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in plain sight as you line up your drive on the 8th. While approaching the green on number three or walking the fairway on nine, you can look west across the Potomac and spot the Air Force Memorial, the control tower at Reagan National Airport and the George Washington Masonic Memorial, referred to by most locals simply as the Masonic Temple. #3 The white course offers a trio of par 3’s, all of decent length, ranging from 156 to 190 yards. The fifth is the trickiest of them, as your line of sight from the tee box is not only blocked by a short tree about 80 yards out, but there are two good-sized bunkers protecting the front side of an elevated green. Unlike alot of executive nine-hole courses, the six par 4’s on the white course all allow for a driver to be used, although not necessarily recommended on the 266 yard third hole, where if you push a drive right you will likely end up out of bounds into the driving range. The 285 yard 4th hole allows for long hitters to go for the green off the tee without much risk aside from a front left bunker about 10 yards short of the putting surface. The final three holes, all par 4’s,welcome the golfer to pull driver and rip away. #6 Conditions at the White Course aren’t exactly Augusta National, as clover and crabgrass can often be found throughout the fairways as well as on a few greens which can lead to some bumpy putts.  No one should come with the expectations that you are playing Pine Valley, after all the prime-time rate here is sixteen bucks!  East Potomac Park is on a 300 acre man-made island sitting in the Potomac River, which in turn created the Washington Channel directly to the east of the park. As a result of the low lying parkland, there can often be some soggy lies if there has been any type of rainfall in the days leading up to your round.

For golfers living in DC or in nearby Alexandria & Arlington counties, the location just of the 14th st bridge is so convenient that an early morning nine on the white course can be gotten to and played as quickly as any in the area. Starting off a day with nine holes among the landmarks of so much of our country’s history provides this golfer with a good walk rarely spoiled.

-Alex Dickson

East Potomac Park Golf

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Pleasant Valley GC, Chantilly, Va.

At first glance, the impression one may get pulling into the Pleasant Valley Golf Club could easily be negative, based on the undistinguished facade of the clubhouse and surrounding parking lot. Until you take out your clubs, the feel to it may leave you worried that you overpaid for 18 holes that you can find at any low-budget muni in northern Virginia, as Pleasant Valley doesnt seem to use much of their funds on the pro-shop, snackbar, or locker rooms, but that in no way is a refection on what’s most important…. the course itself, which is worth every penny.

Right out of the gate, Pleasant Valley shows you what you’re in store for off the first tee, with a picturesque short par 4 with three tall oak trees lining the left side of the fairway protecting a direct shot towards the green. You will immediately notice how PV mows the fairways, by pushing the grass on the left half of the fairway and pulling the grass on the right, giving each hole a unique appearance. At first look , it almost appears to be different cuts of grass, but once played, gives the golfer a line to shoot to divide the fairway.

Pleasant Valley is owned and operated with its sister course, South Riding just up the road, the clear difference being the lack of houses on the PV course. Here you can play eighteen holes without laying eyes on a single home which always scores big points in this golfer’s eyes. What you won’t see at Pleasant Valley is much elevation change at all, as most up and down on the course seems made, and several drives from the tee are slightly less clear than i’d like, yet not completely blind. What they’ve designed is a track with soft rolling hills of challenging holes, with a mix of long par 4’s, like the brutal 479 yd 12th hole and 450 yd 15th, along with a few short ones that will tempt your driver like the 329 yd 9th and 333 yd 16th. Three of the four par 3’s on the course require a mid-to-long iron, (if not more on the 222 yd fouth hole) and the par 5’s are really difficult to reach in to. By all accounts this is the tougher of the two courses they run, between Peasant valley & South Riding, but in my view stretches your dollar and golf ball further.

The track can play slow, as our recent round ran every bit of five hours, but was thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. Peak rates run $98 per round, but they do participate on golfnow and my golf partners and I recently ran the course for $50 midday on a friday afternoon.

Pleasant Valley Golf Club

-Alex Dickson

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Penderbrook Golf Club: Quick Drive, Slow Play

Sitting just off I-66 less than 8.5 miles from the beltway, Penderbrook is definitely one of the most conveniently located 18-hole daily fee courses in the area. The development the course winds through, lies just across the street from heavily trafficked Fair Oaks Mall, and it’s proximity to the highway makes it easy to get to from all directions. On Saturday and Sunday mornings this fact, along with very reasonable greens fees, can make it one of the slowest 18 holes around, filled with weekend duffers taking their time getting around this short but tricky course.

Penderbrook Golf , Fair Oaks, Virginia

Penderbrook GC #16

The layout of the Edward Ault designed course can be a bit confined at times, as it uses just about every square inch of the property. The opening four holes are a fun start that provide a mild amount of elevation change with raised tee boxes on the second and third, and an elevated green atop the par 5 fifth that features dogleg 400 yards into fairway. With homes and OB on either side of this long hole, the fifth is often going to be the highest score on your card all day. Out of bounds is frequent at Penderbrook, as backyards of homes come very much into play on seven of the eighteen holes. One highly unusual aspect, often found on european courses instead of in northern Virginia, is that the front nine finish does not bring you back to the clubhouse, instead, there is a free-standing snack bar allowing for a quick turn after walking off the ninth green.

Take your time and grab a bite, maybe drink something with a bit of a kick, you may need a bit of courage for the tee shot on number ten. From the back tees, the par 3 tenth measures 220 yards and it’s all carry over water. Left will leave you in the rocks, long in the woods, right down a hill back into the water, and anything short is wet. This is one of the hardest par 3’s you’ll find in the entire region. As if an apology, Mr. Ault kindly made the eleventh a reachable par 4 to allow your scorecard to recover. The next two holes will keep you on your toes in a big way, with a severe dogleg par 4 on the twelfth and green guarded on three sides with water, followed by a short par 3 at the thirteenth, that is a tricky wedge shot over water to a thin green where the pin always seems to be tantalizingly close to the water’s edge. Finishing out the round will give you a few scoring chances at the par 5’s on fourteen and seventeen, and the finishing hole is reachable par 4 that is only 325 yards from the longest set of tees.

With Penderbrook’s centralized Fairfax location, the course sees a lot of traffic, and the course conditions often make that abundantly clear. Too many rounds recently have met grassless, unmarked tee boxes, spotty greens and long waits on par 3’s. The practice area is minimal with one green for putting and chipping along with an aging net to hit balls into. One nice extra, comes on afternoons during the week when a hamburger bar is often included in your greens fee which i am guilty of taken advantage of one several occasions. Overall, Penderbrook is a convenient challenge to all levels of golfer, but needs a bit more tlc to warrant frequent returns.

Weekend morning rate: $59 w/cart
Weekday afternoon rate: $35 w/cart

Penderbrook Golf

-Alex Dickson

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Bull Run Golf Club getting the Rasberry Trail treatment

This past year the Rasberry Golf Management took over operations at Bull Run Golf Club in Haymarket, Virginia, which can only mean good things to come for this 12 year old course in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The first time we played in the course was early 2010 and may have been not long before the ownership change occurred, because while the layout was remote and stunning in parts, the service was flat out non-existent. Now with the new management, Bull Run is clearly staffed with more warm bodies which is a big step in the right direction, however, the course has still got a way to go before it can be compared with its new siblings on the Rasberry Golf Trail.

Bull Run Haymarket Virginia Golf Course

Par 3 16th Hole at Bull Run Golf Club

The front nine has several forced carries off the tee including the par 4 first hole, where your drive has to carry water to reach the fairway. The par 5 second will offer up the best scoring opportunity, which should be reachable in two without too much trouble from any tee box other than the blacks which measures 535 yds. The next five holes bring the golfer through a heavily wooded area, that provides a couple gems including the par 4 fifth hole and the long par 5 seventh. Eight and nine are two fun holes, the first giving the chance to make a score, the second fraught with peril. The eighth brings you out of the woods and back to the front of the property with a dogleg right par 4 that is greenable with a precise left to right drive off the tee. Too far right and you’ll be in water that guards the back of the green. I would encourage any long hitter to wait for the green to clear and give it a go. Closing out the front nine is the hardest hole at Bull Run, a long curving par 4 with water starting in front of the tee and continuing the length of the hole on the right side. Left of the fairway, which is straight out from the tee, is high unplayable rough which you’ll want to avoid at all costs.

The back nine starts on the opposite side of the expansive property here and starts you off with a few holes that don’t inspire too much other than a bit of temptation to try to drive the green on the par 4 twelfth. The thirteenth is a tough par 4, that if playing from either of the two back tees requires a drive to carry a water into a heavily bunkered fairway. The par 5 thirteenth is long and but fairly open, so while going for it in two is probably not realistic, the fairway will allow to at least try. My favorite hole on the back is the par 3 sixteenth which is a simple picturesque tree-lined hole that carries a pond from tee to green, showing off the tranquility that the golfer feels deep into the grounds at Bull Run. The finishing hole is par 5 that has a semi-blind tee shot that could leave a long drive wet. However, a well placed three-wood should leave the golfer anywhere from 140 to 180 yards to the green.. why is this a par 5? There is a tree to the right of the green that i suppose from a certain angle could require a layup on the other side of the pond, but that is a stretch. In reality, making the eighteenth a par 5 provides a cheap scoring opportunity to finish the round and allows Bull Run to be a full par 72. This last point may be the only aspect that the Beltway Golfer disapproves of at this otherwise highly enjoyable layout. The course conditions at Bull Run, while need in need of improvement on a few fairways and greens, are much improved since just last year. Another plus for the aesthetics at Bull Run is that it is currently completely house-less, although i suspect that won’t be the case forever. The 19th hole has a nice elevated deck that overlooks the 18th green as well as good sized bar and dining room. On tap i was pleased to find new local brewer Lost Rhino’s Face Plant IPA on draft which is much recommended icing on your Bull Run cake.

Weekend Rate: $89 w/cart
Weekday twilight: $49 w/cart

Bull Run Golf

-Alex Dickson

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Herndon Centennial Golf Course

Every time i find myself outside the clubhouse at Herndon Centennial, i get the feeling where everyone there knows one another and I’m the new guy.  It just has that feel to it, the golfers on the putting green always seem to be chatting with one another,  the folks loading up their carts are hollering back at the foursome that are just coming off the 18th, everybody seems to be old friends.   One thing that Herndon truly seems to get right is bringing the golf club camaraderie  to a municipal course run by the town of Herndon. 
Herndon Centennial Golf Course Ninth Hole
#9 at Herndon Centennial Golf Course

With a 119 slope from the back tees, the Edward Ault designed course, is not the most challenging in the area.  On most days it can be the perfect course to walk however at 6,132 yards at its furthest and mostly flat, it can be played on foot in well under four hours on most days. The front nine plays considerably easier in my opinion, with several short wide open par 4’s coming on #’s 1,2,4,6 & 9. The only trouble one can get into on the front is off the tee on the par 5 third, with a lake off the right side of the fairway and a large bunker guarding the left, as well as on the par 4 eighth, where a slightly blind tee shot could potentially leave you in the woods if you’re drive veers off too far in either direction. Otherwise, the front nine is straightforward and allows for plenty of practice to go pin-hunting with a wedge in your hand.

The back nine at Herndon Centennial is where the course manages to find its charm. The par 4 11th & 12th holes are my favorite on the course as they are the only tee shots that require the ball flight to follow the shape of the hole. Both are par 4’s just over 400 yards and both, if played from the fairway, leave attractive approaches in to the green.  All three par 5’s on the course are reachable with only the 5th measuring just over 500 yards. Overall, Herndon is a fun course to play, especially when you don’t have five hours to spend on a round. During the week, there is rarely a problem walking right on, which is definitely not the case at nearby Reston National. The overall conditions are generally a step above the average muni, although I’ve found the greens to be inconsistent from hole to hole.

 Weekend rate: $47 w/o cart

 Weekday rate: $33 w.o cart

 Herndon Centennial 

– Alex Dickson

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Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park

Located north of Dulles airport, off route 28, is the Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park, ranked by Golf Range magazine as one of the top 100 driving range’s in the country.  The driving range here employs the Power Tee system, which automates teeing the ball from beneath the hitting mat.  After each shot, the tee drops below the mat, picks up the next ball and raises back up to one of four tee height settings.  On top of this, each tee station is covered, lighted, heated and has it’s own individual yardage map to each flag on the range, which is very hard to find at most other ranges.  After the free VIC discount card at the counter, a small bucket of 45 balls is $6 & a large bucket of 90 balls is $11, which is pretty competitive with most ranges in the area.    Also at the Dulles Golf Center is the Chuck Will Golf Academy which Golf Digest ranked as the one of the top 100 clubfitters in the country as well as Chuck Will a top 5 golf teacher in the state of Virginia.  With all of these accolades, along with batting cages and a miniature course, it’s easy to recommend the Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park to anyone looking to hit a bucket.

Dulles Golf Center & Sports Park

-Alex Dickson

Dulles Golf Center

Dulles Golf Center

Dulles Golf Center

Driving Range at Dulles Golf Center

Power Tee system at Dulles Golf Park

Power Tee system at Dulles Golf Center

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Pinecrest Golf Course: Tight 9-Hole layout inside the Beltway

At first glance, Fairfax County run, Pinecrest Golf Course, appears to be a run-down course primarily for novices not ready for a full-length 18 holes, but once out on the course you’ll find several holes that while not long in length, offer plenty of difficulty.   The atmosphere of the place has bit of southern charm to it, in that it seems everything is moving just a bit slower than the rest of the inside-the-beltway world going on around it.   There is a range of 5 or 6 six practice tees hitting into nets that has the feel of a converted batting cage as well as a good size putting green.

Pinecrest Golf Course, Fairfax County Golf, Virginia Golfing, Virginia Golf Course

Par 3 Seventh at Pinecrest Golf Course

Golf course architect, Leon Howard clearly did not have a lot of real estate to work with when he designed this nine-hole layout in 1973, yet it is clear that he made the most of it with some truly unique golf holes.  Many of the par 4’s tempt you with reachable distances off the tee but the greens are well protected to make the emboldened suffer when their drives are errant.  Pars 4’s at the first,  second, fourth, fifth holes all will reward a wild tee shot with out-of-bounds and hazards bordering the putting surface.  The two standout holes on this course are the 245 yd par 4 second that is almost impossible to resist going at the green but rarely results in an eagle opportunity, and the 315 yd par 4 sixth which has a green tucked away downhill in a carved nook of forest making placement of the tee shot paramount.   There are three short par 3’s and perhaps the shortest par 5 in Virginia, at the 336 yd third hole.   A blind second shot has earned the third a par 5 rating however i’m fairly sure par 5’s aren’t generally meant to be played driver-lob wedge.   At 2,462 yds from the back tees, this course should play in 90 minutes at the absolute most, however Pinecrest being an extremely friendly course for beginners and duffers just swinging the dust off the clubs, i’ve found that it’s rarely as quick a round as expected.

“The Best Kept Secret Inside The Beltway!” is the proclamation the cover of the Pinecrest scorecard makes.  While i’m not entirely sure what that means, since it certainly doesn’t seem like a secret on my recent trips to the course, Pinecrest is a pleasant nine holes that will give almost levels of golfer a real challenge in under two hours.  That truly is hard to find anywhere else inside the beltway.

Weekend rate: $21 w/o cart
Weekday twilight: $11 w/o cart

Pinecrest Golf Course

-Alex Dickson

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