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 In 2001, it was shut down due to overcrowding and being extremely outdated, so Fairfax County took ownership of the land.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.
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.
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.
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 D.