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.

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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Greendale Golf Course: Fairfax Municipal in Alexandria

Greendale Golf Course holds the distinct honor of  closest 18-hole Virginia track both to our nation’s capital as well as to the BeltwayGolfer’s residence.   The Fairfax County run facility is less than 4 miles outside of the beltway on Telegraph Rd, just south of Old Town Alexandria.   Each time i play Greendale, it feels more and more like a home course.   Growing up on the other side of the beltway, my friends and I learned the game on Montgomery County munis like Sligo Creek, Northwest & Needwood, which all have a feel and atmosphere not unlike Greendale.   The starters and staff,  while not always the picture of efficiency, always a welcoming sense of humor about them.  The clubhouse, while extremely modest, has a cozy feel and everything you need including free ball markers & repair tools.


#5 at Greendale Golf Course

At 6,352yds from the longest tees, Greendale is not a terribly long course, however many of the narrow straight fairways require accuracy with the driver.   The front nine is fairly straight forward with scoring opportunities on both reachable par 5′s at the second and seventh holes.  One doozy of a hole is the par 3 sixth hole which plays slightly downhill over a pond, where a deceivingly large humpbacked green makes most pin placements a difficult two putt.   This is easily the trickiest putting surface on a course otherwise full of relatively flat greens.  Water comes into play on nine holes at greendale, with five separate hazards ranging in size dotting the course.  The front nine’s scorecard is a bit unusual in that there are three par 3′s complimenting the pair of par 5′s.

The back nine plays quite a bit tougher than the front, as it is slightly longer and has quite a few tough holes.  The largest water hazard on the course comes into play off the tee on the tenth as well as on the eleventh when your blind tee shot can easily go right into the drink if hit toward the left side of the fairway.  The twelfth is another tricky par 4 that requires a precise right-to-left tee shot to avoid trouble on either side of the fairway.  Greendale doesn’t relent when your coming in with three finishing holes are among the toughest on the course. The sixteenth is an uphill par 3 that leaves with only about the top-half of the flagstick in view, and at 234 yds from the back tees, it becomes one of the toughest greens to hit i’ve seen in the area.  The seventeenth is a par 4 with an undulating fairway that wants to send almost every tee shot rolling down off the fairway into trouble on the right, while the par 5 eighteenth is the longest hole on the course, with an elevated tee shot that opens the door trouble if your driver gets wild.

All in all Greendale Golf Course is a fun challenge to play, that is flat enough to walk and surprisingly not often crowded despite it’s proximity to Old Town & D.C.   The staff brings not a whiff of pretension to the clubhouse and practice areas, and have always been accommodating even when the BeltwayGolfer shows up late to his tee time.

Weekend  rate: $35 walking , $50 w/cart

Weekday rate: $29 walking, $44 w/cart

Greendale Golf Course

- Alex Dickson

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Mauna Kea GC, Big Island of Hawaii #11, Par 3, 250 yds from the tips.

Mauna Kea GC, Big Island of Hawaii #11, Par 3, 250 yds from the tips.

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Virginia Oaks – Lake Manassas’ most accessible golf

For such a relatively small body of water, it’s quite remarkable that there are three separate 18-hole golf courses that all have holes with where Lake Manassas is in play.   Robert Trent Jones, commonly referred to as RTJ, is the world class and highly exclusive club that has hosted four President’s Cup tournaments since 1994, and has the most lake front golf of the three courses.  Stonewall is a highly rated upscale public course on the west-end of the lake, as well as a course that the Beltway Golfer plans to review before the year’s end.  Virginia Oaks lies predominantly east of the lake with only a couple holes bringing the lake into play, and is the more affordable of the two public courses mentioned here.   All three courses are accessed off route 29 just south of interstate 66 in Gainesville, Virginia.


View from the tee at the par 3 ninth hole

The Oaks, as one my playing partners refers to it as, was designed by P.B. Dye and much like his namesake course on the other side of the river, there is an awful lot of danger throughout the entire layout.   The front nine starts out with a manageable first hole, which should leave you with a wedge in your hand on your approach, but the challenges pile up quick over the next three holes.  The second is dogleg that will take  the driver out of your hand for most folks, the third is a reachable par 5 that will tempt you to do go for it but having your ball swallowed up the woods on either side of the thin fairway is an often more likely end result.  The fourth hole is really the class of the layout, as it should be since it’s the only hole that truly brings the lake into play.  The gradually downhill sloping par 4, will leave you with a tricky decision as to what iron to hit on your approach as the green will be well below your feet and Lake Manassas surronds it on three sides.  What’s even  more distracting is the fact the view from this fairway is as nice as you’ll see on any hole in the DC area.  The next four holes are fairly straight forward and lower scores are doable, especially with a  reachable par 4 at number seven.

Take your time at the clubhouse on the turn at Virginia Oaks, because the back nine is going to test your patience right off the bat. The par 5 tenth is a monster of a hole, measuring 621 yards from the championship tees and it always seems to play long.   The par 3 eleventh is another patience tester with the hole lying above the tee box and the size of the green always being extremely deceptive.  The nest three holes are all par 4′s that all packed in somewhat tight in what appears to a course designer running short on real estate, but nonetheless they require precise shots off the tee as well as on your approach.  There are hazards very much in play on several of the holes coming down the stretch, and leaving your driver in the bag on a few of them is recommended.  Save your energy for the finishing hole, a reachable par 5 that can produce both a low score or a costly one if you end up long or left in the lake guarding the green.  On weekends,  the track can slow down a bit but if you bring your patience, with a side of conservative club selection, you’ll most likely have a great day of golf.

Weekend AM rate: $69 incl cart

Weekday rate after 2pm: $39 incl cart

Virginia Oaks Golf

-Alex Dickson

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