Golf Club of Virginia at Beacon Hill beckons to the brave - or foolhardy

By Jake Schaller, Contributor

LEESBURG, Va. - When the 2002 United States Open Championship was held at Bethpage State Park's Black Course in Farmington, N.Y., the coverage surrounding the event seemed to be split evenly between Tiger Woods and the difficulty of the golf course.

One of the most memorable images from the tournament was the sign that greets golfers before the first tee at the Black Course that reads: "Warning: The Black Course is an extremely difficult course recommended only for highly skilled golfers."

Perhaps The Golf Club of Virginia at Beacon Hill in Leesburg, Va., can ask permission to borrow it.

From the tips, the Johnny Miller design measures 7,155 yards and plays to a 76.3 rating and slope of 146. Proceed with caution.

"You have to be on the right set of tees when you tee off," says Kai Strom, the assistant club professional at Beacon Hill. "A lot of people know the slope, and they want to go to the back tees. And they're in for a long day."

Beacon Hill, located on the 1,100-acre Arthur Godfrey estate, opened in the Fall of 2001. Though only 18 of the 27 planned holes are finished and the final nine will not be ready until the Spring of 2004, the first 18 are more than enough to form the opinion that Beacon Hill is a special place.

Start with the property itself. The course is set on rolling hills that offer dramatic changes in elevation and sweeping views of the surrounding woodlands and Blue Ridge Mountains. Streams and ponds are in play on 12 of the 18 holes, and wildlife is visible throughout. Even without golf holes carved into the landscape, a trip to Beacon Hill would be worth if just for a hike through an aesthetic wonderland.

But, oh, the golf holes. Choosing a signature hole at Beacon Hill would be as difficult as selecting the Beatles' best single. So many to choose from with such different character. Each hole provides excitement and a new challenge. There are uphill and downhill tee shots. There are forced carries. Shaped shots are needed in some situations. Three straight holes on the current set-up's back nine provide cases in point.

For sheer beauty, how about the 428-yard par-4 13th? It starts from a slightly elevated tee box and plays to a narrow fairway guarded on the right by trees and thick woods on the left. A stream also runs up the left side of the fairway, bending into the short grass near the landing area and then sliding in front and up the right side of a deep but narrow green.

For excitement, simply walk up the hill to the next hole. The 168-yard par-3 14th plays from an elevated tee box to a green guarded in front by a stream that feeds into a pond to the back and right of the green.

For adventure, try the 362-yard par-4 15th - as unique a hole as you will find in the Washington area. Again, you start from an elevated tee. The hole goes slightly to the left, and offers three parallel tiers of fairways to choose from. From right to left, the fairways get closer to sea level. The further left you choose to play your ball, the shorter and more level your approach shot will be. However, a lake banks the entire left side of the hole and makes cutting the corner a risk-reward decision. A single tree between the lowest and second-lowest fairway also must be avoided.

The par-4 seventh is the course's No. 1 handicap hole at the moment. It plays 497 yards with a series of bunkers on the right side of the landing area and out of bounds to the left. The approach is even more demanding as players must fly an environmental hazard and hit a shallow green that slopes back to front and is guarded in the back by bunkers. The 2003 Northern Virginia Amateur, held at Beacon Hill, turned on this hole when the leader took a quadruple-bogey eight.

Also difficult is the par-5 fifth hole. Though it plays just 511 yards, reaching the green in two is difficult due to a stream that meanders through the fairway and an environmental area just short of the green. The stream forces players to hit their tee shots to the a landing area on the right of it, but the hole dog legs back to the left, and only a spectacular approach would set up an eagle putt.

The 453-yard par-4 16th is the course's No. 2 handicap hole. It doglegs to the left, but a lake on the left side of the fairway makes cutting the corner almost impossible.

The course finishes with another monster -- a 585-yard par-5 that plays uphill and along a narrow fairway with trouble on either side.

As difficult as the course appears at first glance, there are no tricks. Nearly every shot is right out in front of the player, meaning the danger is always avoidable with a well-struck shot.

"Usually one side is safer, and the other side gives more freedom to make a mistake," Strom says. "There are no holes out there that are tight both ways. If there's trouble on the left, you aim more to the right. ... I would consider only one shot a blind shot on the course, on hole nine. Other than that, it's either eye level or straightaway. It's not like you're hitting to a marker in the middle of a fairway. Everything is in your face. You see it."

And seeing it once is hardly enough to believe it. Because Beacon Hill's membership is not close to full, it allows golfers to come up to three times to play the course. "It takes a few times to learn," Strom says.

But only once to realize it is already one of the premier clubs in the area.

Where to stay

With Washington, D.C., just 45 minutes away, there are all types of lodging available. If you want to stay nearby there are plenty of choices, including some Bed and Breakfasts.

The top option in Leesburg is Landsdowne Resort (703-729-8400), a four-diamond, full-service resort with 296 rooms located on 205 acres. An excellent Robert Trent Jones, Jr. Golf Course is located on the premises.

The Norris House Inn & Thomas Birkby House (703-777-1806) provides bed and breakfast accommodations. Guests can use a dining room, parlor, library, sun room and verandah overlooking gardens. Guest rooms are decorated with antiques, and three have working fireplaces.

There also is the Best Western Dulles (703-777-9400), Comfort Suites (703-669-1650), and a Hampton Inn and Suites (703-669-8640).

Where to dine

As with the hotels, the number of restaurants (and fine restaurants) increases the closer you go toward Washington, D.C. -- about a 45-minute drive from Beacon Hill. Tysons Corner is a bit closer, and there are some places worth going in Leesburg, close to Beacon Hill. You won't go wrong at a Red, Hot and Blue(703-669-4242). The chain offers some of the best BBQ in the area.

Located in Leesburg's courthouse square, Lightfoot (703-771-2233) is a great place to hang out and have drinks, and the food is not bad either.

Eiffel Tower (703-777-5142) has French cuisine in a quaint atmosphere, while Giovanni's New York Style Pizza offers the area's top pies and excellent Italian food.

Getting there

From the Washington Beltway, I-495, take Route 7 west to the club. From points west, take Route 9 to Route 7 east. From points south take Routes 15 or 28 to Route 7 and turn west.

Jake Schaller, Contributor

Jake Schaller resides in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, D.C. He grew up in Bethesda, Md., where he attended Walt Whitman High School and played football.

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