Prince William County starting to give Williamsburg a run for the money

By Jason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Stonewall Golf ClubMANASSAS, Va. -- Just southwest of the nation's capital is a budding golf destination that is trying to catch Williamsburg as the golf capital of Virginia.

Prince William County is touting itself as a golf bonanza for good reason. The golf boom of the 1990s found a home here, adding several new must-play layouts. Although Prince William County will never catch Williamsburg as one of the nation's great golf destinations, its quality layouts and proximity to Washington D.C. make it a worthy, convenient stop.

Eight 18-hole golf courses - and three nine-hole layouts - dot the diverse landscape in the county. Serious players will love the courses surrounding Lake Manassas. Since opening the exclusively private and prestigious Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in 1991, two other elite public courses have sprouted up along the beautiful topography of northern Virginia's largest lake.

Both the Stonewall Golf Club, the sister course of RTJ, and Virginia Oaks, a semiprivate design, boast across-the-lake views of the RTJ course, the home of three Presidents Cup competitions with another one on the way (2005).

Virginia Oaks Three other area courses - the Ospreys Golf Club at Belmont Bay (5,570 yards), the General's Ridge Golf Club (6,294) and the Prince William Golf Club (6,413) - are all shorter than championship layouts, playing as par-70s, but they also can be challenging and fun.

And more choices are on the way. Four other 18-hole layouts - Beaver Creek, Braemar and Southbridge, along with another 18 holes at Forest Greens Golf Club -- are in the planning stages.

Must Plays

History and golf mix well in Prince William County, the site of several historic Civil War battles.

In fact, two of the area's must-play courses - the Stonewall Golf Club in Gainesville and the Bull Run Golf Club in Haymarket - are Civil War tributes of sorts.

Stonewall, a Tom Jackson Jr. design opened in 2001, was named after Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, the legendary general who led the Confederates to victory in the First Battle of Manassas. Bull Run, a 7,009-yard layout, is named after Bull Run Mountain, another strategic Civil War site (FYI, the First and Second Battle of Manassas are also known as the First and Second Battle of Bull Run).

Bullrun Golf Club Now, the only battles being waged are for pars and bogeys. Washington Golf Monthly named Bull Run and Stonewall as two of the 100 Must-Play Courses of the Middle Atlantic in its March 2003 issue. Clearly, Stonewall is superior. Travel Golf Media honored its 13,000-square-foot clubhouse as the best in the Mid-Atlantic (midatlanticgolf.com/features/midatlantic-best-2002.htm), and the golf course provides stunning views of the lake along its sweeping back nine. After a round, the Brass Cannon Restaurant serves up huge, delicious proportions.

Virginia Oaks, also in Gainesville, is a diabolical P.B. Dye design of 6,928 yards. It's too bad Dye couldn't fit more holes along Lake Manassas, because that's what sets Stonewall apart from his design.

The 471-yard third and 432-yard fourth give players their first taste of the lake. No. 10 gives them their last. The whopping 621-yard, double-dogleg dips to a valley, then climbs atop a bluff overlooking the shore.

Although Stonewall has some intimidating 160-yard carries off the tee, Virginia Oaks probably plays the toughest with its strategically placed bunkers, uneven lies and tricky greens.

Bull Run, named the best new public course in Virginia in 1999 by Golf Magazine, is not as spectacular, but designer Rick Jacobson blended woodlands and natural reserves into a good test.

Solid Seconds

Forest Greens is the best of the four courses run by the Prince William County Park Authority. Two of the others -- General's Ridge (6,294) and Prince William (6,413) - are shorter, more family-friendly courses than Forest Greens, a 6,831-yard design.

Architect Clyde Johnston, who also molded some well-respected courses in the Carolinas, such as Glen Dornoch and Wachesaw Plantation East in Myrtle Beach and Old South and Old Carolina in Hilton Head, was blessed with an ideal parcel of land that crests and crescendos through mature forests.

Many of the tee shots at Forest Greens are from scenic vistas as the hole plays out below you. No. 12 looks like a docile, 354-yard dogleg on the scorecard, but the green is so high above your head that it's an intimidating approach shot. The shaky hole on the course is the brutal 552-yard par-5 18th. After a dogleg left, the hole climbs several plateaus to the green.

Forest Greens has been named one of the nation's Top 100 Courses for Women by Golf for Women Magazine.

The Ospreys Golf Club at Belmont Bay will deliver a quick, fun round at a good price. It is one of the few courses in Virginia named to the "The 50 Best for $50 or Less" by WGM. Architect Robert H. Mortensen sculpted a scenic masterpiece nestled on the banks of the Occaquan River. The course plays a short 5,567 yards from the tips, thanks to six par-3s. If you can get past several quirky long holes - the 465-yard fifth and the 457-yard 12th - that were crammed into the target-style layout, you'll have a good time. Riverfront wildlife, like deer and osprey, are abundant.

Another course worth mentioning is Bristow Manor, a semiprivate design crafted by Ken Killian, of Kemper Lakes fame. The 7,102-yard layout wanders through 220 acres of links-style land in historic Bristow Farm. It also made the Top 100 of the Middle Atlantic in 2001.

Off Course

Obviously, staying so close to the nation's capital has its advantages and disadvantages. Entertainment options are vast, but so are the long-standing lines on freeways at rush hour to get to those places.

History lessons are part of the lure in Prince William County. The Manassas National Battlefield Park (703-361-1339, nps.gov/mana), site of famous Civil War battles fought in 1861 and 1862 where thousands died, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Shoppers will soak up the Potomac Mills (potomacmills.com, 1-800-VA-MILLS), one of the nation's largest outlet malls with more than 220 stores, including favorites L.L. Bean, Nordstrom Rack and Saks Fifth Avenue Outlet.

Also take time to stroll and eat (see below) in historic downtown Manassas, originally founded as a railroad junction. Old Town Manassas was recently named one of the top 10 historic downtowns in the entire country by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The downtown was an outdated, abandoned strip until it was recently revitalized. The Manassas Museum (manassasmuseum.org, 703-257-8452) chronicles the town's history.

Of course, a 45-minute commute to Washington D.C. is never out of the question.

Dining Out

The Lazy Susan Dinner Theater (lazysusan.com, 703-550-7384) is one of the most popular dinner theaters in the D.C. area. After a Pennsylvania Dutch dinner, live shows such as Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians, Guys and Dolls and Fiddler on the Roof are an added treat.

For a night out, make the drive to Sea, Sea & and Company (703-494-1365), a fun escape along the banks of the Occoquan River in Occoquan, a colonial port that is said to be haunted. The lobster is big enough, and tasty enough, to feed several mouths. In downtown Manassas, the veal at Carmello's & Little Portugal Restaurant (carmellos.com, 703-368-5522) is one of many Italian specialties, while Okra's Louisiana Bistro (703-330-2729) features Cajun.

Stay and Play

Stonewall Golf ClubSince the area is so new in catering to golfers, there are no stay-and-play packages between courses and hotels. That doesn't mean there aren't plenty of family-style hotels to choose from close to courses. The Comfort Inn Suites in Manassas sits right in the heart of a chain of hotels and restaurants on Williamson Boulevard. Its big rooms and continental breakfast make it great for a foursome of players. It is just a short drive from Lake Manassas.

Other options range from the Hampton Inn (703-369-1100) right across the street to a Courtyard By Marriott (703-335-1300), also in Manassas.

For more information, call the Prince William County/Manassas Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 432-1792 or visit visitpwc.com.

Jason Scott DeeganJason Scott Deegan, Senior Staff Writer

Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed more than 700 courses and golf destinations for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Twitter at @WorldGolfer.


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