Satisfy Your Daily Learning Quotient at Bull Run Country Club

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

HAYMARKET, VA -- There's an old saying that goes 'you learn something new everyday.'

When you think about it, you'd hope to understand at least one new tidbit each day, considering there're an infinite number of things to know, but a very finite number of days in a lifetime to learn them.

So it's a good thing a recent trip to Bull Run Golf Club revealed enough new information to cover many days' worth of lessons. Or, maybe it was just a 'bonus' to learn more than one new thing on that particular day.

Talking with Bull Run's course architect, Rick Jacobson, was a good way to gather a whole basketful of knowledge in one dose, because he knows his stuff. Jacobson says the Bull Run project turned out well because there was plenty of varied real estate to mold and shape: "From an architect's standpoint, the Bull Run site provided a nice diversity in the land, which is always great to work with. Part of it was kind of rolling terrain, part of it was heavily wooded, and there were some real nice elevation changes. The ground where the clubhouse sits is a little higher than much of the course, which offers some outstanding views of the layout and the mountains."

"We also had one existing pond to work into the design (on numbers one and eighteen) and added two more-so there's quite a bit of water hazard variety as well," Jacobson added.

A quick perusal of the landscape from the clubhouse and you'll see what Jacobson means. Bull Run Country Club is located just off of route 15, a few miles north of Haymarket and a few miles south of Middleburg. This is horse ranch country, with scenery to match. Although the club is well into the countryside, it is still convenient to the rapidly growing population of Northern Virginia.

Jacobson (at right) says that Bull Run is a rare gem, because it's not easy to find large tracts of land to lay out this type of golf course these days. "We had plenty of room there, which is pretty hard to find-especially in a place like Northern Virginia, which has some real tight restrictions on growth."

Bull Run isn't completely immune to the trend, however. Several large pieces of undeveloped land in between the holes will someday have houses, but that's at least a few years in the future. For now, enjoy the serenity, the scenery and the peace and quiet. Without a doubt, Bull Run is one of the most beautiful settings in Virginia.

It's also one of the most playable. Jacobson says he likes it that way. "I like to design player-friendly courses, but it really depends on the market the course is in, and how the developer wants to use the land. Since Bull Run's a high-end facility, we wanted to make it wide and enjoyable, but also include some tough pin placements on the greens in case they want to host a competition."

"I don't drive the ball that straight myself, so it's a course where you can spray it a little and not be punished too severely. We also start with the idea of multiple tee locations--that not only vary the distances of the holes, but also the angles you play into the landing areas," Jacobson said.

There are several examples of the principle at Bull Run. Some holes feature very little distance variation between two sets of tees, but the shot's entirely different from each. Perhaps the best illustration is number thirteen, where the blue tees (black tees are the 'tips') play 397 yards and the white tees play 388. Only nine yards separate the two, but the blue box shoots squarely over a lake, and the white box features a very mild carry over the same body of water. The tee boxes are located quite a distance from each other, which accounts for the variation.

Jacobson points to some other ways he designed Bull Run (and his other courses) to be more playable: "When possible, we won't include any forced carries from the front tee box. We'll usually grade the fairways in a concave/convex shape, which serves to steer golf balls towards the center. Then we try to make the fairways bigger than average--but there will always be landing areas or target zones within them that provide a better angle into the greens for the approach shots. So there are large landing areas, but they're still defined by grass hollows, bunkers or trees, depending on the particular hole."

Jacobson continues, "We'll also try to leave an opening to the greens, which allows for run-up shots, and then adjust the green angles. That way, if you've got grass hollows and water hazards, you've got some tough pin placements as well. When we route the golf course, we like for you to be able to see the entire hole. You can plan your line to the green--and attack or play it safe, accordingly. If you can see where the pin placement is, you can better plan your tee shot."

That's quite a golf philosophy lesson, and proves Jacobson must've learned more than just one thing per day during his apprenticeships. He says he's learned a lot from the people he's worked with: "I like to think I've learned quite a bit from working with some great people. Some of it came from working with my first firm, some came from working with Nicklaus, and some came from working with a golf course contractor. There are bits and pieces from all of them."

There's little doubt Bull Run's layout is an embodiment of Jacobson's theories. You can see it when you play the course-with wide fairways, excellent visibility, run-up options to the greens and some tough pin locations. It's an attractive visual presentation, yet difficult enough to challenge good players, which is clearly what Jacobson set out to accomplish.

The people who run Bull Run Country Club are also continuing the 'teachings' in other ways, too. Jim Devine, Bull Run's General Manager and Director of Golf, says they're really stepping up their instructional programs this year: "We've completely revamped our teaching programs, specifically including the latest and greatest technologies, which include video analysis and even virtual reality."

Virtual reality? Devine explains: "It's a pair of glasses that looks like a TV screen. It's essentially a 52-inch TV screen that you wear like a pair of Oakleys. Before we use it, we'll take a look on the video at your swing, and really break it down to the minute details. Then we'll put the glasses on and position the camera in front or back of you, so you're looking at yourself. Since we've already looked at the types of changes you need to make, you can see yourself doing them. I find for most golfers, what we do and what we think we do are at opposite ends of the rainbow. Our technological teaching aids will help demonstrate that."

Devine continues, "With the video equipment, we'll compare your swings against better players or PGA touring pros, and even against your past swings to plot your progress. You can literally go frame by frame-and it's tough to hide flaws from the camera's eye."

Leave it to a club like Bull Run to have a very 'traditional' historic theme, then feature the latest in electronic gizmos to teach you a great golf swing. But Devine says they're also offering more traditional programs as well: "We've got a beginner's clinic every Saturday at 10, then junior clinics starting at 2 in the afternoon. We also give short-game clinics every week, too."

In other words, you can take advantage of the old ways and the new technologies at the same time. Then finish it off with a cool one on the clubhouse deck-with stunning views of the mountains and the challenging risk-reward 18th hole (yes, the 19th hole overlooks the 18th). Devine says it's probably one of the nicest places to sit and have a beer after a round you'll find anywhere.

As a final note, Devine says Bull Run's course conditioning will continue to get better. "We've had some complaints in the past about the conditioning, but in the last year we've done a lot of work to improve things, such as instituting an extensive program to seed and top dress the fairways. As a result, we're in much better shape than we were a year ago."

That, perhaps, may be the final piece of information you'll learn about Bull Run Golf Club in a day's visit. It's always been an incredible layout, but now Jacobson's explained how he made it that way, and Devine's told us how they'll keep it pristine and green. It all goes to show, you really can learn something new everyday.

Jeffrey A. RendallJeffrey A. Rendall, Contributor

Jeffrey Rendall is an avid golfer and freelance writer. After passing the California Bar in 1994, he moved to Virginia to pursue his interests in history and politics, where he's worked since 1995.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Bull Run To Expensive

    Too Expensive wrote on: Aug 16, 2010

    I've lived in the area since 1992 and have played golf in various spots throughout the east coast, south west, and mid west. To say it nicely but to the point, Bull Run is not worth $70.00 on the weekend. Please think twice if you intend on playing this course, I did this weekend and should have stuck to my guns - 8/15. The greens are still spotty, traps aren't raked and the fairy ways still have various issue's from the fungus that hit 3 years ago. They have a ton of room for improvement and aren't taking the proper steps to increase the playability. The rough is high and spotty-bare in locations too on every hole. It's a great layout but needs some care and attention to detail. I'll be back no time soon - unless they drop their rates to $35 on the weekends. It's worth half the price.