Well I made the drive up towards Washington to play Potomac Shores which is a brand new golf course! I first heard about the course in February at the DC golf show and it jumped to one of the top spots on my list of courses to play for a couple reasons. Obviously, the first is that it is a new course. Golf course construction has fallen off over the last half dozen years with the economy and many private courses are allowing some public play. Other courses are lowering rates to stay competitive. These things have all lead to more choices when it comes to picking a place to play so there just hasn’t been much demand for newly constructed golf courses. Throw in the fact that many new courses are community courses and that home sales have flattened in recent years, that means fewer ways for a course to turn a profit. I am a golf course nut and can probably name at least 25 of the top 100 public courses in America without looking anywhere online but I would struggle to name 5 courses that have opened in the last 5 years. It is probably worth noting that I think the course was built years ago and never opened. I don’t know all the background behind that, but for whatever reason it didn’t open until recently. The other reason that the course was so high on my list is that it is a Jack Nicklaus design. When I just getting started playing different courses, I didn’t care much for Jack Nicklaus designs as they seemed to quirky and difficult. Over the last year or two I’ve started to appreciate his work more and loved the last one that I played (Grand Bear).
I typically try to avoid golfing in Northern Virginia because all the people tend to pack the courses, the traffic is miserable, and an average course charges an arm and a leg. I heard that Potomac Shores was offering an introductory rate for the first week or two that they were open so I decided to take advantage of the $82 green fee. I played around with the tee times online and if I waited another week the rate would have jumped to $115. Because the course, and the community, is so new I had a some trouble finding it on Google Maps in the car and once there it wasn’t on my Garmin golf GPS. Plus, the course is so new that it isn’t even rated so there isn’t a way to post a score yet. That probably turned out to be a good thing because I hit it like crap and shot a million.
The course is managed by Troon which always does a nice job with their courses. I’ve played a few of their courses, mostly on the West Coast, and always been impressed. The course was giving out free yardage books when I played which helped a lot and there was pin chart for the day which would have been more helpful to me if I could have actually hit the center of the face with an iron. I don’t think I’ve ever been given a pin chart unless I was playing in a tournament! The pro greeted our group at the first tee with a big smile on his face and we chatted for maybe 5 minutes about the course and his previous position. He was out riding around checking on everyone too so it turned out to be a very relaxed vibe throughout the round.
The layout of the course is a little odd, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker for anyone. The first thing that I noticed was the big yardage gap from the Black tees (7020 yards) to the Gold tees (6355 yards). I saw some extra tee boxes on some holes, so I think there is plenty of flexibility to add or subtract some yardage but the course would be a good candidate for a set of combo tees. I like to play a course at 6600 to 6900 yards so that left me either laying up all day or trying to tackle a couple monster holes that would be out of my league. I decided to play the Gold tees as I didn’t want to inconvenience the folks that I was paired up with. An extra stop at a tee box is bad enough, but this way it allowed me to take some pictures without rushing or holding them up. The course plays to a par of 72 with the front nine as a par 35 playing under 3000 yards and then the back nine plays as par 37 with three of the four par 5’s. The other odd thing about the course is that it doesn’t have much contact with the clubhouse. The range is out by the 3rd hole and has its own parking lot while the course doesn’t return to the clubhouse until the 18th hole. I am not sure if the course has plans to go private in the future, but it would make sense as it doesn’t seem to be designed with the public in mind. Finally, there were some long cart rides from the greens to the next tee boxes which seemed to disrupt the round for me.
I thought that the course was pretty difficult to play for a number of reasons. First, there were too many blind shots for my liking. I count 10 to 12 shots that I had where I couldn’t see the ball land if I hit the shot that I wanted. Sometimes I could see the top of the flag stick but that is still a blind shot in my book. Obviously, it is more difficult to pick the right club when faced with a blind shot but I like to see what trouble is around the green. If there is trouble behind the green I am not going to challenge a flag in the back of the green or if there a slope right of the flag I might try to use the slope to get the ball close to the pin. Courses with blind shots take away my ability to be creative and it just boils down to hitting something and hoping for a good result. In addition, if I miss a green and cannot see where my ball ended up while still standing in the fairway then I don’t get a chance to prepare for the next shot until I get up to my ball. If I can see it then I am already trying to figure out if I want to hit a high chip, putt from off the green, or play a bump and run. I don’t think the course was unfair with the blind shots, but there were holes where trouble was lurking and holes where there were “speed slots” where the ball would run an extra 20 or 30 yards down a hill. Second, Jack has designed some crazy green complexes which can be normal for him. Many of the greens are elevated so a missed iron shot will most likely kick away from the green pretty hard. I’m of the opinion that if an amateur hits a decent enough iron shot to hit the side of the green, I don’t think it should end up possibly kicking out of play which very well could happen here. There greens are pretty small and some chipping areas could result in someone playing hockey back and forth across a few of them. There are little perches for the pin where I could hit a small bucket of balls as a 6 handicap and not get one close so it would helpful to know which pins shouldn’t be messed with. Finally, the elevation change and undulation in the fairway had me trying to hit some tricky shots even after a nice tee shot. The only saving grace is that I had a short iron into many holes. If I had to take guess I’d say that the rating from the Gold tees will be 72.5 and the slope will be 129 to 132.
I am going to change things up a bit with this review and go hole by hole with some comments about each. I doubt I’ll do this for other reviews unless it is a special course because it is time consuming, but I will try something new.
The “Colonial” style clubhouse:
Hole #1 (390 yard par 4):
You can see how it is an uncomfortable opening tee shot. There is a little more room left than there looks, but there is also a bunker down the left side of the fairway. From the fairway it is a blind shot to this green which has a chipping area to the left and a deep bunker to the right.
Hole #2 (365 yard par 4):
This par 4 moves a little right and needs a layup off of the tee. This is one of those holes where the tee shot should roll out quite a bit, especially if it hits the downslope in the fairway just left of the bunker. The approach is a forced carry over a ravine which could come into play off the tee if someone hits too much club.
Hole #3 (465 yard par 5):
I think that is the best birdie opportunity on the course. The bunker on the right can be carried even with a 3 wood and then the ball will run out once it hits the downhill slope in the fairway. The 2nd shot would just need to carry some cross bunkers if someone is going for the green in two. If the approach is straight, it should leave a straightforward chip or an eagle putt. The narrow green on a short par 5 reminds me a little of the 11th at Grand Bear. Definitely have to take advantage of this one!
Hole #4 (170 yard par 3):
This par 3 is a more tricky than it might look. The green slopes off to the left and anything missing left kicks down by the cart path. Adding to the excitement is a large mound in the front of the green (right around the shadow). I hit it to the front left and had to putt up and over the big mound.
Hole #5 (335 yard par 4):
This hole seems simple enough on the card, but it has a semi blind tee shot with a fairway bunker to the left and a drop off to the right. Hitting the fairway is very important as the approach needs to be hit crisply to hold the small green. I hit a nice approach shot from the fairway which landed near the flag but skipped 25 feet away because it hit on the downslope just over the front greenside bunker. There is a chipping area behind the green which could cause some problems.
Hole #6 (170 yard par 3):
The pin was tucked back left when I played and I tried to start a draw at the center and move it towards the flag. The green does slope from right to left so something with a little right to left spin could end up near that flag.
Hole #7 (400 yard par 4):
I found this to be an intimidating tee shot. It is straight away with just some bunkers to the left but it is all woods left of the cart path and not as much room to the right as there looks. Plus, it played into the wind and it is uphill. The pin was in the back of the green and I needed to chip it through a valley to get it on the back level.
Hole #8 (285 yard par 4):
This is one of the most entertaining holes on the course. It was only 230 or so yards to carry the bunkers on line with the green but the trouble left and bunkers right means that someone needs to hit an accurate shot if trying to get it up by the green off of the tee. If laying up, the fairway slopes from right to left so any layup down the left side has a chance of ending up in the fairway bunker which is very deep. It is a good birdie hole with a tee shot that ends up in play.
Hole #9 (380 yard par 4):
I think this is the best looking hole on the course. The tee shot needs to be hit left or right of the fairway bunkers and then the approach is blind as the hole climbs the hill up to the green.
Hole #10 (535 yard par 5):
This is a bit of a quirky hole. I wasn’t able to carry the bunkers even with a solid tee shot so I had to play left of them when the hole moves right. I ended up having 250 yards down the hill into the green. I don’t have a good picture of the 2nd shot that I had, but there are three trees in the middle of the fairway that I either needed to hook it or cut it around to get close to the green in two. Trees in the fairway aren’t my favorite. I think the game is tough enough without something like that. Most likely someone is going to have a downhill lie on the third shot into a small green which can make clipping a wedge shot tough.
Hole #11 (375 yard par 4):
This hole looks a bit more intimidating than it really is. A tee shot down the left side opens up a view of the green and there is some room right of the green to miss which leaves an uphill chip.
Hole #12 (425 yard par 4):
This is a tough one. The hole moves a just enough right that someone either has to cut a driver or lay up to avoid knocking it through the fairway off of the tee. I hit a 3 wood to the corner and had a mid iron into another green that curved around a greenside bunker. Our group got the Sunday pin location as it was tucked in the back left corner. The fat part of the green brings the trouble long into play so I have no idea what to suggest for the approach.
Hole #13 (185 yard par 3):
The play on this par 3 is to the center of the green. The pin was back left when I played and a putt from the center of the green would have to climb a ridge. A pin on the right half of the green seems like a birdie chance with a solid tee shot.
Hole #14 (485 yard par 5):
This is the best birdie chance on the back nine. An aggressive tee shot will either carry the bunkers on the right or just skirt them which results in the ball hitting a downslope and getting some extra yards. I had only about 200 yards into the green and tried to hit a high draw (which I don’t try too often!) and missed left of the green. I found it and had a birdie chance, but there is plenty of room right of the green if going for it in two so I’d try harder to miss right next time.
Hole #15 (120 yard par 3):
This is one of the funnest holes that I’ve played this year. Some might not like it, but I enjoyed the challenge. I love a short par 3 and that’s what this one is, just with some tricks. As can be seen from the pictures the green wraps around the bunkers and the front right pin location was isolated from the rest of the green. This is one of those situations where missing it right of the green in a chipping area is much better than hitting it to the back level of the green. This hole is all about distance control which is I think is fair considering that it will only be a short iron for most people.
Hole #16 (545 yard par 5):
Another blind tee shot here. The tee shot is best played probably over the right edge of the bunker or a little right of that as the fairway slopes to the left. There is some trouble short and left of the green which I wasn’t aware of standing over my second shot so I don’t think this is a green that most want to try to go for in two shots.
Hole #17 (390 yard par 4):
This is a straight away par 4 that opens up to the right so it isn’t the most difficult hole. It actually had a bit of a parkland feel to it for me.
Hole #18 (335 yard par 4):
I like a shorter closing close as it gives someone a chance to finish with a good score. The hole slides right and the most trouble I think that someone will have on this hole is on the green. The flag was just over a ridge and my approach hit the top of the ridge and tricked back 25 feet towards the front of the green.
As far as the conditions of the course go, I’d say they were perfect. The fairways and tees were like carpet and the rough was thick and challenging. Many times from the greenside rough I had to play an explosion type shot with an open faced wedge. The greens were a bit slower than they looked but dried out as the day went along. They rolled beautifully and required a solidly struck shot to avoid bouncing too far away from the intended target. Most of the time I’ve found that newer courses have greens which are very firm and I was surprised that these weren’t like concrete. I played with someone who did some landscaping work for the course and he was telling me that the course had ownership issues before opening. Therefore, it has had some time to grow which is probably why it was more mature than I expected. Maybe it is because the course is so new or because it was Mother’s Day but we got around in 4 hours which is unheard of considering that it is Northern Virginia on a weekend. There are too many blind shots for me to fall in love with it, but I’d definitely recommend that someone give it a try.