Raspberry Falls was the last course that my friend and I played on our trip to New York. We didn’t golf on Friday as we wanted to do some sightseeing in NYC before driving back to Charlottesville. We did a couple touristy things before leaving NYC early in the afternoon to beat the traffic.
It worked out well and we ended up stopping at Oriole Park at Camden Yards to see the O’s play the A’s. I grew up in the Bay Area and used to be a bigger A’s fan but their lack of capital and play in the Pacific Time Zone has turned me into just a casual fan. It was an odd bit of luck because while we were in New York, I found out that the A’s were in town playing the Yankees. By the time I realized that we had come up with a schedule and couldn’t squeeze in a game. I wish that I would have looked at their schedule before the trip because it would have been great to see my favorite baseball team play at Yankee Stadium! However, I saw that they were going to be in Baltimore which was on our ride back so we stopped for a Friday night game. We caught an entertaining, extra inning game and the A’s ended up winning! It was my second time to Oriole Park and it really is a nice place. It sure beats the Oakland Coliseum!
Raspberry Falls is a course that I’ve been wanting to play ever since I moved to Virginia. Depending on the year, and the magazine doing the ratings, it can squeak into the top 15 or 20 public courses in the state. Also, from what I gather, the course seems to one of the more loved layouts by those familiar with Northern Virginia golf. It definitely was a course that I wanted to say that I’ve played!
On Saturday, my friend and I had a 12:24pm tee time through Golfnow for $70 each. That is more than I typically like to pay for a round of golf, but the regular rate is $105 on the weekend so we were able to save a couple bucks which took the edge off. One thing that I’ve learned about Northern Virginia is that everything is expensive! Considering other courses within a half hour drive, I’d say that $70 is reasonable when considering the layout, scenery, and conditions.
Another thing that I’ve learned about Northern Virginia is that there are people everywhere! I didn’t expect an open course but at the same time I didn’t think Raspberry Falls would be packed with golfers. The course is located in Leesburg which is about 30 miles up the Potomac and even a bit out of the way from Dulles. It isn’t anywhere near the beltway! It might have been the gorgeous day, who knows, but the course was very busy when we arrived. There weren’t many carts available and it was disorganized to get us paired up and to the tee. All in all, it took about 5 hours and 15 minutes to play which is awful. I enjoyed the time with my friend, but if every round of golf was that pace then I’d be looking for another hobby. I’m glad that I live a couple hours away where a “slow” round is only about 4 hours!
I’d say the course was in “good” shape, but the conditions were reflective of a place that gets a lot of play. There were a lot of divots on the fairways and tees and plenty of ball and spike marks on the greens. Besides the divots, I had clean lies in the fairways and everything was nice and green! Like most courses this time of year, it appears the maintenance crew has been dealing with some bare spots. Most of the bare patches were around the edges of the bunkers which I think is more of a visual nuisance than anything else. All the water that the course has been using to combat the summer heat meant that it played soft. In the course’s defense, big divots and spike marks were easy to leave! The greens rolled pretty smooth though and the overall maintenance wouldn’t keep me away.
Raspberry Falls is a Gary Player creation that works its way through an upscale community. When I think of golf course architects, Player’s name doesn’t immediately come to my mind. I think the reason for that is because many of his designs are outside the United States and I’m not familiar with many international courses. I’d guess that well over half his courses are scattered throughout the world. That makes sense because one of his nicknames is the “International Ambassador of Golf”! I’ve played two other courses that he has designed and liked one, but not the other. When it comes to my personal list of things that I like in a golf course, he hit a home run with Raspberry Falls!
I won’t go into my complete laundry list of things that I like to see in a course, but I will mention a couple of them as it relates to the course. I enjoy an “easy” opening hole and a chance for a birdie to close out the round. Raspberry Falls has both! There isn’t any trouble off the tee on the 1st hole and it is a shortish par 4 while the 18th is a par 5. I enjoy courses where there are options off the tee and Raspberry Falls allows for someone to play multiple clubs off many tees. Someone can play as conservative as they want off the tee to find the ball or they can be more aggressive in hopes of a shorter shot or better angle. If going for the more aggressive play then that can bring fairway bunkers, the dogleg, or lost ball trouble into play. Finally, I like a course with views. Raspberry Falls is on an open piece of property which is unique for courses in the Mid-Atlantic. Most courses here are lined by trees which block views of the surrounding area. Homes that are set back from the course and some minor elevation change both allow for unobstructed views.
I played the gold tees which play 72.7/132/6765 and found the course to be a challenge while being very fair. As I mentioned, there were plenty of opportunities to bail out on a shot if I didn’t feel comfortable and still find my ball. I felt like if I could then find it, then I could recover and avoid a high score. The course was generous of the tee but required precise irons to score. Semi-blind shots, undulating fairways, chipping areas, and thick rough were the main challenges that I faced.
Raspberry Falls is slightly out of the way and slightly overpriced, but I found that it was an engaging and enjoyable course to play. I liked that the modern design didn’t have homes and woods in play on every shot. For someone staying near Dulles with some free time, I vote that Raspberry Falls is worth the drive!
#1 (358 yard par 4):
The opening hole is a short par 4 that plays uphill. The fairway is bit wider than it looks from the picture and angles to the right around some fairway bunkers. I hit my 210 yard club off the tee but a variety of clubs could be played. The approach is played to a green that sits above the fairway and therefore the surface cannot be seen on the second shot. If a flag is on the left side of the green then distance control is important because that side isn’t very deep.
#2 (397 yard par 4):
The 2nd has a few things going on. The hole is built across the hill so the slope feeds the shots to the right. Anything landing on the right side of the fairway has a chance to end up in the rough. The approach is played over a gully, which I guess could come into play for the longer hitters off the tee, and into a deep green.
#3 (445 yard par 4):
The 3rd is the longest par 4 on the course but it plays much shorter because of the big drop from tee to green. The fairway is pretty wide as it opens up short of the right fairway bunker. Like many good holes, I think that the flag location should be considered when playing from the tee. If the flag is in the narrower, front part of the green then I would try to favor the left side of the fairway for a better angle at it. That front flag was very tough to play to on my approach and pitch. The back section of the green is wider and more accessible.
#4 (529 yard par 5):
I think that the 4th is a wonderful risk/reward par 5 without much lost ball trouble! The hole moves to the right around a large fairway bunker before straightening out. I hit my tee shot farther to the right than I intended and got a bit lucky which left me with a chance to knock my second shot on the green. If someone wants to challenge the right bunker then they could be rewarded with a great chance at a birdie. The other option is a more conservative line to a larger section of fairway, but that will make for a three shot hole.
#5 (182 yard par 3):
The 5th is a simple looking par 3. I think it looks simple because there isn’t any trouble short or left of the green. However, it plays just enough uphill that the elevation change needs to be factored into the club selection. I hit it pin high left of the flag and had a putt that broke sideways over a ridge so it is a tricky green.
#6 (316 yard par 4):
I was worried about missing right when playing this hole. From the picture, it looks like there is plenty of trouble. The good news is that much of the real estate on this dogleg right par 4 has been cleared out! That means someone could play conservative with an iron out to the left or try to hit a driver up near the green. There is a lot more space on this hole than there looks.
#7 (176 yard par 3):
The 7th is a mid-length par 3 with plenty of subtle challenges. The green is elevated so all of the green’s surface cannot be seen from the tee. The right side of the green is guarded by a bunker and the left side is guarded by a false edge and chipping area. If the ball ends up to the left of the green then someone is going to have to decide what type of short game shot to play.
#8 (407 yard par 4):
The 8th is ranked as the most difficult hole on the course but I’m not exactly sure why. I’d argue that there are a couple others that are tougher than this one! The hole doglegs right and the only trouble is off to the right. The conservative option off the tee is out towards the right fairway bunker or someone can hug the right side for a shorter shot into the green. The fairway has plenty of ripples so an uneven lie on the approach is probable.
#9 (498 yard par 5):
I was too busy hacking it around on this short par 5 so I only got one picture! The 9th is the shortest par 5 on the course and it is pretty straight from tee to green. I wish that I would have hit a good drive because there are plenty of options on the second shot. The layup area is pretty wide, but a creek cuts across the fairway short of the green at an angle. That means someone could be pin high right of the green (in the fairway) but have to pitch across the creek and onto the green. Another option is to carry the creek planning to chip from short and left of the green. Choices abound even if someone doesn’t try for the eagle putt.
#10 (426 yard par 4):
The back nine starts out with probably the most captivating hole on the course. It is a decent length par 4 with an intense second shot! The tee shot plays to a generous fairway but the long ball hitters might have to be concerned about the water and the narrowing fairway. Depending on the pin location, the second shot is played over water to the green. The water is in play even when playing from around the green. Someone in my group hit a chip shot too hard from the right of the green and it ended up in the water.
#11 (570 yard par 5):
The 11th is the longest par 5 on the course and one of those long par 5’s where finding the fairway is of utmost importance. There is some slope from right to left where the tee shot would land so a missed fairway could mean a very long third shot. There is a rock outcropping in the fairway that needs to be avoided and I’d suggest trying to get the second shot as close to the green as possible. Being close to the green opens up a clearer view of it.
#12 (413 yard par 4):
The 12th is an example of how a seemingly uninteresting hole, can be just the opposite. The hole creeps just enough downhill that it creates the feeling that trouble might be present. The only trouble turns out to be a couple fairway bunkers off the tee! There aren’t any bunkers up near the green so someone can get creative in hopes of getting the second shot on the green.
#13 (171 yard par 3):
The 13th is a par 3 that plays to a semi-blind, wide green. The green has to be at least 100 feet wide, but it isn’t very deep. That makes distance control important especially if the flag is located anywhere near the bunker short of the green.
#14 (412 yard par 4):
The 14th is the #4 handicap which seems a bit odd because it isn’t an overly long par 4 and there isn’t any trouble off the tee. The difficulty is that the open area around hole makes it tough to pick lines, at least the first time around! Combine that with a narrowing fairway and I think that it is one of the tougher fairways to hit on the course. The approach is played into a green that is surrounded by bunkers which make a solidly struck approach important. There is some mounding on this hole which could lead to some difficult stances.
#15 (200 yard par 3):
The 15th is the longest par 3 on the course. The green angles to the back left so it favors a draw with a long iron which is one of the toughest shots for me to hit. The green is deep and gets wider towards the back but, even with a back flag, I’m guessing that most are going to have to land the tee shot in the narrower area of the green.
#16 (384 yard par 4):
The 16th has another tough tee shot. The fairway narrows near some bunkers and because it is semi-blind, it is difficult to pick the correct line. I think something less than driver should work well off the tee. The right half of the green is going to be harder to get to because of a bunker short.
#17 (342 yard par 4):
The 17th is one of my favorite holes on the course and it is the easiest hole! It is another semi-blind fairway but there is plenty of room off the tee if someone lays it up. I’d suggest playing down the right side of the fairway for the best angle into the green. The longer hitters could knock one up near the front edge of the green if they get a bounce forward from the downslope. The green is guarded by a deep bunker to the left so make sure to err right. This is a chance for a birdie!
#18 (539 yard par 5):
The final hole is a tricky par 5. The downhill tee shot is played through a chute of trees to another generous fairway. There is trouble to the left on the drive and the layup so I’d challenge the fairway bunkers on the right for the best angle. If someone hits it down the left side then they might not have a clear shot at the green. The hazard that runs down the left side turns into just a creek up near the green. It is a risky play to go for the green in two because it requires a high draw or hook depending on where the tee shot ended up.