Our afternoon round was down the road at Bull Run, which has been one of my Mid-Atlantic wish list courses! We booked through Golfnow for $60 which saved us a couple bucks off the holiday twilight rate. Bull Run is about 40 miles from our nation’s capitol and like most of the higher end courses in Northern Virginia, Bull Run can be pricey if played during peak hours. The course’s website shows the regular holiday rate is $97 so it isn’t a budget course!
I don’t see Bull Run listed as one of the top public courses in Virginia, but I’ve heard great things. The course seems to be well liked by regional golf magazines, everything that I read indicated that the course is more playable than most, and it is far enough away from the hustle and bustle of Washington, D.C. We played in 4 hours and 15 minutes which was fine by me in Northern Virginia! It is part of the Raspberry Golf Trail which seems to have put together a nice portfolio of courses, at least from my experience.
I believe the course is named after the nearby Bull Run Mountains, which I think are part of the Blue Ridge Mountains that I tend to mention in my reviews. Don’t expect a bunch of views though as many of the holes play through the naturally wooded area. The course doesn’t have much elevation change considering its location which was a bit of a surprise. There aren’t many homes now, but they are going up around the property. A friend has been encouraging me to check out the course before all the homes are built so that was my plan!
Rick Jacobson designed Bull Run, which opened in 1998. While looking at the course’s website I noticed that Jacobson claims that the course could accommodate some wild tee shots. I didn’t bring my “A” game off the tee, but I only ended up missing two fairways all day! That should be an indicator of how forgiving Bull Run is off the tee. There are some forced carries which I’d expect playing from the back tees, but it seemed like there was a lot of trouble to carry, even from other sets of tees. The fairways are wide and there were only a few tee shots where I had to be concerned playing my usual fade. Generally, there was some rough to stop the ball before it bounced into the woods and there are plenty of fairway bunkers. I’d suggest bringing a yardage device because of all the bunkers!
We played the black tees which play 6961/73.6/137 and even though I hit a bunch of fairways, I still shot a million. From the fairway is where Bull Run starts to get tough! I wouldn’t say there is a lot of lost ball trouble around the greens, but it is the type of course where someone could make a lot of bogeys from average iron shots. A few of my many average iron shots found the green, but that stressed my lag putting because the greens have plenty of undulation. It is one of those courses where I could have birdie putts on every hole and end up three putting half of the time without doing much wrong! Getting the ball close to the hole from the fairway is important, especially with some of the ridges and slopes in the greens.
The conditions were a mixed bag, but overall I was a bit disappointed. The fairways were very nice, the greens rolled smooth and quick, and the tee boxes were full. A couple of the back tees were overgrown, but that isn’t a big deal to me. The course played firm so getting some roll was nice! The conditions elsewhere weren’t very good. The rough was unkempt and it looked pretty ratty around the greens. I had some thin lies which affected my shot choice and there was plenty of crabgrass in the rough which took away from the aesthetics.
I have mixed feelings about Bull Run. On one hand, I liked being able to spray the ball and that there were a couple ways to make a par on most holes. There are some good par 4’s and Jacobson tried catering to the average golfer, which I like! On the other, the conditions were a letdown considering that the course tries to present itself as a premium place. Plus, I was expecting a few more views of the nearby mountains, but a lot of the holes are wooded and just seem typical of any course in the Mid-Atlantic. Throw in the poorly designed 18th hole and I didn’t leave Bull Run anxious to return. As always, I suggest you play it to make up your mind!
#1 (380 yard par 4):
The 1st is a benign mid-length par 4. It doglegs gently left and plays to a wide fairway. Challenging the left side of the fairway and a bunker will leave a shorter shot, but there is plenty of room out to the right. The approach plays into a bunkerless green. The only real trouble may be a forced carry to the fairway if someone hasn’t had a chance to stretch out. I found it to be an easier opening hole, which is something I like!
#2 (535 yard par 5):
The 2nd is the shortest par 5 on the course and a good chance for a birdie or a par. The tee shot looks intimidating, but it opens up a lot to the right (the distance a drive will land). I misjudged my layup and hit it too far into a fairway bunker on the left. The fairway gets skinny in-between that bunker and a couple trees off to the right. I’d suggest laying up short of that area and over to the right which would leave a clearer view of the green. Another good option, if not going for the green in two, is to try to carry that left bunker on the layup. The ball could get a nice bounce forward leaving a simple pitch for the third.
#3 (177 yard par 3):
The 3rd plays a few yards uphill and favors a draw. The green is narrow, but the left and right fringes can funnel shots onto the green. That is nice on the tee shot, but tricky when chipping around the green. I missed it pin high right and had a quick, downhill chip that required some finesse.
#4 (432 yard par 4):
The 4th is the #3 handicap and starts a stretch of wooded holes. It is a forced carry to get to the upsloping fairway and the approach plays a bit uphill too. Thankfully the tees were up about ~30 yards when we played!
#5 (384 yard par 4):
The 5th has another forced carry to get to the fairway. The tee shot is semi-blind too so I thought that it was an uncomfortable one. The nice thing is that the fairway is generous besides bunkers left and right. The approach played about a club uphill to a green with two-thirds of it located on a back tier.
#6 (162 yard par 3):
The 6th is a nicely designed par 3! The right side of the green is deeper than the left, which is guarded by a bunker. The flag was in the back left when we played which set up best for a draw. The left side is lower than the right and a shot with some draw spin can use a ridge in the middle of the green, allowing the ball to feed towards that tough looking flag. I like that someone can get creative!
#7 (553 yard par 5):
The 7th is a straightaway par 5. It is the longest par 5 on the course and there aren’t many tricks to it. A draw is best off the tee, but not needed. I played my fade and ended up a few yards into the right rough, where there is lots of space to find a ball. Some fairway bunkers should be avoided on the layup and my one word of caution is to be mindful of the layup running out on a downslope in the fairway. I ended up a bit closer to the green than I hoped. A couple good shots should be rewarded.
#8 (356 yard par 4):
The 8th plays back into an open area (near a lake) and it is one of my favorite holes at Bull Run! It is one of the shortest par 4’s at the club and position or power could return a good result. The hole doglegs right and I hit my hybrid off the tee which left me with a short iron. Another member of our group hit a driver towards the carts in the picture and was left with a short pitch into the green. Someone should try to avoid the fairway bunkers no matter which club they pick off the tee! The approach plays a bit downhill and offers a nice view of the water and the 9th hole. The flag was in a little bowl on the left side of the green which I didn’t see from the fairway. Everyone in my group struggled to die their long putts at the top of the ridge to let the putt roll down into the bowl. Shots could naturally collect into that area so I like it, but it was a surprising feature to find playing here the first time.
#9 (452 yard par 4):
The 9th is the #1 handicap but I think that it is very fair! It is a long par 4 with water down the entire right side. In a way it reminds of a couple holes at The Reserve At Spanos Park in California. There is plenty of risk/reward when it comes to picking lines here! It is ~235 yards to carry the large bunker in the center of the picture. That’s a good line, especially with a little fade. The ball should land on a downslope and roll out leaving a shorter than expected shot to the green. The fairway is very large and someone can play out to the left, leaving a longer shot, or to the right for a shorter one. The approach plays into a large green with fairway short and left. That means someone can run a long shot onto the green or bail out to the left and still save a par. I love how the designer put a couple bunkers short and right of the green to catch shots before they get to the water. Well done!
#10 (428 yard par 4):
The 10th is a long par 4 with the green straight ahead. It favors a draw because of the trees that closely guard the left side of the fairway. A couple bunkers off to the right narrow the fairway, ~270 yards I believe, so the bigger hitters might need less than driver. The green was smaller than expected, considering the length of the hole, and slopes a bit from back to front.
#11 (201 yard par 3):
The 11th is the longest par 3 on the course and it is another fair one. There is plenty of room around the green to find an offline long iron. The best misses are short and left which can leave a chance to recover. I short-sided it into one of the bunkers on the right and had nothing but problems. Make sure not to go over there!
#12 (355 yard par 4):
The 12th is the shortest par 4 at Bull Run and one that favors a draw off the tee. I hit less than driver in hopes of finding the fairway and missing a bunker. The green slopes from back to front so someone might have to control their spin with a short iron. I’d suggest not going over the green.
#13 (414 yard par 4):
The 13th is a tough par 4 that doesn’t let up! It has some distance to it too. Off the tee someone needs to pick the proper line. Water is in play to the left and bunkers to the right. It is a longer carry to get to the fairway the farther left that someone goes. It is open enough so that I could play my normal fade and the fairway is reasonably wide. I think all that makes it one of the best tee shots on the course. The approach is semi-blind and plays into a green with a small ridge that separates the front left and front right.
#14 (546 yard par 5):
Even though the 14th is only going to be reached in two by the longest hitters, I think it offers many golfers a chance for a good score. That is going to be dependent on getting the layup to a good position. The fairway is narrow, but someone shouldn’t have much trouble finding an average tee shot. There are some bunkers to contend with when laying up and then the third shot is semi-blind into the green.
#15 (407 yard par 4):
The 15th has another narrow fairway, but if someone can find it then it could be a chance to knock an approach close. Someone probably doesn’t need driver as the goal is to keep it between the right fairway bunker (~220 yards) and the left one (~260 yards). The front half of the green slopes right and the back half slopes left. I would certainly try to use some of that slope to get it close to a back pin location by avoiding the greenside bunker.
#16 (173 yard par 3):
The 16th, with all the water to the left, is a hole where things could go wrong. I made my mistake short and right which left me a chance to scramble for a par. The green angles from front right to back left so a draw is the best shot shape, especially with trouble left. There is a swale in the middle of the green which makes keeping shots close to a front or back pin challenging. I’m glad the pin wasn’t towards the back when we played!
#17 (456 yard par 4):
The 17th is the longest par 4 on the course and it is the #2 handicap. The hole’s distance and semi-blind tee shot should be the only problems though. I think it is as fair as can be for its ranking. The green is straight ahead and the best line is probably a little left of the cell phone tower. That should allow for a bounce right in the left to right sloping fairway. There is more fairway short of the green which could allow a long club to run onto it. I hit my tee shot a mile right and found it in a fairway bunker that I couldn’t see standing on the tee. I had a chance to recover after my tee shot, which I always enjoy.
#18 (550 yard par 5):
The last hole is the course’s worst hole. In fact, I could probably put it in the top 10 worst holes that I’ve ever played, if I kept such a list. Okay, you get the point but let me explain why. On the scorecard it is 550 yards, but my GPS showed 480 yards in a direct line to the green from the tee. That gives an idea of how much it doglegs left, almost ninety degrees. There is a forced carry to get to the wide fairway and finding it shouldn’t be difficult. From there, good luck figuring out what to do because there is a huge water hazard to carry just to layup! I hit a good drive and had 250 yards to the center of the green. My options were #1: 3 wood at the cell tower and carry it 220 yards to the fairway #2: 3 wood at the right side of the clubhouse and carry it 205 yards #3: pitch it 70 yards on line with the cell tower and leave a mid iron for my third shot. The green is just in the wrong spot given the size of the hazard and considering the hole plays as a par 5. I think it could have been set up better as a par 3 or par 4. I think it has the potential to be a fun, driveable par 4 to close! Not sure how much say the designer had in this setup though. The nice thing is that the ball drop is over the water! The green is deep and has a large rise (~3 feet) to a back tier.