When I think of Jack Nicklaus-designed courses, I think of private country clubs with members who enjoy their enclaves of solitude (Muirfield Village in Ohio comes to mind pretty quickly). In that I’m decidedly not a member anywhere, I accepted that this was the way things were. So when I heard about a Nicklaus-designed course down in Dumfries, VA named Potomac Shores being open to the public a couple years ago, I’ll confess I was interested (especially given Potomac Shores‘ rather interesting history).
There’s little question that if there was a Mount Rushmore for American golf architects that Nicklaus would be on it; the sheer volume of his work (I’m convinced if someone wanted a course on the moon that Nicklaus would not only design it but would incorporate his own style along with the natural contours of the moon) and that his work has become as much of a brand as anything else he touches (I haven’t had his ice cream yet but you know it’s probably good).
Rather than go hole-by-hole with some comments, I’ll separate this into a few different parts:
WHAT I LIKED:
- The course is more than playable for low, mid and high handicappers. I play (not nearly enough but work and life get in the way) with a former colleague who plays to an index in the low 20’s, while my index is closer to 10. I’m a bit longer off the tee and my years of practice around the greens pays off on occasion. But you don’t have to be a low-digit handicapper to enjoy this course. From the silver tees (that we played) it’s less than 6,000 yards but still plays to a 132 slope which is no pushover. If your index is in the 20’s and you play from the gold tees (because you see just under 6,400 yards and think ‘piece of cake’) you’re going to be in for a long day (and by that, you may want to make sure you have plenty of balls).
- Fairways are generous but bad shots get punished. It’s not impossible to put the ball in the fairway off the tee and leave yourself a decent chance to get the ball onto the green in regulation. Which leads me to my next point…
- Greens are big and require accuracy. Greens are often multi-tiered and being on the wrong side or wrong tier is, in some cases, worse than being off the green.
- Service. Too many courses still fail to see golfers as customers. Not the case here. Everyone I ran into was unfailingly polite and hospitable. The starter was competent and made us feel welcome. The people in the pro shop were friendly and helpful. The course is managed by Troon Golf if that matters to you.
- Ice water stations. The day we played was quite hot and humid. Being able to stop for a cup of ice water was pretty darn nice. Makes you wonder why more courses don’t do this especially in the mid-Atlantic.
- Beverage cart. It’s hot, and occasionally you want something besides ice water. Saw the beverage cart twice (we went out early so I don’t expect to see them early on). Can’t complain.
- Lack of houses. Even though Potomac Shores is part of a larger housing development, it didn’t feel like it (in 4-5 years this may not be the case). It felt like a course by itself that was adjacent to a housing development. I played South River a few years ago (before it went private) and it felt like I was in someone’s backyard.
- Free range balls. We paid $100 each to play which isn’t free. Including range balls and use of their excellent practice facility is a nice touch. The range (picture above) was country-club level nice.
- Conditions. Despite the heat wave we were in, the course was, for the most part, in great shape (the photo below you can see some brown spots in the fairway but these were few and far between).
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- The horse flies and other biting insects. If you play here in the summer, bug spray is pretty much a requirement. Not remotely kidding on this one. On the scorching hot & humid day we played, you can tack sunscreen on. Re-apply often. A hazmat suit might not be a bad idea.
- Bunkers. A few bunkers are good. A lot is too many. I know that Nicklaus uses them and that’s fine, but on two occasions I didn’t have a rake anywhere near the bunker. For a place that does so many things right, this seemed odd. Did Michael Greller come and take them or something?
- Sizes in the pro shop. I’m big & tall and would occasionally like to come home with a souvenir beyond the logo ball. I’d have happily handed over money for a shirt if they had one in my size. I can’t be the only person who thinks this. This happens a lot at higher-end courses (although if I’m being honest, She Who Is Really In Charge probably likes that I’m not throwing down $60 on a golf shirt with regularity). But it would be nice to have it as an option.
- No GPS in carts. Given that rangefinders and wearable devices are pretty common, having carts with GPS would help (especially for first-timers) especially with pace of play. We were first out and finished in 3 hours 40 minutes playing as a foursome (we got paired up with a couple who were members).
IF YOU GO (AND YOU SHOULD):
- The course is right off I-95 just south of Potomac Mills. If you don’t normally trek this way, traffic sucks. I mean, it really sucks. So give yourself plenty of time to get there (they have free range balls- did I mention this?).
- A yardage book isn’t a bad expenditure if they don’t have GPS on carts, because several holes are target variety and you can (and will) end up in trouble if you don’t know where to avoid. Measurements are to the centre of the green, NOT to the pin (and the greens are huge so take heed).
- Play it forward. I played from the silver tees and didn’t feel the least bit shame in doing so. I prefer to hit short irons as approach shots rather than long irons and hybrids. It’s more fun (not to brag but I made two birdies and should have had 1-2 more).
- The greens are huge. Being on the right side of the green is a huge advantage.
- A couple holes have views of the Potomac river (notably from the 3rd tee).
- There are several holes that have lengthy rides between holes (even on a cart) so the course really isn’t a walker’s paradise.
To the best of my knowledge it’s the only Nicklaus designed course in the area that’s open to the public (if you can get on Creighton Farms contact me and I’ll be happy to join you). I’m not a guru of golf architecture but this course is definitely a Nicklaus design. Lots of elevated tees and greens, plenty of bunkers, and playable for a variety of levels. Golfweek has it ranked in the top 10 for ‘Best You Can Play’ in their 2017 rankings for the state of Virginia if that matters to you. Most importantly, I had a good time and I’d happily come back. If you haven’t been, it’s worth the drive.