By Jeffrey A. Rendall
MANASSAS PARK, VA -- Identity is important -- and changing it can sometimes get you in trouble.
For a brand name, what you call yourself often means the difference between huge profits or Chapter Eleven. For example, Coca-Cola made a huge mistake in the eighties when it decided to change its formula (and shorten its name, to 'new' Coke) -- then switched back when it found sales lagging far behind its previous product.
In the process, the reincarnated product became 'Coke Classic,' and a whole new brand name was born from a century old formula. Similarly, Datsun also changed its name, becoming Nissan -- and some would say it's never been the same.
These days, if you feel a need to change your identity, it must be for a reason. And if you want to change what you call yourself, it might just be because your old name carried a negative connotation.
That's exactly the case at General's Ridge Golf Course in Manassas Park. Formerly known as 'Manassas Park Golf Course,' this county owned course recently underwent a name change and is currently receiving a major makeover to help extinguish its previously horrid reputation.
And like Cassius Clay successfully becoming Mohammad Ali, and Lew Alcindor making a seamless transition to Kareem Abdul Jabbar (name changes without losing brand name!), this particular name switch will only benefit the course. The name 'General's Ridge' is much more inclusive of the property's rich historic heritage, as well as sounding more authoritative than 'Manassas Park.'
That's good, because the course is still 'authoritatively' difficult.
Under the moniker Manassas Park, the Jerry Slack designed layout, which opened in 1996, was probably called any number of names. One of the cleanest was 'The great golf ball exchange.' The course featured extremely tight fairways, tremendous undulations, gorse filled ravines, blind shots by the bagful and impossible greens. This layout was the poster child for tricked-up funhouse courses. You could've put a windmill on any of the blind doglegs and you'd be back at Golfland chomping on cotton candy and wielding a glow-in-the-dark blue golf ball and retractable flat-stick. The difference being it wasn't any fun to play at Manassas Park.
You couldn't even take the carts off the paths -- which virtually guaranteed a five- hour plus round (including about 2 hours worth of searching for your ball).
Thankfully, there is new life in the new name -- and as previously mentioned, Prince William County is making some very necessary changes to the layout. The course is still one of Northern Virginia's toughest, but at least it's no longer sadistic.
General's Ridge's General Manager, Rob Martin, acknowledges that his course didn't used to have the most respected name in town: "We've always thought we had a quality piece of land here, but we also knew the course was difficult to play. I'd say we're probably the most unique course in Northern Virginia, simply for the fact that there are so many ups and downs. When you're out there, it's easy to feel isolated in the hardwood forest that surrounds the course, and the dips and swales gives it a mountain quality."
That's very true. If you've ever played The Tradition at Stonehouse near Williamsburg, you'll probably think General's Ridge is a smaller scale version of that mountain-style course nestled right smack in the middle of heavily populated Northern Virginia. You might also see this type of course in the high country out west -- definitely a departure from a level existence.
The new name stems from sharing its site with a Civil War era encampment occupied by Confederate General Richard Ewell's troops during two winters of the war. Historians say at its highest point, you can see 25 miles in all directions -- a naturally good place to watch for invaders. It also makes for an exciting site for a golf course.
If the features of the land were used properly, the course would be both playable and beautiful. It used to be just the latter. Martin elaborates: "We've always received a lot of compliments on the aesthetics of the property, yet not many people ever wanted to come back to play the course. It was just too punishing to come here, with the narrow driving areas, deep ravines and overly undulating greens. Add the fact you couldn't take the carts off the paths, and that eliminated a lot of senior play. We're changing that."
Indeed. Martin read off a number of ways they're fixing the layout, but they mostly center around eliminating blind shots, removing trees to increase visibility, providing wider driving areas, filling in ravines and clearing much of the dense undergrowth that used to swallow up thousands of golf balls.
Don't get the wrong impression -- the course is still very challenging. General's Ridge only plays to 6294 yards from the back tees, yet carries a slope of 141. When was the last time you saw such disparate numbers? No matter what they do, the course will always be a mental and physical challenge -- the difference being, now you can have fun while you battle it.
Martin says the renovations will continue for the next few years: "We've got some good ideas on how to improve things, including completely redoing the cart paths and then possibly looking into changing some of the greens. We're also getting a new gas-powered cart fleet this April, which will be much more efficient in navigating some of the existing paths."
"We don't want people to come here with unrealistic expectations. We're happy to let players know the course is challenging, but we also think if you come out here, hit a few good shots and enjoy the natural surroundings without worrying too much about your score, then we've done our job," Martin added.
That's one thing I was particularly impressed with at General's Ridge, the positive outlook towards the future. If the attitude of the staff is any indicator, this facility will be first-rate sometime soon. And being it's a county owned course, you'll get a pretty good value for your buck. It definitely makes it much easier to want to come back.
The first two holes give little hint as to what's to come. A short, relatively straightforward par four of 363 yards for the first, and the second's a fairly easy downhill 159 yard par three with an undulating green.
Three starts the roller coaster ride, and it doesn't let up 'till you turn in your cart after the eighteenth. 390 yards from the tips, it's a steep dogleg left, and Martin says from the back tees, you'll need a 235 yard carry to reach the fairway. Hairy. Something to keep in mind -- there's a Civil War cemetery about 300 yards back from the gold tee boxes -- which just goes to show, you could do worse than a shanked drive.
Four features the most drastic change from the old days. It used to be a severely downhill, blind on the first two shots par five. Honestly, one of the most ridiculous holes you'll ever see -- because even decent shots often ended up lost. Now it's a 180 yard par three. Still quite downhill, but at least you can see the green. Martin says when the new tee boxes open in April, it'll be the most memorable hole on the course. It used to be the most memorable for a different reason.
Five's also a highlight, and one of the holes that'll definitely allude to the course's close cousin, Stonehouse. 478 yards and uphill, from the back boxes you're shooting over a lake, to a fairway framed on both sides by trees. Chances are you'll have a tricky lie off the drive, so laying up's the best option -- and will leave only a sand wedge to the green. Play it smart, and a birdie chance is certainly a possibility.
Turning to the back, hole ten is the first of nine sometimes deceptively difficult holes. There's something hard about every link on the back (well, maybe not seventeen) -- be it steep undulations, semi-blind shots or severe undulations on the greens.
Ten is a 519 yard dogleg right par five, technically reachable in two, but you won't be able to see the tiny green on your second shot -- and hitting it, even with a short iron on a potential third shot, is pretty darn tough. Making things even harder is the green's slope, which moves towards a pond on the left edge. Ouch.
Twelve is probably General's Ridge's signature hole. Only 362 yards, it runs alongside a stream and railroad tracks to the right. This is a fairly busy set of tracks, and I can't imagine trying to execute with a rumbling train going by -- lucky you'll only need a four or five iron off the tee. The stream then crosses the fairway and hugs the left side of the green for your second shot. A pretty sight, but very little room to miss.
Several more challenging holes lead to sixteen, probably the toughest of many bruisers on the block. The scorecard says it plays only 404 yards, but numbers deceive. The drive's not really difficult -- plenty of room and you'll only need 220-230 yards. But the second shot looks like you're shooting up Pike's Peak. Miss short, and you'll need hiking ropes to play a third shot. Wow.
Eighteen's a 352 yard dogleg right. Easy driving hole, but the second shot once again provides the challenge. The green's elevated, and large grass mounds protect short. The green's also not very deep, with more chipping trouble waiting long. With the speed of the greens at General's Ridge, you'll need to be accurate on your approach shots to earn some pars.
Not sure what you'll feel when you finish -- exhilaration or relief. General's Ridge is a course that'll certainly appeal to your better players, and with the new changes, will be friendlier to a wider cross-section of the golfing public. For those who've avoided it the last several years, it definitely deserves a re-try. After all, it's got a new identity; and there are other welcome changes, too.
General's Ridge Golf Course
9701 Manassas Dr.
Manassas, VA 20111
Phone: (703) 335-0777
FAX: (703) 335-0840
General Manager: Rob Martin
Teaching Professional: Barry Loman
Course Architect: Jerry Slack
Mon-Fri, $38 with cart.
Weekends and holidays, $52.
Walking rate (for the brave only): $25, M-F, and after two on weekends.
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