Lansdowne Resort -- Growing The Toughest Mile

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeff Janas and Lansdowne Resort


LANSDOWNE, VA -- Lansdowne Resort's expanding -- and for those familiar with the excellent quality of the existing product, that's certain to be a good thing.


For Lansdowne's (Managed by Benchmark Hospitality) long been known for offering one of the best upscale golf experiences in Northern Virginia, complete with a Robert Trent Jones Jr. designed golf course and first-rate resort facilities for your non-golf related interests.  It's hardly inexpensive, but there's value involved -- the perfect Zoysia grass fairways, lush rough areas and the historical, aesthetic beauty of the course's back nine (along with the many other resort pleasures & conveniences) will leave you strolling away satisfied.


But in the next two years, it's only going to get better, or should I say, 'bigger.'  A couple years ago, Lansdowne's owners hired Kemper Sports Management to develop a second course on property, and Kemper selected legendary PGA Tour player Greg Norman to handle the duties.  And if the vast potential of the new venture is realized, it'll definitely live up to everyone's lofty expectations.

From the 9th green of the Jones Course, you'll see the hotel, the practice facilities, and some impressive scenery.


Scott Purpura, Lansdowne Resort's Head Golf Professional, talks about the project:  "The new course has actually been in the works for several years, and it's being developed in conjunction with the home development onsite (Lansdowne on the Potomac).  Even prior to that, our owners were talking about building a second golf course -- we have the land for it, and the particular piece of ground that's being used is just beautiful, down by the Potomac River.  And since the resort's opened, we've developed a level of business where we felt ready to accommodate the second golf course."


Despite the apparent connection between the houses and the new golf course, there won't be any residences actually on the Norman course itself.  Purpura continues:  "And one of the nice things about the new course and its location -- will be the isolation it enjoys.  There will be some homes, kind of overlooking the golf course on a bluff, but they won't touch the course at all.  It'll be down there by itself, weaved through some wetlands, some natural ponds that are already down there on one side, and the Potomac River's on the other side."


"The routing goes all the way out to the point where Goose Creek meets the Potomac River.  So the views you'll get from it -- they'll just be unbeatable," Purpura adds.


Unbeatable's also a good way to describe the new course's designer, Greg Norman.  Throughout Norman's playing career, he's garnered a reputation for immense athletic talent, a piercing stare and up and down successes and setbacks -- and he's also displayed real class in the aftermath of some heartbreaking defeats in major championships.  He was the number one player in the world for years, and golf's marquee name in the late 80's and early 90's.  That same type of style and character goes into his golf designs, and the Lansdowne project will certainly be no exception, based on Norman's description of the layout.

Even at an undeveloped site, Norman still presents a commanding presence. Photo Courtesy of Lansdowne Resort.


'Starting' with the closing sequence, which Norman calls "the toughest mile in golf" -- the lengths of the final four holes were mapped out to measure 1760 yards, or exactly one mile (from the back tees).  The course is also being designed with the capabilities to sustain a major championship -- including stretching to a hefty 7400 yards from the tips.


All this, and it'll be environmentally conscious, too.  Norman elaborates:  "I've designed the course using the 'Least Disturbance Approach' for the existing natural environment.  Lansdowne is an environmentally sensitive property located within the Potomac River floodplain.  With that in mind, we're undertaking an extensive program of stream restoration and wetland enhancement that will improve the environmental condition of the site, while providing an exceptional golf experience."


"We've invested a lot of time and effort on site to find the most desirable natural features and incorporate them into the design.  As a result, Lansdowne will be a very natural, stand-alone course with spectacular views of the Potomac River," Norman said.


The new course is planned to impact only half an acre of wetlands, yet will create wetland enhancement of eight to ten times that amount.  When it comes to emphasizing the 'natural' parts of the land, no doubt Norman means what he says.

Norman's known for his business acumen as well as his playing skills -- so he only accepts design projects he can work on personally. Photo Courtesy of Lansdowne Resort.


And despite the course's demanding yardage figures, there'll be multiple sets of tees (five in all), which Norman sees as the key to creating a playable course for the average golfer, yet also providing the capabilities to host the best players in the world.


This fact will be important to keep Lansdowne's clientele happy, though Purpura says who gets to enjoy the course will change some in their long term plans:  "We're moving away from our current setup, which is operating a daily fee/resort golf facility.  With the building of the new housing community, we're now selling private memberships.  When enough memberships are sold, we'll limit the facility to member and resort play only."


With all the changes going on, even the existing Robert Trent Jones Jr. course will be affected.  Purpura describes it:  "The plan, as it stands now, is to devote the land where the current seventeenth and eighteenth holes are -- to serve as a new practice range, that will work for both layouts.  There'll be a tee on top near the current 18th green, and another down below, near where the Norman course is going in.  It'll be a huge practice facility."


"We're already working with the Jones architecture group to design two new par fours to replace the ones we're taking out, so the integrity of that layout will remain intact.  The two new holes will be near where the (existing) thirteenth green and fourteenth tee is -- they'll be moving towards the river.  The current sixteenth hole will become the 'new' eighteenth.  It'll be quite a closing hole, a pretty dramatic finish," Purpura said.

The views to the current 17th hole go straight downhill. The green is 100 feet below the back tees. Note: The Zoysia grass is dormant in these shots.


The Jones course has undergone some other changes in recent times, not to the layout, but to the aesthetics of the surrounding area.  The aforementioned housing development has found its way to parts of the front nine, but there's still a stretch in the middle that looks and plays like the old days.


The back nine is where most of Lansdowne's praise is derived, and it's well deserved.  Doug Rook, Lansdowne's Director of Golf, says it's one of the most beautiful nines in the Mid-Atlantic region, and he's right.  Whereas the front nine is reasonably flat and open, the closing sequence is nothing short of a roller-coaster ride of elevation changes and dramatic views.


As you'd expect from a resort course of this type, it's also incredibly player friendly.  There are plenty of hazards to keep good players honest, but the short-hitting, horizontally challenged occasional player will rank Lansdowne's Jones course amongst his favorites (if he plays the correct set of tees).  There are a few difficult carries on the back nine (from the back sets), but misses won't often gather penalties -- unless you hit one so bad that you deserve one.


The course also contains very 'resort-style' putting surfaces, fairly undulating with multi-tiers on a few holes.  The large sizes of the greens allows for numerous pin positions, providing variety in shot making and helping to keep them in excellent condition.  If you're paying amongst the highest public greens fees in the region, you'll demand greens of this quality -- and at Lansdowne, you won't be disappointed.

The Jones' Course's 8th hole. A short par five that plays downhill off the tee -- birdie hole defined.


Conditions in general are excellent, due in large part to the Zoysia fairways, which remain playable year-round (though when dormant, are quite yellow-brown).  The ball sits up on Zoysia similar to a driving range mat, which means if you hit it in the short stuff, it's almost impossible to have a bad lie.  Rook says, "the Zoysia grass we use for the fairways, which not too many courses have around here, allows us to keep the course in better condition and more playable year-round."


Looking at some highlights, in the interests of space, we'll immediately move to the back nine (not that there aren't several nice holes on the front).  The 12th hole is an uphill, dogleg left par four with a split-fairway off the tee.  Try the longer, more difficult left side, and it's a shorter shot up the hill for your approach.  The right side's safer off the tee, but will make the second shot more challenging.


Thirteen is a beautiful, downhill par three over a stream, with bunkers protecting against going long.  The green slants diagonally away from you off the tee, and a long-left pin placement will certainly test your club selection as well as your nerves.


The next two holes have less undulation, but quite a lot of challenge.  The 14th is a three shot par five for all but tour pros, and players must successfully negotiate steep bunkers on both sides of the fairway to have a chance at the green in regulation.  Also notable is the stone wall that separates the cart path from the fairway on the latter third of the hole.  Scenic and historic -- it's 260 years old.

The uphill, par four 12th hole presents two options off the tee. If you're on the upper tier, it's a much easier shot to the green.


The fifteenth hole is an aesthetically pleasing 203 yard par three that mandates a full carry over water.  Here again, Jones Jr. gives the resort player a break by providing a generous bail out area on the left hand side for those who shy from the challenge of carrying the wet stuff.


The three finishing holes will test every player's ability to deal with elevation changes.  Sixteen (which will be the closing hole in the future) is an uphill dogleg left, with the second shot to the putting surface rising nearly 50 feet above the landing area for tee shots.  It's a definite problem for you low-ball hitters.


The seventeenth tee is 100 feet above the green.  Hit your tee ball, watch it fly.


Eighteen is the opposite of the previous hole.  Both shots on this steeply uphill par four will require a high ball, and makes this less than 400 yard par four play much longer.

If you miss left with your approach to the 10th green, you're not only in the sand, you might be behind a large tree, too.


The dramatic flourish of the closing three holes will be missed when the changes are made to the Jones course -- the ups and downs just aren't found anywhere else, at least to finish a round.  But you also can't help but think that if the Norman Course is as special as it sounds, then Lansdowne Resort's ambitious growing plans will certainly be fulfilling for future residents and guests.


Lansdowne Resort
44050 Woodridge Parkway
Lansdowne, VA 22553

Phone: (703) 729-8400
FAX: (703) 729-4096


Director of Golf:  Doug Rook
Head Golf Professional: Scott Purpura
Course Designers:  Robert Trent Jones, Jr. & Greg Norman (estimated 2005 opening)

Tees Yardage/Slope Rating
Gold 7057/139 74.6
Blue 6552/136 72.2
White 5954/127/134 (L) 69.2/75.0 (L)
Green 5213/119/124 (L) 65.9/70.6 (L)


Daily Fee:  Mon-Thur, $92; Fri-Sun, $105 (through November 3, 2003).
Resort Guests:  Mon-Thur, $92; Fri-Sun, $105 (through November 3, 2003).

Separate rates for groups, local outings and twilight play.  Rates include greens fee, cart and unlimited practice privileges.

For information on the Lansdowne on the Potomac housing development:

Phone:  (866) LANSDOWNE; (703) 726-0417

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