Pleasant Valley and South Riding - Upgrading Performance

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos By Jeffrey A. Rendall and Pleasant Valley

CHANTILLY, VA -- You hear it a lot these days, from athletes, corporate CEO's, celebrities -- everyone talks about upgrading their performance.

South Riding's 18th hole.

That's good. Nobody really likes the status quo, and it doesn't matter whether you're Bill Gates or the guy next door. We all want today to be better than yesterday.

The same is definitely true for two Dulles area golf courses that started slow, reached proficiency shortly after, and continue to improve, season by season. Speaking specifically of Pleasant Valley Golf Club, the Ault, Clark & Associates design in Chantilly, and South Riding Golf Club (Dan Maples' only Northern Virginia design), which resides in the residential community bearing the same name.

Greg Nesbitt, General Manager at both courses, explains some of the administrative changes that took place over the past couple years: "Well, we started out under the management of Golf South, then went to Golfmatrix, and now we've decided it would be better for us to just manage ourselves internally. Our ownership group, the Nova investors, has appointed a liaison between themselves and the courses to work with me--and I'm now the General Manager at both facilities."

Pleasant Valley -- looking towards the clubhouse.

For those unfamiliar with the Golf South/Golfmatrix operations, it included a grouping of courses under a basically common ownership and management group. Nesbitt says they're still affiliated to Lee's Hill (in Fredericksburg), but the Broad Run Golf & Practice Facility (in Bristow) is now a completely separate entity.

Nesbitt says he's very active with his two courses, and that'll keep him busy for the short run. "At both Pleasant Valley and South Riding, we're extremely pleased with the way the courses are shaping up, and we're continuing to do the necessary things to make them better all the time. For example, at South Riding, we're in the midst of a $200,000 improvement project that will upgrade the irrigation system at the course, as well as provide other less-noticeable maintenance enhancements, such as curbing for carts paths and the like," he says.

"At Pleasant Valley, we're already in great shape, and right now we're just focusing on some minor things to keep us where we're at, while also improving everyone's golf experience. We're always talking about some small projects to make one hole better, or another, and we're very pleased with the overall operations at both courses. I kind of liken it to a home improvement project -- we've already built the house and lived in it a few years, and now we're just fixing up some of the rooms," Nesbitt added.

South Riding is a tough test of shotmaking.

The quality of the 'houses' was never in dispute. Tom Clark (Ault, Clark & Associates) designed Pleasant Valley, and says he's very happy with the quality of the 'construction.' "Pleasant Valley was one of the very few opportunities architects get where you're building just a golf course, with buffering all around it--so you're right in the middle of Fairfax County and you don't even know it. It was fun to create something just for golf, and not have to worry about housing offsets or what needs to go where."

Because the property was so large, Clark says his firm was able to blend in all the design goodies he likes to incorporate when sketching out a course. "It basically involves returning nines--the correct orientation of the starting and finishing holes so you're not starting into the sun and then finishing into the sun."

"We were able to offer a good mix of par fours of all different lengths. We have a couple that are driveable (or close to it), and one that's 479 yards (from the back tees, of course). We also have three par fives that are pretty reachable, and one that's not. So we got our assortment of par threes, fours and fives into the blend -- dogleg lefts, dogleg rights. We integrated all these different features at Pleasant Valley," Clark said.

Pleasant Valley's 4th hole is a man-sized par three.

South Riding's course is a Dan Maples design, perhaps something you'd expect to find further south, but happens to be a pleasing rarity here in the Capital region. Maples is known for some distinctive design qualities (namely excellent visibility, playability and variety), all of which are found at South Riding: "We always work extremely hard when designing a course to take out as many blind shots as possible, for a number of reasons--first and foremost because they're unsafe. I personally don't like it when you can't see your ball land, so if there's a stretch of ground where it's possible to see a landing area, I'll work to include it. I'm not saying it's always possible, but we'll provide a view if there's an opportunity," said Maples.

Somewhat contrasting Pleasant Valley, South Riding winds in and out of a housing community, which essentially avoids the parallel fairway phenomena. The housing setbacks are generous on all but a few holes, and there're also some unique design aspects you won't see very often, like a split fairway with a huge tree in the center.

Maples said the tree that bisects the 13th fairway is an interesting design feature, though it's not exactly a 'signature' of his: "We extensively walk each course we work on -- and tag the trees we want to keep. Sometimes we'll even design a split fairway around a particularly attractive tree, but we always try to make sure it's a good hole regardless of whether the tree's there or not. Let's face it -- trees aren't permanent."

South Riding.

That's true. But to ensure a permanent state of good golf conditions, it takes a lot of work to keep things green, too.

Looking at both courses, it's hard to imagine much of a need to fix things up, since they both appear to be in very good shape. The tee box problems of old at South Riding are certainly fading in the distance, and its somewhat uneven rough (in some spots) will soon be lush green when fed by the new irrigation system -- and sodded in some places with new turf.

Pleasant Valley's rap in recent years was having somewhat marginal greens, but the day we played they appeared to be in very good condition. That's one area at PV that Nesbitt says they'll continue to be vigilant about: "It's kind of a nice problem to have -- we've really worked hard to get the greens in the shape they're in now, and we'll just work to make sure they stay that way."

Pleasant Valley.

Both courses are local favorites, one reason being the membership program instituted back in the Golf South days, which was subsequently carried over to the Golfmatrix term and now to the current management. "Our player's pass program remains very popular. For $289 (annually), you get five complimentary rounds of golf, a 50% discount on weekday greens fees, a 20% discount on weekends and holidays, 7-day advance tee times and a chance to participate in our Player's Pass Tournament Series," Nesbitt said.

It should be noted that both facilities are semi-private, and more traditional club memberships are also available.

A final note -- one area where no significant 'upgrade' is necessary is the service corner. Both clubs feature GPS on the carts, friendly on-course beverage service, as well as helpful staff to load the carts and clean your clubs. The clubhouses are also representative of a well-run golf operation, with fully stocked golf shops and attractive eateries.

All in all, a nice couple courses to spend an afternoon at. Add in their convenient locations, and it's a no-brainer for locals. And the upgrades will only 'add' to a fine experience. Remember that the next time someone talks about self-improvement; it'll benefit all of us in the end.


Pleasant Valley Golf Club
4715 Pleasant Valley Road
Chantilly, VA 20151

Phone: (703) 631-7904
FAX: (703) 631-7906


Golf Architect: Tom Clark, Principal, Ault, Clark & Associates:
General Manager: Greg Nesbitt

Tees Yardage/Slope
Championship 6915/135
Medal 6509/130
Club 5861/125
Forward 5106/118

Mon-Fri: $59; $42 after 2:00 p.m.; $34 after 4:00 p.m.
Weekends, Holidays: $79; $59 after 12:00 p.m.; $42 after 2:00 p.m.; $34 after 4:00 p.m.

All prices include cart (equipped with GPS system). Unrestricted walking allowed, but no pull carts.

South Riding Golf Club
43237 Golf View Drive
South Riding, VA 20152

Phone: (703) 327-3673
FAX: (703) 327-2809


General Manager: Greg Nesbitt

Tees Yardage/Slope
Championship 7147/133
Medal 6509/129
Club 5683/118 (men); 131 (ladies)
Forward 5004/116

Mon- Fri: $59; $42 after 2:00 p.m.; $34 after 4:00 p.m.
Weekends, Holidays: $79; $59 after 12:00 p.m.; $42 after 2:00 p.m.; $34 after 4:00 p.m.

Additional rates available for seniors, juniors and club members. All prices include cart (equipped with GPS system). Caddy program also available--call ahead to inquire.

Walking allowed after 3:00 p.m. for non-members, but no pull carts.

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