River Creek Club -- Providing a Sense of Permanence

By Jeffrey A. Rendall, Photos by Jeffrey A. Rendall

LEESBURG, VA -- The Potomac, a storied river. Perhaps the only river in the United States more famous is the Mississippi. Along the banks of the legendary Potomac, George Washington lived; the Union and Confederacy fought; and the Nation's Capital resides.

River Creek's Website

The Mason-Dixon line may separate Maryland and Pennsylvania, but it's the Potomac River that really divides north and south. Control of the river was vital to both sides in the Civil War, and many natives of the states south of the Potomac still regard those north of it as 'Yankees.'

Teeing on the 9th hole, you'll have to slice one bad to reach the river.

The river's also known for its natural beauty, with its shallow waters flowing over numerous rock outcroppings and lush treelines on both shores. Land developers in the latter half of the 20th century recognized the potential land value of its shoreline and quickly snapped up the remaining riverfront parcels.

Some had the foresight to turn the property into something truly unique and special -- and that's exactly what's happened at the River Creek Club, residing in the community of the same name, just east of Leesburg off of Rt. 7. River Creek Club opened in October of 1997, but the story goes back much farther.

According to golf architect and River Creek's course designer, Tom Clark (of Ault, Clark & Associates), the quality of the land was recognized long before it morphed into a golf community: "We first saw the land in 1983 or 84, when Marc Montgomery owned or had an option to purchase the property," Clark said.

"We realized right away there was something special there, and did the initial planning for a homesite/golf course development on the property. Though the holes weren't even in roughed-in at the time, there certainly was potential there to put several of them along the banks of the river, which is unique in any situation -- and this was even before the real restrictive environmental regulations were instituted," Clark added.

The 15th green look like it's perched on top of the Potomac.

What happened next was nothing. Clark said it was about that time that Loudoun County shut down community development in order to revise its growth master plan, essentially 'paving' the way for the remarkable population expansion that's taken place in the County during the last decade. By the time the governing bodies finally started giving developers the go-ahead, it was right smack in the middle of the early nineties recession.

Despite the inactivity, the land was somewhat 'prepped' for developing, as a golf course or otherwise: "We continued to work with Mr. Montgomery on the project. He was able to secure some financial backing (from the Abramson family), and all we really needed was the decision to start developing. There was some urgency, too, as we were in danger or losing the ability to build the holes by the river -- we'd gotten conditional approval to develop the land there despite the presence of wetlands, due to what was called 'prior converted use.' The plots had been planted in corn so they could say the land had prior use as a farm," Clark said.

He continues, "We didn't know how long the conditional approval would last. Then, if Loudoun County adopted the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act, which would include a mandatory buffer off the Potomac River -- that would've been the end of it, and those river holes were the key element in the whole concept."

Still more Potomac River views from the green on the 17th hole.

Montgomery had already obtained a clearing bid for the golf course, so he gave the go ahead to begin the project, and the rest, is 'history.' Dallas based ClubCorp then took over the ownership of the golf course, and now River Creek's service and amenities are indicative of what you'll find at the company's other fine clubs -- such as Pinehurst Resort and the Homestead.

Not to say the golf course alone wouldn't be a distinctive layout, even without the river views, but there's little doubt the club receives the amount of acclaim it does because of the presence of the water.

Dave Newsom, River Creek Club's Head Golf Professional, says as much: "I don't think I'm really going out on a limb when I say we have more and better Potomac River views than anyplace around. Period. Some clubs are built near the river, but with the high bluffs towering over the closing sequence (15-18), it's so beautiful you can forget where you're at sometimes."

Newsom's right the bluffs give the final four holes a sense of isolation near water you'll likely find only on a boat, but it's a nice thing to have on a golf course, too. Those bluffs are also famous from a historical standpoint, as the Civil War Battle of Ball's Bluff (in October, 1861) was fought only a stone's throw to the west of the property.

It's a sandy road to the 17th hole, named 'Sandcastle.'

The balance of the non-river holes do include a significant number of house views, but no doubt the river links led to River Creek's ranking amongst Virginia's finest courses in several publications, including Golf Digest. The overall quality of the layout and the development has led to the River Creek Community's nearly selling out several years ahead of schedule.

It also led to the building of the clubhouse, which completes the experience. ClubCorp waited to construct the clubhouse until enough memberships were sold, which also occurred ahead of schedule. The building now sits high on the bluff, overlooking the Potomac, the eighteenth green and the club's practice facilities.

The golf course isn't overshadowed by the views, club amenities and houses, however. Stretching to over 7000 yards from the 'professional' tees (slope of 140), it's a pretty challenging layout.

Newsom describes it: "Ours is definitely a second shot golf course. There's plenty of room off the tee, but the green complexes are pretty demanding. We have relatively small greens for a course of this type, they're fairly undulating and we keep them rolling fast. You probably won't get too many penalty strokes from your drives, but the course's design and set-up will take some if you're not accurate into the greens."

Finishing the 16th hole (606 yards) is a feat in itself -- to do so in par or better is surreal.

One unique aspect of those tricky green complexes is the shaved grass bunkers. You've seen grass bunkers before, but rarely cut short like that. Newsom says they're Zoysia grass bunkers, and there's a collar of fescue/bluegrass rough lining them, so you can't roll the ball out of 'em. You'll need a Mickelson type 'flop shot' to get the ball close if you're in one and that's a shot most folks probably don't have (myself included).

Newsom does point out, correctly, that it wouldn't be an easier shot if the bunkers were regulation length rough, or sand. But their presence adds a different dimension to your concepts of a 'safe miss.'

Another interesting part of River Creek Club is the naming of the golf holes. It's hardly unique to have a club name the holes, but the names at River Creek really seem to capture the 'essence' of each hole. For example, the sixteenth hole is named 'Red Bluff,' which certainly describes the right side of the hole the bluff runs the entire 606 yards of the hole.

The front nine's final three holes are the best on the outward nine. Seven, named 'Theatre,' is a 199 yard par three that plays much shorter due to its downhill nature. A steep hillside frames the green, giving it a 'theater' type feel to it.

If River Creek Club was a resort, you'd see the 18th hole on postcards.

Eight, called 'Goose Creek,' is River Creek's #1 handicap hole, and deservedly so. 443 yards in length and pretty tight, it'll take length and accuracy to grab par from this hole. Steer away from Goose Creek, as it runs the length of the hole on the right side.

The course then takes a turn onto the Potomac River side, with number nine, called 'The Crossing' (this is where historic Edward's Ferry was located). A challenging par five, it'll take three well-placed shots to navigate this 558 yard hole.

As previously noted, the back nine's final four holes are spectacular, and fairly difficult. Fifteen, named 'Montgomery Peak,' is a deceptively treacherous 391 yard par four. If you're considering clubbing down off the tee, don't. You're carrying a ravine that looks shorter than it plays. The approach is a steep downhill shot to a green that almost looks as if it's perched on top of the Potomac.

Sixteen is as demanding a par five as you'll get. Over 600 yards, you'll need to be dead straight and long to get home in regulation. Mercifully, this hole's green is relatively flat and large.

Looking back on the 12th hole -- a brilliant, strategic, short par four.

Seventeen is named 'Sandcastle,' because of a large waste bunker running the length of the hole on the left side (224 yard par three).

Eighteen's a closing hole worthy of the setting. Named 'Potomac Farewell,' it's a subtle turn away from the river, but at 443 yards in length, its difficulty is plainly obvious. Clark built in a lengthy forced carry over water and sand for the last iron shot of the day, ensuring that the course won't be cheated as you head back towards the clubhouse.

The golf course's conditioning also deserves special note. The Summer of 2002 has been extremely hot and dry, bringing some telltale signs of turf stress at many golf facilities. Not so at River Creek. Its condition was as good as I've seen this year. Kudos to the superintendent and his crew.

A visit to River Creek Club was, as Newsom predicted, a 'seamless' experience. The club is private and access is limited, but that's certainly a treat for its members. They've reserved the opportunity to play a club alongside the Potomac River, which adds a sense of permanence you won't find many other places.

River Creek Club
43800 Olympic Boulevard
Leesburg, VA 20176

Pro Shop: (703) 779-8486
FAX: (703) 779-1740

Website: http://www.rivercreekclub.com/

Course Designer: Tom Clark (Ault, Clark & Associates)
Head Golf Professional: Dave Newsom
Owned and Operated by ClubCorp

Tees Yardage/Slope
Professional 7036/140
Championship 6582/131
Member 5991/126/136 (ladies)
Forward 5241/121


Membership Information: Memberships are available, contact Susan Emison at (703) 779-2022.

For catering needs and business functions, contact Rhonda Kilgore: (703) 779-2022.

River Creek Club also offers a state-of-the-art teaching facility in the back of the range, available year-round. The clubhouse contains an exercise room with free-weights, techno-gym equipment and a personal trainer.

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