Bull Run Golf Club -- Satisfy Your Daily Learning Quotient at Bull Run Golf Club

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

HAYMARKET, VA -- There's an old saying that goes 'you learn something new everyday.'

When you think about it, you'd hope to understand at least one new tidbit each day, considering there're an infinite number of things to know, but a very finite number of days in a lifetime to learn them.

A look at the beautiful par three 16th hole. When you're done with a round at Bull Run, you'll look forward to coming back the next time.

So it's a good thing a recent trip to Bull Run Golf Club revealed enough new information to cover many days' worth of lessons.  Or, maybe it was just a 'bonus' to learn more than one new thing on that particular day.

Talking with Bull Run's course architect, Rick Jacobson, was a good way to gather a whole basketful of knowledge in one dose, because he knows his stuff. 

Looking back at the par four 5th hole -- here you'll find a lot of golf course, but not many humans.

Jacobson says the Bull Run project turned out well because there was plenty of varied real estate to mold and shape:  "From an architect's standpoint, the Bull Run site provided a nice diversity in the land, which is always great to work with.  Part of it was kind of rolling terrain, part of it was heavily wooded, and there were some real nice elevation changes.  The ground where the clubhouse sits is a little higher than much of the course, which offers some outstanding views of the layout and the mountains."

"We also had one existing pond to work into the design (on numbers one and eighteen) and added two more -- so there's quite a bit of water hazard variety as well," Jacobson added.

Bull Run's final hole is the epitome of risk-reward. Approach shots must clear the water to reach the green, and you'll have to fly it long to get it over, too.

A quick perusal of the landscape from the clubhouse and you'll see what Jacobson means.  Bull Run Country Club is located just off of route 15, a few miles north of Haymarket and a few miles south of Middleburg.  This is horse ranch country, with scenery to match.  Although the club is well into the countryside, it is still convenient to the rapidly growing population of Northern Virginia.

Jacobson says that Bull Run is a rare gem, because it's not easy to find large tracts of land to lay out this type of golf course these days.  "We had plenty of room there, which is pretty hard to find -- especially in a place like Northern Virginia, which has some real tight restrictions on growth."

Making par on the par four 4th hole is always an accomplishment. This picture doesn't show it, but there's a huge ravine to clear off the tee.

Bull Run isn't completely immune to the trend, however.  There will be 25 lots for sale within Bull Run Estates that are stretched across the 400+ acres that the golf course occupies. For now, enjoy the serenity, the scenery and the peace and quiet.  Without a doubt, Bull Run is one of the most beautiful settings in Virginia.


The par five 2nd hole is probably the best scoring chance on the entire course. It's very wide, and not that long.

It's also one of the most playable.  Jacobson says he likes it that way.  "I like to design player-friendly courses, but it really depends on the market the course is in, and how the developer wants to use the land.  Since Bull Run's a high-end facility, we wanted to make it wide and enjoyable, but also include some tough pin placements on the greens in case they want to host a competition."

"I don't drive the ball that straight myself, so it's a course where you can spray it a little and not be punished too severely.  We also start with the idea of multiple tee locations -- that not only vary the distances of the holes, but also the angles you play into the landing areas," Jacobson said.

Late afternoon shadows obscure the 10th hole, but you can still see the lush conditions found at Bull Run Golf Club.

There are several examples of the principle at Bull Run.  Some holes feature very little distance variation between two sets of tees, but the shot's entirely different from each.  Perhaps the best illustration is number thirteen, where the blue tees (black tees are the 'tips') play 397 yards and the white tees play 388.  Only nine yards separate the two, but the blue box shoots squarely over a lake, and the white box features a very mild carry over the same body of water. 

The tee boxes are located quite a distance from each other, which accounts for the variation.

What a way to finish up the front nine -- the par four 9th is a dogleg right test that will challenge on both the tee and approach shots.

Jacobson points to some other ways he designed Bull Run (and his other courses) to be more playable:  "When possible, we won't include any forced carries from the front tee box.  We'll usually grade the fairways in a concave/convex shape, which serves to steer golf balls towards the center.  Then we try to make the fairways bigger than average -- but there will always be landing areas or target zones within them that provide a better angle into the greens for the approach shots.  So there are large landing areas, but they're still defined by grass hollows, bunkers or trees, depending on the particular hole."

Jacobson continues, "We'll also try to leave an opening to the greens, which allows for run-up shots, and then adjust the green angles.  That way, if you've got grass hollows and water hazards, you've got some tough pin placements as well.  When we route the golf course, we like for you to be able to see the entire hole.  You can plan your line to the green -- and attack or play it safe, accordingly.    If you can see where the pin placement is, you can better plan your tee shot."

The short par four 8th hole just invites long hitters to try for the green off the tee.

That's quite a golf philosophy lesson, and proves Jacobson must've learned more than just one thing per day during his apprenticeships.  He says he's learned a lot from the people he's worked with:  "I like to think I've learned quite a bit from working with some great people.  Some of it came from working with my first firm, some came from working with Nicklaus, and some came from working with a golf course contractor.  There are bits and pieces from all of them."

There's little doubt Bull Run's layout is an embodiment of Jacobson's theories.  You can see it when you play the course -- with wide fairways, excellent visibility, run-up options to the greens and some tough pin locations.  It's an attractive visual presentation, yet difficult enough to challenge good players, which is clearly what Jacobson set out to accomplish.

The par four 13th offers several different tee locations, changing the angle at every turn.

One thing that Jacobson -- or anyone else, for that matter -- did not anticipate was the state of disrepair that Bull Run fell into in recent years (this was published in 2013). The course conditions became so bad that players (including this one) stayed away in droves. For myself, it was especially sad to see, because Bull Run was the first course I ever wrote-up.

Gladly, the story has a happy ending. Tim Ganse, Bull Run's Head Golf Professional, explains: "Bull Run was purchased by an investor who did not have the knowledge or resources to run a successful golf business. This resulted in serious deterioration in course conditions and customer service. Bad course conditions and service resulted in declining players and revenues."

Bull Run epitomizes the parkland look on most of the course.

He continues, "BR Golf Investors, LLC purchased the club in May of 2010 and hired Raspberry Golf Management to manage the course. This resulted in an immediate upgrade in service levels and course conditions which are still improving even today. The new team has worked hard to earn back the trust of the public golf sector."

During the last couple of years there have been several upgrades to the facilities at Bull Run. The obvious improvements have been to the golf course improving the greens, fairways, tee boxes, and rough. A new facility for the Bull Run Golf Academy was built on the driving range.

They've also upgraded the banquet facilities by renovating a large area located on the bottom floor of the clubhouse.   But the single largest improvement has been the customer service levels, something that Ganse says they're especially proud of.

As you would expect from a high-end club Bull Run features all the latest gizmos for teaching, including video analysis and virtual reality.

In other words, you can take advantage of the old ways and the new technologies at the same time.  Then finish it off with a cool one on the clubhouse deck -- with stunning views of the mountains and the challenging risk-reward 18th hole (yes, the 19th hole overlooks the 18th).  Ganse says it's probably one of the nicest places to sit and have a beer after a round you'll find anywhere.

That, perhaps, may be the final piece of information you'll learn about Bull Run Golf Club in a day's visit.  It's always been an incredible layout, but now Jacobson's explained how he made it that way, and Ganse has told us how they'll keep it pristine and green.  It all goes to show, you really can learn something new everyday.


Bull Run Golf Club
3520 James Madison Highway
Haymarket, VA 20169

Phone: (703) 753-7777; Toll Free: (877) 753-7770
FAX: (703) 753-0938

Website: www.bullruncc.com

Course Architect: Rick Jacobson
Head Golf Professional: Tim Ganse, PGA
General Manager: Mike Tate














5730/116/127 (L)






Consult the website for current rates.

Walking is permitted, but the rates are the same.

Membership programs are available.

Related Links   Comments on this article?
Maryland National Golf Club
Hollow Creek Golf Club
Rocky Gap Resort
PB Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville
Whiskey Creek Golf Club
E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor: