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First Peek | Potomac Shores

No filibusters here: The Washington, D.C. area gets a Nicklaus-designed public course that both sides of the aisle can endorse

This article appeared in the Spring 2014 issue of LINKS.

By Leonard Shapiro

Nearly eight years will have passed between the initial battalion of bulldozers roaring to life on a practically perfect property back in 2006 to the first players hitting off No. 1 tee when the widely anticipated opening of Potomac Shores, the latest Jack Nicklaus Signature Course, takes place this spring.

It will happen in Dumfries, Virginia, not far from the Potomac River and about 30 miles south of Reagan National Airport. The yawning gap from start of construction to finished product clearly will have been worth the wait for a course already being mentioned as one of the finest public facilities in the Washington, D.C. area. And early buzz in this buzz-happy town whispers it’s a potential top 100 nationwide.

So what took so long?

The course was to be the centerpiece of what is now a 2,000-acre development—scheduled for completion in 2015—that also will include a town center, retail stores, luxury hotel, and 3,800 homes starting at $600,000.  

Then came the disastrous 2008 recession. The original developer walked away and a bank took over, halting all work on the property and doing just enough watering and mowing to keep the golf course on life-support for any potential buyers.

Finally SunCal, one of the country’s leading developers of master-planned communities, purchased the project in 2011 and resumed work. Englishman David McGregor, the assistant superintendent at nearby Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, signed on to begin the restoration of a Golden Bear design that had been in hibernation for almost three years.

“The biggest challenge was bringing the course back from being totally overgrown,” McGregor says. “Trees had grown in bunkers, the greens had all been mowed into ovals, and we had a hard time determining the original fairway perimeters. It was really a mess.” But a mess unfurled on a beautiful rolling site, virtually every hole framed by tall, mature trees and only two holes running parallel to each other. 

In 2012 Rick Jacobson, the original Nicklaus staff architect, came back to help make it right again. He and McGregor made at least one major change to every hole. Landing areas were widened. The rough was reestablished with the planting of tall fescue. The bent grass greens were expanded, sometimes doubled in size. Some bunkers were filled in completely, others made smaller or shallower. And new tee boxes sprouted all around, giving players four choices ranging from 7,082 to 5,276 yards.

“I can’t speak for Mr. Nicklaus, but I’m sure he was upset at the delay,” McGregor says. “But I’m pretty sure he’s going to be very excited when this course opens in the spring.”

Potomac Shores is the only Nicklaus Signature daily-fee course in the region, and Patrick Boucher, director of club operations, believes “you’ll see players from a 30- to 40-mile radius come over here to play. Because of all the amenities and the high-quality conditions they’ll find on the course, word is going to spread. The minute I saw it, I knew it was special.”

And clearly, the wait is finally over.                                 

Leonard Shapiro covered golf for The Washington Post for 20 years and is a past president of the Golf Writers Association of America.


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