The increasingly familiar 37-minute drive from my home to the entrance of Raspberry Falls Golf & Hunt Club in Leesburg, Va., has become a spiritual cleanser for me.
About the time the last of the Dulles Technology corridor buildings and E-ZPass employees disappear into the rear view mirror, the Catoctin foothills at the base of the Blue Ridge appear from between mounds of highway-blasted rocks and start to lower my blood pressure. Meandering through historical Raspberry Plain to arrive at the Scottish-style links course, I see why course designer Gary Player says, “This site was made for a golf course” and “Like nothing you’ve experienced this side of the Atlantic.” When golfers find a place that regularly humiliates them, beats them up, frustrates them, flagrantly tests the outer limits of their patience–and they keep going there–well, they have either gotten married or found a home golf course. Raspberry Falls is my home course.
My performance on a golf hole is much easier to digest and I am able to focus on the next one better, if I can no longer see the prior hole or hear golfers playing it right next to me. The thankfully simple progression of Raspberry holes from one to the next reminds me of classically sequential board games from childhood where you don’t have to backtrack, repeat, skip three spaces or follow arrows to get to the next challenge. This distinction, allowable by a proper amount of real estate, leads me to consider each of the 18 holes at Raspberry as a separate experience with different character and personalities. I absolutely like every hole on the course, which is a rarity for me. The rising elevation on bunker-lined fairway #1 brings you to a pleasant plateau at the base of the tree line and then sends you hurtling through the valley and over a stream to reach glassy green #2. The stunning views from the 100-foot elevated tee box on hole #3 are my favorite on the course, and a lofty drive will allow time to watch your ball slowly disappear into the valley like a champagne cork shot off the side of a mountain.
Restored stone walls from the Civil War era on holes #3 and #9, and Scottish-style stacked pot sand traps with names like “Lee’s Bunker” and “Grant’s Tomb” on hole #11 are among the many pleasant score distractions, assuming you are not behind or in them. You may need the assistance of cliff-dwelling Indians to get your ball out of some of these extremely deep, Grand Canyon-like looking bunkers. Natural rock outcroppings ubiquitously litter the course. If you do not reach the green on #13 with your tee shot, you may find yourself breaking these rocks out of frustration or just to find your ball. A successful approach shot on #10 over water is a sigh of relief when beginning the back nine, and the par five #11 will exercise your fairway woods at almost 600 yards uphill. Many of the Raspberry Plain farming outbuildings still stand around the layout and give an extra rustic feeling to holes like the par three #15. The elevated tee box on #18 is nestled into the side of a hill, and the falls that make up the name of the course drip down into the ravine you will be shooting over. Ending the round requires successfully crossing the ravine again and also flying “Rogue’s Hollow,” a villainous little round-killing greenside bunker that has robbed me frequently.
According to my wife, the habit I have of establishing the perfect drip in the kitchen sink and individually cleaning each of my clubs while re-organizing my golf bag is annoying. I find it cathartically therapeutic in a Macbeth sort of way and a chance to review which clubs I am using. It was while engaging in this perfectly healthy and normal behavior recently that I discovered another reason that I like Raspberry Falls: it requires the use of every club in my bag, including the 60-degree wedge.
From being welcomed by Gilbert or another red vest wearing cart assistant to speaking with general manager Bob Swiger, I have never felt anything other than welcome at this golf club. The Raspberry experience doesn’t have to end with a round at Raspberry Falls either, because Raspberry Golf Management owns and operates local favorite courses Augustine, Bull Run and Old Hickory Golf Clubs as well. You can join as a full member of any of these. If you need a break from playing golf at them than you can get married on the grounds of any of the four courses, and I see this happening more and more. The Raspberry Academy operates out of all four and is a great place to take lessons or get fitted for clubs. I was first introduced to Raspberry after I hosted a real estate tournament there in 2000, and they are no less friendly or innovative now. Two groups recently brought their sales and lobbyist all-stars out for lessons tailored to driving and wedge shots, and all left with custom fitted drivers and wedges. The growing Raspberry Golf Trail, offering multiple-play discounts, includes 13 courses from southern Virginia to mid-Pennsylvania, including another local favorite of mine, Queenstown Harbor in Maryland. Recent deals with the Golf Channel are just another indicator of the growing presence of the Raspberry name.
The fact that when I pull out of Raspberry Falls after a round of golf I feel like I just did something vastly important is not only funny but a testament to the designers, management and employees of the course. A round of golf here is exactly like a raspberry: an upscale, yet affordable, fruit that leaves a good taste in your mouth.
For more information, visit www.raspberryfalls.com Raspberry Falls, 41601 Raspberry Drive, Leesburg, Va. 20176 703-779-2555
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