Certainly no stranger to hosting major events, having welcomed four President’s Cups, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., is busy readying itself for the Quicken Loans PGA event for summer 2015.
In a very close vote, as many members object to the lack of access to the course around tournament time, Congressional Country Club has decided to host the event in upcoming even years only. TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm will host in 2017. The PGA event was formerly known as the AT&T National and continues to benefit the Tiger Woods Foundation.
Having never even been to RTJ (Robert Trent Jones), I saw the tournament’s move as a great opportunity to learn more about the club. After a phone inquiry about the tournament, I was pleasantly surprised by an invitation to join the board member liaison for the event in a round of golf, along with the head professional and another long-time member. I cannot remember a recent visit to a golf club that I have enjoyed more.
On entering the club, the first thing I noticed was the mammoth glacier-white pile of sand being used to freshen up the traps for the tournament. Flags on lampposts announcing the dates came next. Expecting a beehive of activity inside the clubhouse, the wall of timeless serenity that greeted me was grabbingly comfortable. While the clubhouse furnishings, finishes, dining areas, bar, locker room and pro-shop were all architecturally immaculate, each of these areas reeked of usability.
Even with some construction happening on certain holes of the course, the round was absolutely picturesque, showcasing the October colors that Virginia is famous for, and I appreciated walking the course. The trap placements up the right side of the fairway on the first hole, a dog leg right par 4, were of a classical risk-reward design that are trademarks of Robert Trent Jones-designed courses. While water does not come directly into play on that many holes, the presence of Lake Manassas that can be felt on almost all of them gives off a non-threatening, almost meditative vibe.
The string of holes visible along the lake from the ninth green was an impressive view, and reminded me of the famous sequential holes at Teeth of the Dog in the Dominican Republic. The 11th hole par three over water could be considered a signature hole and was a favorite for me. The peninsula that made up the par 4 hole #13 was also a big favorite for me, with the changing colors of the trees highlighted against the lake on the walk down the fairway. I could have taken a nap in that fairway. There were not any bad songs on this album.
The quality of the course and the lack of design gimmickry left me with a clear feeling for where my game needed work, which is what a great course should do. The ending holes were a pair of par fours that delivered us to a stately and inviting view of the clubhouse, which is where we headed. The bar area has that perfect dark wood, comfortable chair, low table feeling that is a great place to digest a round of golf and tell stories.
There are no social memberships at RTJ, no pool and no tennis courts. It is all about the game of golf. A round here is designed to be something special for members and guests. In fact, a requirement of membership is that it be secondary to another golf club membership, ensuring that it stays a special treat.
This was the first time I really think I got a good understanding of what the negotiations between the PGA and a golf club are like when designing an event. Thanks go to board members Bill Craig and Mike Prentiss and to head professional Cary Sciorra for taking the time to explain the changes going on. Altering tee boxes, lengthening holes and updating sand trap designs are measures undertaken to ensure a fair fight. Like a boxing match, the exciting events are the bouts that go the distance. Nobody wants to watch pro golfers shooting fish in a barrel, and nobody truly wants to watch them hate their jobs either. The negotiators for the courses and the PGA are who make sure this doesn’t happen, and I will have a new appreciation for them moving forward.
I don’t think the PGA could have found a better venue to host its Quicken Loans event. While the next few years are spoken for, it would be nice to see the event eventually return to RTJ as a permanent fixture. What a welcome relief it is to watch a world-class golf club express humility in its approach to hosting an event and all the excitement about the game that it creates.
Wally Greeves is the golf columnist for the Georgetowner and is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and can be reached at Wally@wandergolf.com.