SOUTH RIDING, VA - "I want our golf course to engage the community," answered South Riding Golf Club's General Manager, Marko Ungashick, when I asked him about his course's goals for the future. South Riding GC lies at the southern end of the South Riding residential community (near Dulles airport, 35 minutes from Washington, D.C.), so proximity to the people alone will help Mr. Ungashick accomplish his objective.
Opening in 1997, the course is a Dan Maples design (the only Maples track in Northern Virginia), featuring eighteen thoughtfully placed holes weaving in and out of open space, stands of trees and wetlands, and yes, even the community. And like its neighbor to the east, Pleasant Valley, South Riding's come under the wing of the Golfmatrix company-which has made improvements in much the same way as with the aforementioned course. More than anything, Golfmatrix is allowing South Riding to reach its original potential. Amazing what a little TLC will do for fairways and greens.
Similarly to Pleasant Valley, conditioning slipped in recent times when South Riding's former management company experienced financial difficulties. The course never quite fell into complete disrepair, though the telltale signs of the nagging problems are still seen today on virtually every hole in the teeing areas. Ungashick explained that only about 50% of the tee boxes are in use right now, with the others being out of commission due to some maintenance issues under the old regime.
But the condition of the course's fairways and greens more than makes up for the tee box shortfalls (and all the tees will be on line later this year). South Riding Golf Club resides on the site of an old sod farm, and you'd have a hard time finding finer strands of grass anywhere. You probably could putt off the fairway if you wanted to-and when you get to the greens, you'll sometimes wish the green stuff there wasn't quite so short. Not only are the putting surfaces in great shape, they're sneaky fast.
It's not only conditioning that's being upgraded at South Riding. You're bound to see the staff hustling around trying to give visitors the complete golf experience, too. Ungashick explains, "We're really trying to concentrate on the areas where we can make a difference. Our course is in excellent shape, save for some of the tee boxes, but for now, there's not a lot we can do about that. What we can do is deliver that extra 1% in service to give our players an enjoyable day."
"I try to drive that concept home with our staff-we need to be engaging. And since we're essentially a community golf course, we're taking strides to engage the community-we want everyone to feel welcome, like this is a great place to be. We want you to able to walk outside on the balcony and look down and see it all in front of you-the practice facility, the starter, members of the community having lunch. We have a unique opportunity at South Riding-we provide 'atmosphere' on our golf course."
"It's all about service, and it's all about having a good time. We'll show our patrons that we're enjoying doing what we do, and it'll make it a lot easier to translate the message to them."
Ungashick's enthusiasm is definitely contagious. He says that he, his head golf professional and his superintendent are all first-timers at their respective positions, and what they lack in experience, they'll make up in effort. It's a completely fresh approach to running a golf course. Almost makes you feel like you belong to the 'community.'
If there's a knock on the layout at all, it's because there are times where the community may be a tad too close-some houses are intruding on a couple fairways, but this is far from a house golf course. There are extended stretches on both the front and back nines where you don't even see a house. So you can get the 'community' feel along with isolated serenity. Not a bad combination.
South Riding is also very playable, making it easier for Ungashick and the staff to provide a memorable day. The fairways are wide, and the rough areas supply additional space. There are a few holes parallel to each other-and for those links, there's always the next fairway option. Players won't spend all their time looking for wayward shots-and that's good for pace of play. The greens are severe in places, but they'll give you a lot of room to hit them. A fair test of your flat blade game awaits.
Ungashick adds "you'll play every club in the bag on this course--it's not a grip it n' rip it type layout. But there are plenty of holes where you'll need to hit the ball long, and plenty of holes where you're hitting a three-wood, five-wood, or an iron off the tee. If you have a weakness, it'll be brought out. But I do think the course is very fair-it won't penalize you too much."
The course is certainly fair, but the first hole won't ease you into it. 592 yards from the back, it's every bit of a true three shotter that slightly doglegs left. You've got to bring your draw swing from the practice range to put your tee ball in good shape, but there's a lot of room if you miss it. Woods and wetlands frame both sides off the tee, but probably don't come into play unless you really miss one.
The third hole is the outward nine's second par five, and is South Riding's signature hole. There's an old barn bordering the fairway and wetlands down the entire left side-makes for quite a picture. It's also a great risk reward hole, as it's reachable on a day when the prevailing wind's behind you, as it often is-but there's a creek that runs before the severely sloped, elevated green.
Number nine is South Riding's #1 handicap hole, and can be quite a monster from the back tee boxes. 471 yards separates you from the green, with a good sized forced carry over a lake and woods all down the right side. Even with your best drive of the day, you'll still have a mid-iron into the green at best.
Maples grants you a break after number nine-what he taketh away on the previous hole, he giveth on the tenth, a very reachable straight-on 523 yard par five. There's a small forced carry off the tee and wetlands to the right, but the fairway's pretty wide, too. Two strong shots will give you an eagle try.
Twelve and thirteen are two interesting par fours, at 405 and 427 yards respectively. Twelve has a creek bisecting the fairway at about driver distance, so you'll either have to carry it or lay-up. Thirteen's got a huge tree seemingly in the middle of the fairway (a Maples signature), surrounded by a small wetlands area. Choose the left or right option.
Seventeen's my favorite hole on the course. Short at 351 yards, it's a severe dogleg left that dares you to try and go over trees to cut off the leg. You can't see the green from the tee, and there are several bunkers protecting the saddle shaped green. Take a shorter club off the tee, and the fairway's extremely generous-but the second shot's no picnic because of the green. Lots of options-it's up to you.
Eighteen is a straight-forward 431 yard finishing hole, wetlands down the left side and the range to the right. Second shots must go high and land soft to the elevated green.
Driving back to the clubhouse after the round, you'll pass by the deck up and to the left, the practice facility to the right and then make your way around to the parking lot. It's easy to imagine lots of folks milling around, having lunch and watching as the golfers return from their rounds. It gives a sense of community-and that's just what South Riding is all about.
South Riding Golf Club
43237 Golf View Drive
South Riding, VA 20152
Phone: (703) 327-3673
Fax: (703) 327-2809
General Manager: Marko Ungashick
Championship: 7147 133
Medal: 6509 129
Club: 5683 118 (Men) 131 (Ladies)
Forward: 5004 116
Rates: M-Th, $49. Twilight after 3, $39
Fri, $69. Twilight after 3, $49
Sat -Sun, Holidays $79. Twilight after noon, $69. After 3, $49.
After 5 pm everyday, $29.
Replay rates are also available.
Walking allowed after three for non-members.
Caddy program also available-call ahead to inquire.
Practice Fac.: B
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: B+
Pace of Play: A-
Resort Hotel: N/A
Overall Rating: B+