Clifton, VA - When you think of Fred Couples, you think of his beautiful and unique fluid swing. You think of a Masters' champion practically ordained by God with that miraculous 'save' on the 12th hole at Augusta on the final Sunday in 1992. You think of raw power that was the standard for pro golf prior to the days of Woods, Els, and Daly. Now, and in the future, however, you're going to start thinking of 'Freddie' in a different way-as a course architect.
Couples, along with design associate Gene Bates, has burst on to the Northern Virginia golf scene with his Westfields creation-a magnificent track that combines the best elements of golf to give players of all abilities a terrific golfing experience.
Seeing as Couples is new to the golf course design business (at least in Northern Virginia), it was difficult to know what to expect from one of his courses. Couples, throughout his professional golfing career, has been known for excelling on long courses with minimal rough so as to give a break to an occasional errant drive. He's never been amongst the leaders in percentage of fairways hit, but in turn has never strayed far from the lead in the total distance category.
Couples' playing strengths translate nicely into his thinking on course design-create a path wide enough for a seven forty seven, but make sure the runway's long enough to get off the ground. Westfields seems to embody this theory. David Finnocharo, Westfields' Golfshop Manager, elaborates on Couples' design intentions: "Fred wanted to create a challenging course for the low handicappers, but also one that would be playable for the average golfer. For that reason, the fairways on this course are 5-8 yards wider than for comparable courses."
Measuring 6,897 yards from the 'Boom-Boom' tees, Westfields at par 71 could solidly qualify for a PGA tournament course in terms of distance, and cause most pros to pull the driver out of the bag on occasions that would call for it.
Couples sets the jaw-dropping par-3 third as the course's signature hole.
There are four par 4s that measure over 440 yards, a hefty task for any amateur to handle-and forces all but a few to play them as par 5's. That is, unless they take advantage of the five sets of tees that Couples provides-and brings the course down to size for golfers of the 'under God' variety. Couples' love of Augusta National is also evident in the undulating, fast greens.
The club is affiliated with the Marriott Westfields in Chantilly-which adds the touch of class you would expect from the Marriott name-but the course is set a few miles away in a peaceful residential neighborhood, populated by large luxurious homes. The neighbors are good ones though-there aren't any houses within a driver's shot of the course.
Once onsite, the club features an excellent practice facility-grass range, large putting green, and a chipping area-which serves to set up the round. Out on the course, it becomes a journey through the abundant Virginia hardwoods, combining with the muted subtleties of a fine golf course-wetlands, water, and nature's contour. The property also shows off some of the area's rich historical significance-there's a Civil War era cemetery and fortifications to browse at-whose presence helps bring today's poor shots back into perspective.
Couples sets the par 3 third as the course's signature hole-and the hole is worthy of the honor. It's the hole that you notice immediately upon turning into the club-and from a short distance looks pretty docile-a good sized, l shaped green fronted by a pond that takes away the left-side, and a bunker on the right.
The hole is indeed docile-from the forward tees (doubling as an often used drop area), measuring only 76 yards. Once your glance goes backwards from that point, however, your jaw starts to drop. That generous green starts to resemble a postage stamp-and the pond looks awful large-from the back tees (223 yards). The beautiful rock outcroppings hugging the front of the green only helps to accentuate this excellent golf hole.
The exhilaration that you feel from finishing the 3rd hardly fades the rest of the way. Although there aren't many holes that will scare the wits out of you like the aforementioned par three, there is plenty of challenge left ahead. The par 4 eighth hole carries the #1 handicap label, and can't be tamed easily. Measuring 467 yards, the hole requires a huge drive followed by a long iron second to even come within hailing distance of the green.
In addition to the length of the hole, the green is well protected on the right side by a bunker and a large oak. Not only do you have to use some muscle on the tee shot-it had better be in the right position on the fairway or you should think about a good place to lay up. Finnocharo says the hole is vintage Couples, since it plays to Fred's ball flight-fade all the way.
The back nine presents more challenge. Finnocharo says that Couples wanted to 'give' something back to the average player who may have had to suffer through the murderer's row of long par fours on the front-so he 'gives' you the par 4 14th. Rated the easiest on the course, only 285 yards stands between you and the middle of the green.
Pull out the driver and rip it, right? Think again. There's a cavernous set of greenside bunkers that will swallow any shot that's slightly right of center. End up in those things, and they may send out a search party to see if you've come up for air. The smart play is to take a medium to long iron off the tee-and give yourself a wedge to the green, which will assure you're at least putting for birdie. The genius of the hole is that Couples figures the weekend warrior will pull out the Big Bertha and go for it-but how many will make it?
As would be expected, the architect leaves you with a memorable final hole to finish up. The #2 handicap hole presents a test on both the drive and second shots. Tee shots must negotiate three bunkers in a S shaped fairway-drive over one short and left, around one to the medium right, and short of one long and left. Approaching the hole calls for a medium to long iron carry over a waste area to a large but undulating green. If you can't hit your long irons high and for good distance, swallow your pride and try for the green in three.
The great times don't end with the round. The clubhouse features an excellent grill/bar, where you can put your feet up and take in the last hours of the day after your trip around the links. Your golf ball arsenal can also be replenished in the fully stocked golf shop, should that become necessary. The staff is meritorious of the Marriott name, and the clubhouse entranceway itself could easily double for the sitting room in any of their fine hotels.
All in all, Westfields passes the test with flying colors. Fred Couples has accomplished his goal-to provide all golfers with a challenging and first-class course.
Westfields Golf Club
13940 Balmoral Greens Avenue
Clifton, Virginia 20124
Head Pro: Jason Paul
Golfshop Manager: David Finnocharo
Rates: Range from $69-$89.
Winter/Shoulder Season rates are also available.