One of the world's premier golf course architects, Robert Trent Jones Sr., is planning a golf resort and conference center on nearly 800 acres in western Prince William County.
The development -- situated on the rolling pastures and woodlands of the northern shores of Lake Manassas, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as its backdrop -- will include at least two golf courses of a caliber suitable to host international golfing events, said Thomas W. Ryan, a New Jersey-based financier and partner in the project.
Corporate offices in a campus-like setting, a hotel complex and up to 800 luxury homes also are planned for the site, according to Michael Lubeley, the Woodbridge attorney for the project.
The proposed development, called the Robert Trent Jones International, is a coup for Prince William County officials, who are struggling to shrug off the jurisdiction's blue-collar image.
"The graph is really taking off in terms of the quality of what we are getting. . . . This will put Prince William County on the national map," said County Board Chairman G. Richard Pfitzner.
Although the county is home to such major developments as an International Business Machines Corp. manufacturing plant and the largest off-price shopping mall in the mid-Atlantic region, the Jones project would be Prince William's first development that caters to Fortune 500 clientele.
"The property is real strategic," said Dyan Lingle, the county's director of economic development. It will set the tone for office development in the Gainesville area, she said.
The site is just west of the intersection of I-66 and Route 29 at Gainesville, about a 40-minute drive from downtown Washington and about 20 minutes from Washington-Dulles International Airport.
The Gainesville area today shows little sign of the growth Lingle hopes the Jones project will bring. Now, it is a scruffy crossroads, home to a palm reader, gas station and the Atlas Iron Works beside the railroad tracks. But the county's long-range plans mark Gainesville as a major job center of the future -- or as county Planning Director Roger Snyder describes it, "Prince William's breadbasket."
Already this month, the county board of supervisors approved a 102-acre business park for the Route 29 and I-66 intersection that is expected to generate 3,000 jobs at Gainesville. Land brokers report furious speculation in area land during the past six months.
Before Gainesville takes off, however, it needs water. John Bailey, engineering director for the Prince William County Service Authority, is negotiating with developers in the area to share the cost of extending a public water line two miles north to Gainesville. Construction should begin later this year, he said. Developers of the Robert Trent Jones project probably would be expected to pay the costs of continuing that water line to their site, Bailey said. As for sewer service, a line already runs along Route 29.
Gainesville Supervisor G. Anthony Guiffre said he expects little opposition to the golf resort because it will preserve much of the area's natural beauty. In addition, traffic to the development probably will be in off-peak hours or run counter to the commuter rush, he said.
In fact, Route 29, which fronts the property, is one of the few county roads with spare capacity, said Deputy County Plan Director John Schofield.
Ryan could provide no further details of the project, which is still in the design stages, but in a telephone interview from his New Jersey office he described it as "the foremost golf-oriented . . . development on the East Coast" and the only one of its kind in the Washington area. He expects to file a rezoning application with Prince William County for the property by November.
Jones was away in Europe and was not available for comment.
Described by Newsweek magazine as the "Frank Lloyd Wright of the links," the 79-year-old architect has designed or remodeled an estimated 450 golf courses worldwide. He has carved golfers' paradises from hostile lands such as the lava fields of Mauna Kea Beach in Hawaii and the granite mountains of Cala Di Volpe in Sardinia. Golf Digest attributes 30 of the nation's 100 best-designed golf courses to his hand.
Locally, his signature is seen at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda.
Jones spent 10 years trying to acquire the Prince William site, which was embroiled in a court dispute with McClure Oil Co., according to a local land broker. He finally purchased it in April for about $2 million, Ryan said.
The Prince William site, like Coral Ridge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., will be one of a handful of golf courses with supporting facilities that Jones has developed and designed. He has formed a partnership with Ryan and developer Jay R. Saunders, all based in Montclair, N.J.