From the 10th fairway, the view is unique among golf courses in the Washington area. Beyond the hole are the empty red brick buildings of the former D.C. prison at Lorton, which for 86 years has dominated the landscape of southern Fairfax County.
Against that backdrop, in a place now called Laurel Hill, the county will open a golf course this fall. The 280-acre expanse is not the only special thing about the Laurel Hill Golf Club. The 18-hole, par-71 course has more frills than the Fairfax County Park Authority's seven other courses and will be its largest.
"This is our leap into upscale golf offerings," said Todd Johnson, the course's manager. At a challenging 7,010 yards, the $13.8 million links are expected to attract more top-level golfers than the other county-run courses, Johnson said.
The course is a key part of the development of the 3,000-acre prison complex, which closed in 2001 and was transferred by Congress to the county government. Next month, a high school will open adjacent to the course.
The county also plans to create a regional recreation area at the site with open space, ballfields, playgrounds, picnic areas, trails, a cultural center, a horse center and other amenities. The rest of the Lorton area is undergoing a boom in residential and commercial development, a byproduct of the prison's closing.
County parks officials, eager to build a course near a historical site, brought in nationally known golf architect Bill Love to design Laurel Hill. Love, who called the course "a real jewel," said he tried to work with the hilly landscape and prison buildings.
"It was a rather unique piece of property topographically," said Love, who also designed Lee's Hill near Fredericksburg and Hunting Hawk in Glen Allen. "We wanted to lay the golf course as lightly as we could on the land in order to let that beautiful piece of property dictate the character of the golf course."
The course sits on land that was part of the prison's dairy farm. The barns and silos were preserved; a silo stands along the first fairway.
"This property was meant for a golf course," Johnson said, pointing out the changes in topography and the pastoral feel. "There are wide-open areas, there are some tree-lined holes. We want to have 18 different experiences, 18 different holes. There is some water, extensive bunkering, elevation changes. . . . It's really such an ideal place to put a golf course."
Laurel Hill will be a course of firsts. No other county-operated course has concrete cart paths. The fairways are bentgrass, a thin grass that can be closely trimmed to create a smooth surface. "At our other facilities, it's only on the tees and greens," Johnson said.
Unlike other county courses, Laurel Hill will offer five sets of tees so golfers of different abilities can choose the distance they want to start the hole from. Teeing off from the forward-most set of tees will make the course almost 2,000 yards shorter than using the championship tees. Most courses have three sets of tees.
"The teeing areas are more expansive than what we've done previously, which enables us to be more flexible and set up the golf course differently from day to day," Johnson said.
Said Love: "This a great golf course. I think we have been able to achieve everything we set out to do and then some."
Word about Laurel Hill is spreading among area golfers. Michael Pogue, 24, of Alexandria, who was golfing last week at the Greendale Golf Course, said he has been following the development of the Laurel Hill course on the Park Authority's Web site. He plays about three times a month, often on the county-operated courses.
"It's a beautiful course. Beautiful," he said based on pictures he had seen. "It looks like a real tight course. It's going to be amazing."
During a recent tour of the course, Johnson and club pro Gene Orrico gave a reporter a preview of what golfers can expect. Parks officials hope to open Laurel Hill in October.
"The first two holes are pretty straightforward par-4s, not particularly tricky or challenging," Johnson said. "But the first hole that's really going to grab everyone's attention and open everyone's eyes is Number 3. This is a par-4 also, but it's a very challenging hole."
At that hole, players must hit the ball 200 yards over the small Giles Run stream valley and through a break in the trees that line the streambed to get on the fairway. "And then you still have a good 200 yards up a hill to a two-tiered green," Johnson said. Love told parks officials that the hole might be the hardest par-4 in Northern Virginia.
Challenges like that one, as well as a number of striking vistas, are spread over the 18 holes, Johnson said.
The sixth hole is a 500-yard par-4. Another hole has nine bunkers. The ninth hole has a double dogleg as it crosses back over Giles Run. And the 10th through 14th holes are played against the backdrop of the prison's maximum-security complex. "At holes 11 and 12," Johnson said, "20 yards behind you is a guard tower." The par-5 15th hole is 612 yards from the championship tee.
"There are no holes where you will say, 'I feel like I played this hole earlier.' They are all so unique because of the lay of the land and because some of the golf course is very treed, because some of it is wide open and because of all of the elevation changes," Johnson said.
The clubhouse is scheduled to be completed in the winter. The grass is growing well at the course, which will serve as the home links for the South County Secondary School's golf team when the school opens Sept. 6.
The pace of play should be steady.
"We are having 10-minute tee times," Orrico said, "which is probably going to be a lot better for us, the way the course is spread out. We are not trying to do 60,000 or 70,000 rounds a year out here. We want to keep it somewhere between 25,000 and 40,000."
Starting groups every 10 minutes instead of the shorter intervals used at smaller county courses should speed play, he said. Shorter intervals cause more backups.
Greens fees will range from $59 to $79, depending on the day and season and will include the use of a cart. "We expect the cart [use] here to be very high," Johnson said, because of the length of the course and the hilly terrain.
And, for the first time, Johnson said, the county will sell memberships that allow unlimited use of the course. "We are going to have . . . about 60 to 70 memberships that we sell which are $3,800 per year," he said. The membership price is equal to about 50 rounds at the peak fee, Johnson said.
The clubhouse, which will sit on the property's highest point, will feature arches and a brick exterior that mimics the handmade bricks inmates used in constructing buildings at the facility.
"It's the largest clubhouse that we've done to this point," Johnson said. The building will house a pro shop and full-service kitchen that can prepare food for banquets and other events of up to 150 people.
A 30-station driving range and putting greens lie near the clubhouse. There also is an area for practicing chip shots.
The course will compare favorably to Northern Virginia's top golf courses, Johnson said.
Has the course pro taken any practice shots at Laurel Hill? Orrico acknowledged that he had -- for professional purposes, of course.
"It's a phenomenal golf course," he said. "It has everything that a golfer wants."
For more information, visit www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/golf/laurelhill. The club doesn't have a phone yet.