When Tiger Woods and Vijay Singh tee off this week at the Presidents Cup golf tournament, Prince William County will be aiming for star status, too -- as the locale for the storied sports event last held in the county five years ago.
This time around, Prince William -- best known for years for cheap townhouses and bargain shopping -- has gone out of its way to convey a new, more upscale image as one of the Washington region's premier suburbs.
Prince William wants to shake its lingering perception as Northern Virginia's country cousin, said Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R). "We are wanting to instill community and civic pride and promote the image of what Prince William is today and what it will be tomorrow," he said.
Much about Prince William has changed in five years. In 2000, the convention bureau had to send Presidents Cup visitors five miles into Manassas to eat at a white-tablecloth restaurant. Today, at least one restaurant near the course serves lobster tails and filet mignon -- although it is part of a high-end chain, Bonefish Grill.
In the past five years, the county has added five golf courses, making a dozen that are open to the public. Most of the seven private links, including the Robert Trent Jones course in Gainesville with its $100,000 initiation fee, are surrounded by the county's growing stock of million-dollar homes. Two others, including a daily-fee course designed by Jack Nicklaus, are under construction.
Since 2000, about 73,570 people have moved to Prince William, pushing the population to about 354,000, according to the county. The median household income in the county has jumped from $66,000 in 2000 to about $83,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That outpaces even Prince William's better-known upscale neighbor, Fairfax County, where the median income is slightly less, about $81,000. The median price of new homes in Prince William climbed 13 percent last year to $432,780, and the median price of all homes was $300,000, according to a recent county report.
Plans call for new businesses and other ventures: a luxury hotel, a conference center and a $56 million performing arts center. The developers of Potomac Mills are looking to open a mall nearby that would be surrounded by sidewalk cafes and luxury lofts to meet growing demand at the high end of the market.
Tony grocer Harris Teeter has broken ground for a supermarket not far from the Robert Trent Jones course, where the tournament will be played. There is even talk of a Jaguar dealership in the neighborhood.
Prince William officials see a rosy economic future, and they're eager to get the word out.
"The only people who think of Prince William as hicks are in the metro area," said Tabatha Mullins, executive director of the Prince William County/Manassas Convention & Visitors Bureau. "Things have changed. . . . That reputation is probably going to be long gone."
County officials see the golf tournament as a great opportunity to make sure the county shines.
At Manassas Regional Airport, workers are rolling out the welcome mat for dozens of private jets and charter planes that are expected to fly in tournament spectators. Gardeners have been busy manicuring the lawn and spreading yards of mulch.
Other efforts are more sophisticated. "We are essentially trying to market the county, and the best way to do that is through branding," Connaughton said.
An agreement negotiated by county officials with the Professional Golfers' Association and the golf club ensures that all advertising and television commentary will identify Prince William as the site of the tournament, which begins Tuesday and ends Sunday.
The event is expected to draw 20,000 spectators each day, and organizers said they expect former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton and South African President Thabo Mbeki to attend.
"When the NBC telecast goes to 1 billion people around the world," said George Burger, general chairman of the Presidents Cup, it will be " 'Live from Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County.' "
And then there are the Coca-Cola cans -- 10 million of them -- all identifying Prince William as the Presidents Cup location. A glossy Rolex watch advertisement, showing Jack Nicklaus shaking hands with international team captain Gary Player, will do the same thing. It is to appear in such publications as Fortune and Forbes, according to Rolex Watch USA.
But the county is still challenged in the amenities area. County officials concede that, despite the ad, there is no place in Prince William to buy a Rolex watch, although plenty of residents can afford them. The county's biggest attraction, at 30 million visitors annually, remains the Potomac Mills outlet mall. Most of the services and developments earmarked for the well-heeled are under construction or on the drawing board.
The county and Manassas have 3,100 rooms in 35 hotels, but none is four-star and only six have restaurants. PGA players will stay 16 miles from Gainesville, in Chantilly at the Westfields Marriott, which has a spa, a fitness center, two restaurants and six lighted tennis courts.
"Those who are looking for the Ritz, they are not going to get the Ritz here," Mullins said.