For a little while yesterday, that beacon of fame, the MetLife blimp, hovered not over the Redskins' stadium in Landover or the Nationals game in the District, but in the milky skies above Gainesville in Prince William County, like some kind of sweet promise.
Below, a tiny kingdom of white tents, flags and picket fences stretched across the green grass of Robert Trent Jones Golf Club, host of the Presidents Cup. American David Toms went up two strokes, and a spectator in a crowd of thousands, Kelsey Storr, offered an assessment that came achingly close to bliss for any county official hoping to gain status from a big-time sporting event beamed around the world.
"This event truly showcases -- is it Loudoun County? Or Prince William County?" asked Storr of West Springfield, standing near the leader board. "It shows that this area is growing by leaps and bounds. . . . It's hard to tell where you are exactly because things tend to meld together in this part of the county."
Indeed, down on the gravel amid the spectators cheering the U.S. team to its dramatic victory, it was difficult to say whether all the glamour and attention would raise the profile of Prince William County or even Northern Virginia, or whether the event was so spectacular and fleeting that it eclipsed its setting, becoming a singular moment in and of itself.
"To speak very frankly, when I think of Presidents Cup, I don't associate it with Northern Virginia," much less the county, said Alan O'Neil of Bethesda. "It makes me realize that the region has some amazing golf clubs, but it doesn't make me single out Northern Virginia."
In his mental landscape of the Washington area, the finale of the tournament happened no place in particular, he said before walking off toward the greens and the distant sound of applause.
Prince William officials insisted that they got their props, having signed contracts with the club and the Professional Golfers' Association that ensured the county was named in all tournament publicity for the quadrennial event, which pits U.S. golfers against an international team.
Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton expressed hope that the tournament would return in 2009. "This is the fourth time we've had it, and we're getting better at it," he said.
For the most part, people attending the Presidents Cup parked in satellite lots and took shuttle buses to the golf club, which offered them a narrow view of the wealthiest part of the county -- of white-columned gatehouses and new developments such as Piedmont, where houses sell for more than $1 million. Spectators wheeled past the newest incarnation of Burger King and Bonefish Grill, past churned-up dirt and idle backhoes.
Dan Lyons of Bethany Beach, Del., saw all of it and pronounced it good. He hadn't been out this way for a decade or so, he said, and drove around earlier just to see what had changed. "I'm old enough to remember when Prince William County was farmland," he said, sipping a beer in the cool afternoon. "I'm very impressed."
Others noted the scale of the area's construction, the bewildering signs at intersections announcing more than a dozen new developments: Independence, Dominion Valley, Bristow Village.
"I could not believe the development -- even that strip center," said Allan Johnson of Fairfax Station, referring to the one with a new SuperTarget and Starbucks. "I don't remember even seeing that last time. It's phenomenal. When you have an event once every four years, it's hard to milk that. But they can brag that it was here."
In the end, though, the day did not belong to a county or a region, but more to golf and to glory.
About 4:30 p.m., a motorcade of shiny, black sport-utility vehicles rolled up to the road along the edge of the 12th hole, and a people in a crowd of a few hundred began clapping, whistling and calling out, "Hey, Bill! Hey, Bill!"
Former president Bill Clinton, tall and thin, stepped out in a blue blazer and waved like a rock star to the crowd.
"He's so cool," someone said as Clinton was whisked away in a cart to his seat under a green tent in the distance.
More than anything, said Storr, the Presidents Cup offered a moment of exquisite escape from the war in Iraq, from the war protests in Washington and from the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast -- from all the news that would return soon enough.
"You can root for America here, and nobody's going to die from it," said Storr, who is retired from the Navy. "It's not going to balloon the deficit. And at the end of the day, you can shake hands."
Later, the U.S. team won the Presidents Cup when Chris DiMarco slipped in a 15-foot putt on the last hole.
Staff writers Leonard Shapiro and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.