The Itinerant Golfer

The Itinerant Golfer's Take on Robert Trent Jones Golf Club


Robert Trent Jones Golf Club

Architect: Robert Trent Jones
Year: 1991

1 Turtle Point Drive, Gainesville, Virginia 20155
(703) 754-7533

driving range available
walking only - caddies available
on-site accommodations

President's Cup - 1994, 1996, 2000, 2005


To many who follow the PGA Tour, Robert Trent Jones Golf Club is synonymous with The President’s Cup.  During the first 11 years of The President’s Cup’ s existence this biennial event was held at RTJGC four times, including the inaugural event in 1994.

For those not familiar with The President’s Cup, it is an event with great similarities to the Ryder Cup matches between the United States and Europe.  There are some subtle format differences between the two events, but the big difference is that in the Ryder Cup the U.S. takes on a team of continental Europe’s best players and in The President’s Cup the U.S. team takes on the best players from all around the world with the exception of continental Europe.  It’s always fun to watch these guys play match play events so if you don’t normally watch this event every other year I highly recommend it.

The idea of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club originally took form in the early 1970s when the golf course architect spotted what he believed would be a wonderful piece of land for golf while flying in his plane.  Jones was so intrigued by what he saw from the air that he made an effort to find out exactly where this parcel of land was and track down the owner to discuss an acquisition proposal.  After many years and countless ups and downs the the course finally broke ground in the summer of 1988 and three years later the course was opened for play.

The club itself was set up with a focus on non-resident memberships so understandably all the amenities associated with accommodating a roster of out of town members can be found at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.  There are guest cottages, sleeping rooms in the clubhouse, wonderful dining and a practice facility that is out of this world.  Based on its proximity to Washington D.C. the membership and the guests they entertain have included some powerhouse politicians over the years . . . even a few guys that have spent some time in the Oval Office.

Living in Virginia about two hours from RTJGC, I have known many people who have visited Robert Trent Jones Golf Club either for The President’s Cup or to actually play the course and I have always heard great things about it.  It’s one of the places that was on my wish list of courses to visit, but the opportunity had never come up . . . until now.

Over the summer of this year I began communicating via email with a gentleman named Jack who was involved with the Robert Trent Jones Society and graciously offered to make an introduction to a friend of his who was a member of the club.  A few months later Jack put me in touch with his member friend, Dave, and about a week after that I was in my car headed north for a visit to Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. I love it when a plan materializes out of thin air!

Upon arrival at the club I drove into the circular brick driveway in front of the clubhouse where I was met by the valet who called Dave to inform him of my arrival and then took my bags to the room in the clubhouse where I would be spending the night.  Dave and I got right down to business and hit the driving range to warm up for a couple of minutes before going to the first tee.  Since we would be playing a game that afternoon and again in the morning we decided to play the first round from the 6,170 yard white tees and then from the 6,625 yard blue tees the next day.  The photos below were all taken from the white tees during the first round and the yardages listed are from these tees as well.

Hole 1 – 360 Yards – Par 4
We start out with a shortish par 4 that requires a drive to a blind landing zone.  The bunker on the right is in play and can be carried by longer hitters.  There really is no great benefit of attempting that shot.  A nice 250 yard shot just left of the bunker will do just fine.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a look at the 1st green.  The bunkers on either side are likely to catch errant approach shots.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a look at the unusually shaped green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 2 – 360 Yards – Par 4
From the white tees the 2nd hole plays the exact same length as the 1st hole which means it is also a shortish par 4.  The smart shot is to take the drive up the left side of the fairway with a little fade back towards the middle.  Depending on the hole location the left side of the fairway can make for an awkward approach, so finding the middle of the fairway is helpful here.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a look at the green from about 100 yards out.  The hole location is on the left side of the green here and shots that land too far to the right of the flag will run away to the far side of the green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 3 – 415 Yards – Par 4
For The President’s Cup this hole played as the 1st hole.  It made for easier gallery access and also ensured that the wonderful 18th hole would be a part of more matches.  Even from the white tees this is a stout par 4.  The best plan for this dogleg right hole is to hit a drive as close to the edge of the bunkers as possible without going in.  Balls hit to the left side of the fairway will have a very long approach shot and balls that go into the bunker will find themselves with a tough sand shot into the green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a look at the approach shot from the corner of the bunkers.  It’s further than it looks!
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 4 – 140 Yards – Par 4
This short par 3 is a nice little short iron over the water.  The green is two tiered so hitting the right part of the putting surface will go a long way towards making par here.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a closer look at the two tiered green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 5 – 495 Yards – Par 4
The 5th hole is a par 5 hole that moves to the right off the tee and then uphill for the approach into the green.  A well struck tee shot from both the white and blue tees can carry the bunker on the right side of the fairway.
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Players going for the green in two will have to traverse the bunkers that protect this green.  Shots that come up just short and those that come up considerably short will have a good chance of finding sand.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 6 – 360 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a shortish par 4 with a fairly sharp dogleg to the right.  The bunkers on the right are able to be carried from the tee for longer hitters which will shorten the hole considerably.  The tree in the distance is on the opposite side of the fairway so players taking a line too far to the left may find themselves blocked out if they hit too long of a shot on that line.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a view of the green from near the bunker on the right side of the fairway.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 7 – 375 Yards – Par 4
The 7th hole is a mid length par 4 with a dogleg to the left.  There is a bunker on the left side of the fairway so players who try to cut too much of the corner may end up hitting their second shot from said bunker.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a look at the approach into the 7th green.  The bunkers in the front and back make for accurately gauged shots when the hole is cut on the left side of the green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 8 – 490 Yards – Par 5
Here we have a short par 5 that plays a bit uphill.  Even with the uphill from these tees longer hitting players will have a chance to reach the green in two.  The best angle into the green is from the left side of the fairway.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a look at the third shot after a layup.   A layup shot is required for the second stroke after one yanks the tee ball so far left it comes to rest on another hole.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is another view from the fairway after the hole bends right at the top of the hill.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 9 – 160 Yards – Par 3
What can really be said here other than this is a simply beautiful par 3.  From this tee box is the players first direct view of Lake Manassas.  The back left hole location is a tricky one.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 10 – 315 Yards – Par 4
This short par 4 seems like it should be a fairly simple affair, but looks can be deceiving.  A 200-220 yard shot down the right side is all that is needed here to set up a short approach shot.  The trouble comes in for balls that go to the left.  I played this hole once from the fairway and once from the hazard on the left.  It’s much easier from the fairway!
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a look a the short approach shot into the green.  It’s worth mentioning here that Lake Manassas is owned by the county and is not open for boating or any other sporting uses, so there are never any boats or activity on the lake which keeps the setting very serene.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
And here is a little closer look at the green itself.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 11 – 145 Yards – Par 3
Here we have what I like to call a “hero shot” par 3.  The carry over the water is really only the first step to success on this hole.  Tee shots MUST carry all the way to green in order to stay dry.  Note the cross cut mowing pattern on the hill in front of the green.  The entire hill is shaved tight to fairway length and any ball that comes up even slightly short will roll all the way down to the water.  The best miss is to hit it somewhere that the bunker will stop it.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a little more zoomed in look.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
And here is a look at the hill from a side view.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 12 – 440 Yards – Par 5
The 12th hole is an excellent short par 5.  Very short from the white tees.  A drive up the right side of the fairway with a little draw is a good way to play the hole.  A double cross that slices will significantly reduce the chances of hitting the green in two.  Note that the landing area pinches in a bit the more aggressive a player gets with the distance of their drive.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
It’s always fun to see plaques on golf courses.  Below is a photo of the plaque commemorating Carlos Franco’s double eagle on this hole in 2000.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a look a the short pitch to the green.  This is an ideal spot to do a bump and run that lands short of the green and rolls to the hole location.  The green runs away a bit at the back and it can be difficult to stop a ball when the conditions are firm.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 13 – 405 Yards – Par 4
Next we have a good sized par 4 that plays back down toward Lake Manassas.  There is a very severe hollow on the left side of the fairway that needs to be avoided.  Balls that go left and roll into the hollow can be left with a blind shot into the green.  The bunker on the right is in play from the tee.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a view of the 13th green.  Note on the left side of the photo the way the fairway seems to crumple.  This is the top of the hollow mentioned above.  I didn’t get a photo of it but it goes much deeper than what this photo shows.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is a view of the green and its interesting contours.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 14 – 470 Yards – Par 4
While this hole may appear short on the scorecard it is not a pushover par 5 as the approach into the green requires a carry over water.  The aggressive line from the tee is to fly the bunkers which will leave a chance to reach the green in two for player bold enough to take on the water.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a look at the approach shot into the green from about 100 yards out.  As I mentioned above, this can be a nervy shot when hitting into this green from 200+ yards out . . . especially when the hole location is on the right.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a look at the the two tiered green from the 15th tee box.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 15 – 385 Yards – Par 4
This is a fun mid-length par 4 that favors a draw off the tee.  Drives hit down the right side of the fairway with a slight draw on them will come to rest in the ideal position to approach the green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a look at the green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 16 – 135 Yards – Par 4
Here we have a short little par 3 with a green that is much wider than it is deep. Tee shots that hit the green on the wrong side can make for some very tricky first putts.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 17 – 330 Yards – Par 4
The 17th hole is a fun little short par 4 that gives a good chance at one last birdie before the end of the round.  A 200-220 yard shot up the right side is all that is necessary.  Players hitting driver can take dead aim at the flag.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Here is look at the green.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Hole 18 – 390 Yards – Par 4
The finishing hole is a good sized par 4 with a bunker on the left side.  The more the bunker is challenged the shorter the approach shot into the green will be.  The photo below was taken from the tee box.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Below is a view of the green with the lake in the background.  Note the undulations in the fairway leading up to the green.  While the front of the green is receptive to a bump and run shot the undulations make it a very difficult shot to execute.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Once we holed out we headed back up to the clubhouse to have a drink and get ready for dinner.  The clubhouse is nothing short of spectacular.  Since they had a PGA Tour event in mind when the club was being developed they wisely wanted to make sure that the necessary facilities were put in place.  I’d say they succeeded in spades.  The photo below is the backside of the amazing clubhouse.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
Finally, below is a view of the lawn and  one of the practice putting greens from the terrace right down the hall from my room.  Quite a nice spot to watch the sun go down.
 
Robert Trent Jones Golf Club
 
I always enjoy staying at a club whenever possible and Robert Trent Jones Golf Club did not disappoint.  In addition to a great day of golf I was treated to excellent meals, service and accommodations.  Coupled with a great golf course and great host it was the perfect golf experience.

As a final note about the golf course I have to say that I’m stunned that this course is not ranked in the Top 100.  The golf course is an interesting layout with a variety of holes that offers a variety of ways to play them.  In my mind, that is what makes good golf.  As far as conditioning goes, I’m not sure I have played many courses on the east coast that play as firm at RTJGC.  Drives that hit the fairway rolled out and the greens were firm enough to provide a good challenge without being unfair.  The course was set up about as fun as any course I have played.  In my opinion, it’s a shame that Robert Trent Jones Golf Club is not getting the recognition that they deserve.  Either way it is a fantastic place and one that should be visited by anyone with an interested in seeing a great golf course in ideal playing conditions.

  • cb

    I have seen a number of President’s Cup events there and it is indeed a great layout. It’s in top condition and Lake Manassas is a great backdrop for some terrific matchplay holes, especially the short par 4’s and par 3’s. I followed Butch Harmon & Tiger in a late afternoon practice session around the back nine with no one around. My most vivid memory is the year Jack was captain and Couples won the Cup with a dramatic birdie against VJ in the final Sunday singles. We all high-fived Freddy & Nicklaus as they rode from that last green down the hill to the clubhouse. And yes, the facilities are not to be believed. Why does a tour-stop not claim that course??

    • The Itinerant Golfer

      Couldn’t agree more that it would make a great Tour stop. I would guess that with Tiger’s tournament at Congressional it will be a long time before any other Metro DC courses see a PGA event.

  • Ryan

    It seems that Robert Trent Jones courses are currently out of favor with the golf media – too busy gushing over Tom Doak and Gil Hanse. There are a lot of Trent Jones courses that were in the Top 100, but have fallen out.

    • The Itinerant Golfer

      This is true Ryan. “Out of favor” is a good way to describe it. While the list has been dominated by Fazio in recent years I think the raters are beginning to start the same love affair with Doak, C&C and Hanse. It will be fun to see.

  • Barry

    I played RTJGC during the Clinton administration. At the time it was in the Top 100 and one of the first I played. The President played the day before I did. Contrary to your no boating comment, the Secret Service had snipers out on Lake Manassas.

  • This course was ranked in the Digest Top 100 once, 1997-1998. I am not sure why it fell out. One thing I notice, and perhaps you can confirm, is that compared to Peachtree, this course does not offer as many strategic options off the tee and into the greens. That was something I noticed about Peachtree, on just about every hole, you needed to know the hole location in order to know where to (attempt to) position your drive. I could be wrong, but I am not certain I see that here. But in general, this looks like an exceptional place and certainly one that I would enjoy playing.

    • The Itinerant Golfer

      I thought that RTJ had plenty of options as I found myself deciding whether to challenge bunkers on my drives or play it safe. As far as needing to know where the hole location is on my approach shots, I have to confess that I’m simply not good enough to take that into consideration. Generally speaking I aim for the center of the green and am happy with any green in regulation!

      • Well, I’m not good enough to really need to know fairway angles and such either, though I sometimes fool myself into thinking I am. I just noticed at Peachtree, when I went back to do a photo tour of the course on my own site, that on many of the holes, the preferred side of the fairway can change depending on hole. Back to RTJGC, this place looks great, seems like they really used the water to build up into a big finish of the round.

        • The Itinerant Golfer

          The holes along the lake on the back 9 definitely make for a dramatic finish. RTJGC is a very cool place for sure. I was a big fan.

  • Gregory Turley

    Great looking course. Classic styling. Par 3s very original.

  • Dan Miller

    Member at RTJ here — some great things happening currently including improved sight lines and bunker remodeling. The course will look great next during the Quicken Loans.

  • Ryan

    I am the caddie in the photos.