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Potomac Shores brings elite golf course to the public

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Sports,Golf,Kevin Dunleavy

When the economy went belly-up, there were hidden benefits for golfers in Northern Virginia, as an ambitiously-conceived private course near Dulles Airport with Jack Nicklaus' name attached quickly transformed itself into a public facility, the 1757 Club.

Three years later and 40 miles to the south in Dumfries, another ballyhooed Nicklaus course has undergone a less rapid conversion.

Since its completion five years ago, Harbor Station has sat idle, the victim of a slumping economy. But next April, the course will open to the public with a new name -- Potomac Shores -- and with a less-exclusive mission.

After multiple changes of ownership, Southern California-based SunCal has taken over the development with plans for 3,987 residential units, 3.7 million square feet of commercial space and a five-star resort, all served by a Virginia Railway Express commuter stop in the community's town center.

The centerpiece of the development is the golf course, meticulously designed by Nicklaus. He made several visits to construct a highly-challenging, European-style, 18-hole track with championship golf in mind.

With its downsized mission, however, Potomac Shores has been softened to appeal to a wide range of public players. The original length of 7,156 yards remains unchanged, but forward tees have been added. Some trees have been removed and greens have been enlarged. Eighteen bunkers have been eliminated and many others have been altered.

"The bunkers were just monsters," said superintendent David McGregor. "Basically, we've rolled some of them back, added three, four, five feet of soil at times."

An example is No. 4, a downhill, 215-yard par-3, which originally had a tiny green fronted by huge, deep bunkers. The green now is twice as large, and players standing in the bunkers now will at least be able to see the flagstick. What was an extremely difficult hole now is fair for a 20-handicap player.

Nicklaus prot?g? Rick Jacobson -- designer of acclaimed local courses Bull Run, Augustine and Bear Trap Dunes -- oversaw the tweaks to Potomac Shores, taking suggestions to his boss for approval.

Traversing woodlands and wetlands on a rugged peninsula that overlooks Powell's Creek and the Potomac River, the stunning course has surprising and dramatic elevation change. It bears little resemblance, however, to what McGregor found upon his arrival last spring after four years of neglect.

"Our time spent last year was finding the golf course. We weren't removing trees, we were removing weeds," McGregor said. "Aerifying every eight weeks for 14 months. We've used this time to get the course back to where it started. Last year, we found it. This year, we're bringing it so you can play it."

A trip around Potomac Shores reveals a course that is nearly ready for play. There were plans to open this summer, then the fall. But management has settled on next April in an effort to present a finished product, including a 7,500 square-foot, Georgia plantation clubhouse with wraparound porches.

"We didn't want to operate out of a trailer and tell players, this is what we will look like in the future," McGregor said. "We want the first impression of this golf course to be -- everything is five-star. We're gonna hit the ground running."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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