Where To Golf Next

Laurel Hill: Peace amid chaos

Former federal prison site offers a reprieve from inside Beltway

Stroll down the fairways of Laurel Hill Golf Club in Lorton, Va., 20 miles or so from the nation’s capital, and it becomes extremely difficult not to think of those unfortunate souls who have strolled these fairways before.

The land, you see, was for decades the site of a federal prison, the idea originating from President Theodore Roosevelt.

Among those who did time on these grounds were the suffragettes seeking the vote, which women were finally able to secure in 1920.

These women, as you can imagine, went through tough times. One night in 1917, about 25 of those participating in a hunger strike were beaten up. It is known as the “Night of Terror.”

Finally, mercifully, in 2001, the prison was shut down, the land purchased by Fairfax County.

Laurel Hill Golf Club | Hole No. 18 | Par 5
The closing hole at Laurel Hill Golf Club is an uphill risk/reward par 5.

So now what?

A golf course, that’s what. Enter designers Bill Love and Brian Kington.

They certainly had their challenges.

“We laid out several different routings,” Kington said, “and we struggled to approach 7,000 yards, and still have it safe and not have a lot of grating.”

Unable to cross Giles Run, a major stream bisecting the site, more than two times — the county did not want too many trees to be cut down — the designers secured an additional 20 to 30 acres, which is where holes No. 5 and 6 reside.

“That was the key to having a championship course without significant environmental impact,” Kington said.

Construction got under way in the winter of 2004, play beginning in the fall of 2005.

Several signs of the prison are still visible today, including a guard tower close to the 11th hole. Incidentally, during the Cold War, the course also
was the location of a missile site.

Laurel Hill Golf Club | Hole No. 16 | Par 3
Laurel Hill Golf Club's par-3 16th hole features a daunting tee shot over water and a green-front bunker.

The most enticing part about Laurel Hill, which hosted the 2013 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship, is what you hear.

Rather, what you do not hear. You do not hear a thing. You feel as if you have escaped the noise — and, these days, insanity — of D.C., and that’s no small feat.

Hole after hole, all you will gaze upon are the terrain, and contours of the land. Even if the scores do not give you the tranquility you might seek, the surroundings will.

Trying to pick out any favorite holes is not easy. Here are a few:

  • No. 7, a tempting 321-yard dogleg par 4 from the tips. Players have been known to drive the green. Block it a bit to the right, however, and you will pay the price.
  • No. 14, a 218-yard par 3. This hole will challenge you, but isn’t that why you play the game? Some have been known to hit driver. If the pin is on the upper shelf of the double-layered green, good luck.
  • No. 18, a 562-yard par 5. You want to finish with something memorable, and Laurel Hill has that. It’s a risk/reward hole, especially for those using the shorter tees. Look out for the pond on the right.

Laurel Hills Golf Club
Location: Lorton, Va.
Phone: 703.493.8849
Website: FairfaxCounty.gov/parks/golf/laurel-hill
Facebook: @fairfaxcountyparks
Instagram: @fairfaxparks
Twitter: @GolfFairfax