DUMFRIES, Va. -- In front of a small gathering of onlookers, Jack Nicklaus leaned down to tee up a ball for a ceremonial first tee shot at Potomac Shores Golf Club before pausing.
"You know, this was supposed to be in 2007," he remarked. Alas, Potomac Shores finally opened to the public this month, about seven years and one new owner later than it was supposed to.
Evidenced in part by the opening of Potomac Shores, the country's golf course real estate business has a pulse again. One need not drive long on I-95 before seeing droves of new construction popping up all around and realizing: investment is back in the Beltway. Nicklaus spent his morning on Capitol Hill in hopes of keeping it that way. As part of National Golf Day, he lobbied Congress on behalf of the First Tee, the third time he's done so. He's has taken on the game's growth conundrum with campaigns such as S.N.A.G. and Nicklaus Learning Leagues, promoting the First Tee and everything from 12-hole golf courses to events with larger holes.
"You've got to introduce kids [to golf] at a young age," Nicklaus said. "Then, at a certain age they're going to come back to it."
Reborn facilities like Potomac Shores, or other revived Nicklaus designs like Reflection Bay in Nevada (which after a multi-year closure is on the comeback trail) will be relying on the efforts of Nicklaus and the game's governing bodies to help fill the tee sheets of the future.
In 2009, around the time real estate was hitting rock bottom with the golf course business right there with it, developer SunCal began the process of purchasing the 1,920-acre Potomac Shores development out of receivership. In 2012, they turned their attention to the forgotten golf course.
David McGregor, superintendent of Potomac Shores, was hired at that time to bring the course back to life, and summed up his initial inspection as a "scary" one.
"It was overgrown," McGregor said. "Zero definition. Bunkers were gone. Cart paths weren't completed. It was 75 percent finished."
After Nicklaus spent the morning on Capitol Hill, which included Congress passing a vote to award him a Congressional Medal of Honor , he made the drive down to Potomac Shores where he would meet McGregor and tour the course for the first time since 2006.
While the grass has grown in beautifully and on-course amenities like comfort stations and cart paths are all complete, Nicklaus was quick to point out after the inspection that, in his eyes, the design was only "98 percent" done.
"We have a golf course that never opened and never got finished," he said. "We're just going to finish up the little things. When we build a golf course we like to stick with it."
Nicklaus said some of the greens that were molded later in construction weren't finished before construction was halted, and certain grading areas and drainage basins needed to be addressed. McGregor said Nicklaus spent his time with him constantly talking about how the course would manage the load of a full tee sheet.
"[Nicklaus] very much understands it's a public golf course and wants it to be a success," McGregor said. "The amount of times we stopped in an area and he asked 'how is this pinning area, how is pace of play, how is this pinning area? Is it fair?'"
Potomac Shores Golf Club: The course
Managed by Troon Golf, Potomac Shores is the only public-access Nicklaus Signature design in the Beltway. It fills a nice niche in the area for upscale, daily-fee golf (green fees peak out at $115 on weekends). The takeaway after an initial round is that it's a hilly trek with lots of elevated tees and holes encircled by dense forest. Shorter par 4s tend to head uphill (there are a handful longer hitters could reach off the tee), while some longer holes, such as the 575-yard par-4 10th, trudge downhill from tee to green. On the par 3s in particular, paying attention to the elevation change and the depth of the pin is essential.
"It's a challenging piece of property," said Nicklaus, whose team had to wind the course around environmentally protected areas, not to mention all sorts of other hazards like power, sewer and gas lines. "If you can make it aesthetically pleasing, that's what the golfer really likes."
As a result of the severity, it's nearly impossible to walk, with some long, steep drives between holes. The yardage is a very early 2000s-esque 7,020 yards from the tips (four sets of tees total up to 4,940). Sheer brawn isn't really needed here, especially if the fairways run as firm as they are now, but the greens are undulating, fast and at times elevated. Sand traps are certainly plentiful and there isn't much rough before steep slopes lead to native grasses and deep trees (there was no course slope/rating at the time of opening).
The 8,000-square-foot clubhouse, molded in the style of a classic Virginia estate, is fully operational and gorgeous. The lobby is particularly inviting, as is the outdoor fire pit overlooking the 18th green. The full property, while still sparsely developed (the master plan includes 4,000 home sites), has pockets of homes popping up. A hotel next to the course is planned for the near future, as is a leisure club.