STAFFORD, Va. -- For Washington-area players, a trip to Augustine Golf Club is like seeing an old friend who suddenly looks robust after a long illness. The once-great course isn't quite what it used to be, but it's definitely recovered and poised to regain its original stature.
One of the premiere daily-fee facilities in the area when it opened in 1995, Augustine was a revelation. Few could have imagined a course off I-95 in non-descript, far-flung Stafford County this distinctive. Augustine is full of memorable, tree-lined, singular holes, cut through rolling timberland.
But in recent years, as its once-lush fairways turned barren, the question was whether the course would go the way of another I-95 classic, Beechtree in Aberdeen, Md., sold because the land was more valuable for housing.
In March of 2010, Raspberry Golf Management purchased Augustine and closed it for renovation, a promising development considering how the firm breathed life into struggling Bull Run Golf Club in Haymarket, increasing rounds from 17,000 in 2009 to 32,000 in 2011.
The similarities between Bull Run and Augustine are inescapable. Both are flexible designs of Rick Jacobson, aesthetically pleasing and strategic, while remaining challenging for strong golfers and playable for high-handicaps. Both opened to rave reviews, but with too many facilities and too few players in a flat market, Bull Run and Augustine eventually suffered. The proof was in their declining conditions. Bull Run was revived without closing, but bringing Augustine back took more work.
"To see it in the condition it was in was heartbreaking. It was embarrassing," Jacobson said. "With the deficiency of the quality of maintenance, the course really started to lose the integrity of the original design. Even the green shapes were lost. They weren't even mowing out to the edges."
Augustine Golf Club: The course
Irrigation and drainage work was extensive. Roughly 1,000 trees were removed. Greens and bunkers were redone. Bermuda grass was added. With little fanfare, Augustine re-opened in April 2012.
Former fans will be happy to hear that the routing -- through a rapidly growing housing development -- remains undisturbed. With a thick buffer of woods, surrounding homes never come into play and rarely into view.
The holes remain intact, but with the tree removal, some are less visually intimidating. An example is the split-fairway first. The cart path used to run through the woods, but now the tree line has migrated outside, opening up the fairway.
Augustine Golf Club is the first solo work of Jacobson, but he showed an uncanny ability to design strategic holes. The sloped fairways at Augustine are wide and friendly, many funneling balls toward the center. But most tee shots require careful consideration as there are penalties for the greedy.
An example is No. 11, a par 5 split diagonally by an environmental area. A long iron or hybrid to the fat part of the fairway makes this a safe, three-shot hole. But a driver or 3 wood to the narrowing end of the fairway introduces risk and reward, as the hole can be reached in two shots.
Augustine still has rough patches on the perimeter. Some tees, fairways and surrounds are thin, but expect those to fill in as the heat-resistant Bermuda grass grows in this summer. The large bentgrass greens are smooth, true and in tremendous shape, reminiscent of a decade ago.
Augustine Golf Club: The verdict
Returning to Augustine Golf Club after a long hiatus was a pleasant experience for Keith Cotner, of Manassas.
"I would definitely go back," Cotner said. "One thing I really like about Augustine is everything is right there -- the clubhouse, parking lot, driving range, first tee -- all a few steps from each other."
For Cotner, it was like seeing an old friend, back on his feet and thriving.