Area Country Clubs Upgrade Facilities

Area Country Clubs Upgrade Facilities

Belle Haven Country Club and its neighbor down the parkway, Mount Vernon Country Club, are in the midst of renovation projects involving both golf courses and clubhouses. As drivers along Fort Hunt Road can attest, the Belle Haven job is a big one.

Belle Haven just closed their clubhouse, embarking on year-long construction project that will yield an entirely new and expanded structure. This comes on the heels of 16 months of rebuilding their golf course.

“We’re excited,” said Belle Haven member John Burke. “We hope that excitement will carry us through the extraordinary inconvenience of not having a clubhouse.”

The club’s administrative staff has moved into the basement of the indoor tennis facility, while Steve Danielson, the club’s head pro, has set up shop in a trailer at the club’s practice range near Route 1 and the Beltway. Golfers start their round nearby on #12, which temporarily serves as the first hole. The club erected a large pavilion tent, also at the range, to serve a limited menu and cold beverages to golfers after their rounds. Member Eileen Jarrell, half-way through a club sandwich in the tent said, “It will be worth the wait.”

“THE NUMBER OF ROUNDS has actually increased since the clubhouse closed,” Danielson said. “Everyone really likes the new course, but some find that it’s a monster from the back tees.” Danielson said that the winning score for Belle Haven’s popular Four-Ball tournament was only eight under par this year, versus 19 under the last time it was played on the old course.

“We closed the clubhouse May 1,” said acting General Manager Richard Davis, “and hope to reopen next July.” Davis, who has been on the club’s staff for 21 years, said that the extensive earth-moving visible from Fort Hunt Road is partly associated with changing the entrance of the club to the intersection of Fort Hunt and Huntington Avenue. Given that it coincides with the closing of Fort Hunt Road for bridge construction, it makes for quite a sight.

The old clubhouse structure will serve as a base for the expanded building, which will feature a new ballroom, formal and informal dining rooms, a “living room” for members, as well as expanded locker rooms and the pro shop. The “Nineteenth Hole,” a brick veranda on the back of the existing building will remain for outdoor dining above the 18th green. Several tennis courts have been demolished for the expanded clubhouse, but replacements are planned. Trees will line the lane along the entrance to the porte cochere at the clubhouse’s front door.

“We went a year without golf,” said member John Grubbs. “If the new clubhouse turns out as nice as the new golf course, then we will be happy.”

AT MOUNT VERNON, the members are engaged in a multi-year renovation project involving clubhouse additions, improvements to the golf course, and environmental enhancements to waterways and ponds.

In the existing clubhouse, which replaced the original building in 1992, members have just finished a six-month project that enlarged the family dining room, as well as increased the size the banquet room, now capable of seating over 225 people during special events. There is a new outdoor dining terrace and a snack bar.

The most striking addition, however, is a second story, wood-paneled bar and dining room with striking panoramic views of the golf course. The room is called Sam’s Place in honor of both long-time club employee Sam Hopkins, and Sam Snead, who played the inaugural round of golf at he club in 1961.

“This is a fabulous room,” said member Diane Marzetti, who joined her husband and friends for a drink before dinner.

Tracy Watts, Mount Vernon’s president, summed up the club’s feelings about the renovations. “Everyone is excited about the additional casual dining space, especially for families. The new patio is also a great enhancement.” Watts explained that the club can now host a large function without disrupting restaurant service to members.

Changes to the golf course are small in comparison to the complete renovation at Belle Haven. The club will move two greens to add length and challenge to the course, install new bunkers for the same reason, and reshape several fairways to not only improve drainage, but also aesthetics. Extensive new landscaping features also are planned.

“These improvements represent the second of a two phase program that began 12 years ago,” said Pete Van Pelt, Mount Vernon’s head pro and acting general manager. “With lots of doglegs, three creeks, and four ponds that present water hazards on 14 of the 18 holes, it presents a shot-making challenge to even the scratch golfer.”

THERE WILL BE SOME disruption of play during the golf course work at Mount Vernon, but that should be limited to the second year of the two-year project in the fall of 2005. Member Courtney Gasper and his family solved the problem of playing during construction by belonging to both clubs. “I play with a lot of clients, plus my wife and kids play, so we enjoy both golf courses.”

The streams enter the golf course on the north and east, each dating from the time George Washington farmed the land. Increased urbanization upstream from the club has added significantly to both the volume and velocity of the water in recent years, creating a major stream bank erosion problem. The club, after receiving the necessary permits from the Commonwealth, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and Fairfax County will commence a project to stabilize the stream banks and improve water quality. The current silting of the outflow into Dogue Creek and the Potomac River will be decreased after the project is completed.

Additionally, the club has started a joint project with Mount Vernon High School’s International Baccalaureate program to restore one of the ponds on the golf course to its natural state. The club plans to carefully introduce native aquatic vegetation, and increase aeration and water flow to improve oxygen levels.

Students Amanda Christensen and Amy Lunammachack, who were assisted by the schools IB coordinator Dan Coast, conducted a baseline survey of the pond’s depth, turbidity, nutrient and oxygen levels, and wildlife population so that the effects of the planned changes can be measured.

“It was a fun project,” said Christensen, who along with Lunammachack, will be attending University of Virginia in the fall.