General's Ridge Golf Course in Manassas Park, Virginia: Golf on the wild side

MANASSAS PARK, Va. - Don't for one minute think because General's Ridge Golf Course is relatively short at 6,651 to 4,731 yards, it is a walk in the park. General's Ridge is a golf course where you don't have to hit it very far, just with cold precision - more like a walk on the wild side.

Located in picturesque Prince William Country, Manassas Park, Virginia, about a half hour (without traffic) from Washington D.C., General's Ridge is unlike any course you will ever play. There are plenty of dog legs and blind holes... but that's only the beginning.

As you careen up and down the hills, hit across ravines and ponds, and try your hardest to keep your shots from veering into the woods, the thought enters your head that they must have cut down a lot of trees when they created this course. Not a whole lot of level lies in sight.

Of all the holes you will ever play, No. 16, a diabolical par-4, 404-yard hole, has to rank right up there as one of the hardest. Indeed, it has been called the toughest hole in Northern Virginia, which is saying something.

From the tee box, you're looking at a slight downhill slide to a plunging wide ravine you must carry. As important as the drive, the second shot requires a Herculean effort to get across another ravine. Most will lay up delicately the 50 or so yards to the edge of the plunge... there is no safe slot to bail out.

Once you pitch onto the green, on the way avoiding the high grasses in front, check if the pin placement is on the upper tier. Then, just when you think you've hit the perfect shot, only a foot or so behind the hole, like a thing possessed, the ball stops, then reverses direction, rolling all the way back down off the green.

It's quite possible you may find yourself repeating this exercise again and again.

Watching us make the pitch up, Tommy Miller, the amiable head pro and general manager, said: "If you can get in the hole in two, you'll be doing great." He said this with a slight smile.

No problem, we thought as we pitched up then watched as our balls rolled past the hole, stopped, then slowly inched all the way back down, ending almost at our feet. One in our foursome got lucky; his ball rolled into the hole on the journey back.

Superintendent Shawn Gill carries a wedge with him when he's setting the hole position on this green. He pitches a ball up and, if it rolls down fiendishly out of control, he looks for another spot.

"The best pin placement for weekend play on No. 16 is on the lower tier," he says. "Fewer problems."

A guy in our foursome summed it up nicely. "I liked everything about this hole, except I lost three balls: one in gorge off the tee; another snap-hooked into the woods; a third buried in the tall grass hill in front of the green."

"This may not be the course for me," he added, going once again to his bag for more balls.

But No. 16 isn't the only green on the General's Ridge Golf Course that can send your ball skittering. Surfaces on the bent grass are slick and undulations severe, with spines running across some of the surfaces.

Hole No. 2 is a good example, with a spine running through the center, so putting is much like pulling the plunger of a pinball machine and letting her rip. Short of coming in with a bulldozer and leveling the greens, I suggest you instead embrace the adventure and enjoy General Ridge's wild ride.

The scenery is beautiful and the wildlife abundant. While we were playing, a pair of deer loped across the fairway on hole No. 17, a pretty par 3. Deer were a frequent sighting during our day's play.

You will get every penny's worth of action for your green fee ($50-62) and with four sets of tees, the course does ease up from the more forward positions. Those macho types who must play from the blacks might wise up and move up a tee or two.

No one can provide a true sense of how this course plays in words alone - you'll just have to come out and see for yourself. As one crusty old regular told us, "It's one of the few courses where you don't get to think where you want to go, but where you don't want to go."

Those who have trouble hitting a straight ball may not enjoy the experience as much as more accurate shooters. Still, General's Ridge golf course registers between 22,000 and 28,000 rounds played a year.

The Manassas Park facilities also include a small clubhouse, a unique three-hole practice course, a two-tiered natural grass driving range, and the General's Ridge Learning Academy. Carts are GPS equipped.

If you plan to play here on a regular basis, memberships are a good deal at $1,300 to $1,650 for a year. Visitors should ask about Stay and Play packages, and look to area hotels like the Fairfield Inn.

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
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General's Ridge Golf Course in Manassas Park, Virginia: Golf on the wild side