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Where the Grass is a Golfer's Friend

by Brad Parks

Karl von Zois, an 18th-century Austrian botanist, may be mostly lost to history -- his work not deemed valuable enough to survive the test of centuries -- but my most recent golf outing has made me a big fan of his.

Although von Zois did not know much about golf (or about botany, for that matter), he became part of the game's vernacular when a 19th-century botanist thought enough of him to name a species of grass, zoysia tenuifolia, after him.

I first became acquainted with von Zois's namesake when I played at Bristow Manor Golf Club in Bristow, which has zoysia grass fairways.

The stuff is truly wonderful. It's strong enough that it doesn't bend when a golf ball is resting on it, but soft enough that a golf club glides easily through it. If you lower yourself to ground level and look, you'll be able to see almost the entire ball sitting up in all its glorious, dimpled roundness.

In other words, even an AstroTurf driving range mat can't give you a better lie.

"If your ball is in the fairway, don't touch it," said the starter at Bristow Manor, who obviously knew enough about golf and human nature to know that lots of people try to, ahem, adjust their ball even when it's in the fairway. "You couldn't improve your lie if you wanted to."

He was absolutely right. There are few things in golf as frustrating as when you hit a nice drive into the middle of the fairway, only to find your ball with a lie that isn't so fair. Through 18 holes at Bristow Manor with my foursome, I didn't see one bad lie on the fairway.

Best of all, zoysia originally is from Southeast Asia, meaning it thrives even in the heat of a Northern Virginia summer.

"Zoysia won't even grow unless it's 81 degrees," Bristow Manor head professional Grant Friend said. "In the middle of the summer when some of the other courses have brown spots in their fairways, we have trouble keeping our fairways cut because the grass grows so quickly."

The zoysia isn't the only pleasant aspect of playing Bristow Manor, which opened in 1993 but has an old links-style feel to it.

Although Bristow Manor is a public course, it has many of the amenities of a private one, such as detailed yardage cards, club washers built into the carts, cold water jugs at every other hole and well-paved cart paths.

It also has the price tag to go with it, of course. But you do get your money's worth. In addition to those plush zoysia fairways, the rest of the course, from tee to greens, is well maintained -- and it's a pleasure to play.

That's not to say it's easy. Success at Bristow Manor requires two things: straight driving and smart playing. As I am not particularly accomplished in either of those facets of the game, this course ate me up (I shot a 102). The other three members of my foursome -- two of whom worked at Brambleton Golf Course in Loudoun County -- also scored a little above their handicaps.

The thing I discovered about Bristow Manor after a disconcerting number of double-bogeys is that macho golf -- that fun brand of hacking that sacrifices accuracy for distance -- gets you in more trouble than it does on most courses, especially in the rough on the back nine.

For the most part, Bristow Manor doesn't require you to hit very long tee shots. None of the four par-3 holes are longer than 200 yards from the white tees. Only one of the 10 par-4s is longer than 400 yards.

Still, that one exception -- the 438-yard No. 7 -- is a nasty one. It is one of seven holes on the front nine in which water comes into play. There is a swampy, slice-consuming bog on the right side of the fairway, and then a creek that cuts across the hole about 40 yards shy of the green.

The hole also has a sharp dogleg to the right, and woods on the left side of the fairway to make your tee shot a dangerous affair. At the end, there are bunkers on the left and right and a tricky sloped green. Two of our fearless foursome quadruple-bogeyed this beauty. It's not hard to do.

The back nine has a very different feel to it than the front. The water and the trees that were on the front disappear for the most part. Replacing them are undulating fairways and a tall, tangled grassy rough that is home to ticks, toads and a ton of lost golf balls.

I speak from experience when I say this: If you hit your ball into it, don't bother looking. You won't find it. You might find someone else's ball -- I found four balls in the rough on the par-5 No. 16. But it's almost guaranteed you won't find yours.

The toughest hole on the back could be the finishing hole, a 389-yard par-4 that has a green well-protected by water on the left. A long hitter can leave his or her driver in the bag, because the fairway only extends out to about 220 yards from the white tees (150 from the red). It's the second shot from 170 or so yards out that is a perfect example of how Bristow Manor rewards the smart player -- not the strong one.

If you go straight for the pin, you need about 150 yards of carry. A smart player would realize that No. 18 is the No. 2 handicap hole on the course, meaning that, unless you're a 1-handicap or under, you can just lay up and bogey this hole without shame.

I was not so smart, and contributed two balls to the lake before finally calling it a day.

SUMMATION: Bristow Manor, a well-maintained public course that offers the amenities of a private course, rewards the smart player and not necessarily the strong one.

Bristow Manor Golf Club
11507 Valley View Drive
Bristow, VA 20136