by Steve Bantle
The Course: The Ospreys Golf Club at Belmont Bay/Woodbridge, VA
The Rating: 4 Stars
The Price: $48 (after 1pm)/ $35 (after 5pm) – cart is included and required
Many of the golf courses in the Metro DC area feature shorter, but tighter layouts with holes requiring forced carries or lay-ups to secure safety through the green. The Ospreys Golf Club at Belmont Bay is a classic example of this type of setup. The par-70 venue is situated along portions of the Occoquan River just off Route 1 in Woodbridge, VA and as an Audobon-certified 18-hole course, also offers an aesthetic value to players ranging from picturesque vistas to the occasional espying of either the course’s namesake (the osprey) or close relative, the eagle.
“Good things come in small packages.” With the ‘Ospreys’ good becomes a relative term – challenging is a more accurate description, but like many golfers I find this to be a good thing, and this layout will not disappoint. Weaving in and out of the community of Belmont Bay, the ‘Ospreys’ only plays to a flip wedge under 5300 yards at what most would consider the average tee box (whites). I have seen the looks on the faces of the new arrivals upon noticing this distance and then I have to stop myself from snickering as they all march back to the tips at 5577 yards. This then becomes their nightmare because I have tripped this track about a hundred times and am here to tell you that the Ospreys is likely the hardest, but fairest, short course you may ever play.
The rates are within reason for the course you will get and top fare on a weekend in prime time will cost you $59. This includes a cart fee because walking this unique layout is not possible. The prices do drop once after 1 pm ($48) and again after 5pm ($35) and there are several membership options and discounts that pop up both online and through the course website: (http://ospreysgolf.com/) and I recently played it for $29 courtesy of an online special.
As mentioned before, the course seems short upon initial review, and there are definitely holes that will reward your good shots with pars and birdies (and maybe even an eagle). However, there is a premium placed on accuracy here because every shot from tee to green on every one of the 18 holes could bring a hazard into play. If you have played this course, you are nodding at what you just read – it is true. Read it again and think about this – before you hit any shot not a putt or chip, you have to consider what hazard it might end up in if not struck well enough. Now yes, in many instances that shot would have to be quite erratic, but still, the hazards are out there…everywhere. Here’s a classic converstation between golfing buddies concerning the Ospreys:
Bill: Steve, where are you playing tomorrow?
Steve: I have a 9:05 at the Ospreys.
Bill: Bring a lot of golf balls…
To this, there is an unwritten “Badge of Honor” to be earned at the Ospreys – forget the score, if you can pick the same ball out of the hole on 18 that you teed off with on number one, you have played well enough to earn the honor. I can count the number of times I did this on one hand. (I have also broken par while losing three balls.) So what does this mean to the prospective visitor? The course can give up as many birdies as it takes back in double and triple bogeys. If you do the math, that is a bad exchange rate for a good score.
But this course is challengingly fun and the big reason why I have gone back so often.
Besides having four sets of tees to choose from, the first thing you notice as you step up to the starting hole is one of those forced carry tee shots right off the bat. In fact, it is about 185 yards from the tips to clear the hazard and there is danger left as well. Did I mention that there is no driving range? There is a nice two-bay hitting cage that does allow players to warm up a little, but that first tee shot can be intimidating when you haven’t hit something with a trajectory leading up to it. Since most of the guys will see the 121 slope and the 5577 yard distance at the tips and figure that is where they should play the course, this is from where I will walk you though the Ospreys.
(Hole number 2 – 187 yards from the tips and a lot of water to carry)
The first three holes are the course’s toughest stretch, almost always heading directly into a southerly wind and by course standards, uncharacteristically long. Number one is 417 yards but plays closer to 450 when factoring in the wind and the gentle but steady slope. The green is large and any deep pin placement can require an approach shot of several extra clubs. One note about the greens at the Ospreys is that they have always been some of the best in the area – and consistent, usually about 10 on the Stimpmeter no matter what time of day or year you play. Hole number 2 is one of the toughest par three holes you will play – anywhere from 170 to 190 yards (into the wind) the tee shot has to avoid water all down the right and hazard all down the left leaving players no realistic place to ‘bail out’. Because of the tee position, many balls in the water will not alow an easy drop near the green but rather a third shot from about where you hit the last one. In tournament play, this hole can put you in a bad mood right away. This all leads to number three. Every course has its “US Open” hole and for the Ospreys, it comes at number three, a 427-yard par four requiring a well-placed, or well-thought tee shot. The elevated tee first reveals a pond to the right that really only comes into play when the wind is blowing in and from the left (which is a lot of the time). There is an inviting fairway but it narrows very quickly at about the 220-yard mark so playing safe to avoid trouble might leave you with a long club into a gently elevated green with hazards both left and right. There is also a 70-yard wide environmentally protected area (EPA) that cuts across at about the 120-yard mark so that approach shot has to be solid enough to carry. Number three also provides players with an enormous and difficult green with a large swale in the middle and a ridge running down the center. A 60-footer is not out of the question and it could break four times before reaching the hole.
By now you are no doubt checking your scorecard and wondering if the yardage was a misprint and the first “5″ in 5577 is somehow supposed to be a “6″. You just played two long par fours and a lengthy par three, but the good news is that if you can survive those first three holes, the course gets easier and shorter. The par-three 4th is only 145 yards at the deepest point but the shot does have to completely carry an EPA – the forward tees are to the right of this and sidestep the issue. Picking the right club is key because the green is wide but not deep, and a shot missing a little left and long could be out of bounds. The 5th hole will have the long hitters licking their chops. The right tee shot on this 450-yard par 5, hard dogleg left can get you inside 150 to the pin. However, you still have to carry at least 200 yards or another EPA will swallow your golf ball. There is also hazard running the entire left side and hitting it too well off the tee could put you through the fairway and into the hazard that starts on the right side at the dogleg. The real defense of the hole is in that shot to the green for it needs to be very accurate to a narrow landing area, and anything missing even a little right will be lost. There is a small amount of bailout room on the left but even that miss will tend to run down to the hazard. Sometimes the smart play is to hit to a receptive landing area about 50 yards out and then put your scoring clubs to work. The 6th hole is another par 3 of medium length – about 165 at the deepest and like number four the green is wide but not deep. The shot also must carry a little patch of protected area that runs down the left side of the hole and a large bunker that guards the center portion of the green.
(If your tee shot gets this far on #5, you can think about going for it in two)
It’s after the 6th hole that you come upon another unique feature of the Ospreys. Unlike conventional courses that have two separate nines, this layout is more links in nature, having a front nine that goes out away from the club house and then returns on the back side. A clever design feature is the restroom/snack shack placed between 6 and 7 for it is also next to what is the 13th tee so players will get a chance to visit after every six holes. However, the setup is “cash only”, but they do sell golf balls. You are also about to see why a cart is mandatory for the next tee is a bit of a haul taking you under the main road to the other side.
Number 7 is a risk/reward hole – the big hitter can take a shot at the green from 285 out, but there is heavy rough from 50 yards in and three bunkers waiting to snatch the shot that either isn’t long enough or straight enough. And as always, there is hazard right and OB left. A good play is to hit no more than 210 off the tee to your favorite distance into the green. Once you arrive at the green, take a moment to enjoy the view of the Occoquan and the occasional boat traffic. Your first look at the marina across the river is available here and for the next few holes. Like all the other par fours to this point, the eighth is relatively straight and has a forced layup to a hazard that sits just a shade over a hundred yards from the green. Do the math in your head and pick a club that leaves you enough room, but watch out for the OB left and the hazard right – the shot is tighter than it appears from the tee box. Depending on the time of year, the view here is also quite enjoyable. The approach is a lot of carry and the slope of the green makes a downhill putt very treacherous. The ninth hole is another par three meaning you go “out” in 33 and you might be feeling like this is another ‘executive’ course, but there are three par fives on the back and it is a legitimate 37 that brings you home. As par threes go, number nine offers just about everything: clever club choice, slick shot-making, and ever-necessary execution. The green sits atop a peninsula of danger with any shots missing long or right falling almost 80 feet or so into the Occoquan. The EPA directly in front of you – also known as the “Valley of 10,000″ (an estimated number of balls that have perished in this abyss) – requires a full 135-yard carry. Like the other shorter par threes, the green is not deep, but the green is pretty much all you have to aim at. Your range finder will help you a lot here and trust every foot of the distance you get. When you are not trying to figure out what to hit and how to hit it, stop to gaze upwards and you will likely find the common nesting areas for both ospreys and eagles to be the ninth hole.
(The view your second shot to #10 provides – almost worth the green fees alone)
Number ten is 415-yard, target golf par five requiring the tee shot to stay within a 200-yard distance and as always, accuracy is a must for there is hazard both left and right here. However, the second shot falls some 60 feet to a lower tier and could produce a golden opportunity to go for the green, especially if you can hit a baby draw. What the second shot also offers is an extrodinary vista overlooking the marina, the Occoquan, and the train bridge above the hole. On the right day, the view is majestic. If playing safe on ten, the second shot should be a controlled iron to a good scoring distance – remember to take clubs off for the decent. While heading down the path to the lower level, take a moment to note where the flag is on the adjacent 11th green. This is important because you will not see much of the pin from the tee box and club selection is vitally dependent on pin position. The green at number ten puts you at the farthest point away from the clubhouse and directly across from the marina. Any approaches missing right will end up in the same hazard that started the hole on the right side. The uphill par three 11th is only 120 yards from the tips but can play like 145 depending on wind and hole location. The range finder only helps so much here and daring yourself to hit it too far is the proper mindset for a successful shot, a lot of which has to carry another ball-swallowing protected area. Take heart in knowing that although you cannot see the green from the tee, it is one of the largest on the course. It is about a quarter mile drive to the tee at number twelve and it is yet another – but also the final – par three. The 12th hole runs alongside the road on the right (OB) and features a water hazard in the form of a pond in front of and to the left of the green. At 170 yards, you get a sense this is slightly downhill, but that wind will come off the road and figure greatly into your club choice. The pond is nearly all carry to the green and any golf ball going even a little left will drown.
Back in the cart for another long drive; this one will be nearly a half mile back to the snack shack and the 13th tee. Did I mention they sell golf balls at the shack?
On this veritable voyage you actually pass the 7th tee before going back under the road and to the 13th which is a bit ironic in that number 13 is a lot like number seven in that it offers a risk/reward for the long hitter. At 290 yards and slightly downhill, a natural fade might get you close to or on the putting surface. Beware though, also like the seveth, there are three bunkers just waiting for the errant shot, and a ball of distance that does not fade enough could run through the dogleg and into the hazard that presents all the way around the back of the green. By the way, any ball off the tee going too far right will also be hazard-bound. Another smart play is to pull a 200-yard club and leave the rest of the hole to the safety of your trusty wedges. The green at 13 is the real defense of the hole – once again, wide but not deep and featuring a top tier to the right, making it hard to get too greedy. Just a smidge long on the approach will land you in that aforementioned hazard. The 14th hole is a hard dogleg left that demands more target golf and ironically enough, if you haven’t used all of your clubs in the bag by now, you may very well after this hole. Only 320 yards, the tee shot must carry 160 of it to clear another EPA while not exceeding 195 yards, or the hazard that covers the entire right side of the fairway will come into play. Trees on the left of the protected area prevent players from cutting the dogleg and the fairway narrows to about 15 yards wide at the turn, about a hundred yards out, so the only choice you have is to hit a tee shot about 180 yards to an area of fairway between 150-110 yards in to the green. Be wary of the approach for the green is slightly uphill and shots will often come up short to this large, sloped, and very three-puttable green. Say hello to your driver again on number 15. If you have played the course smartly to this point, you have not seen this piece of equipment since the fifth hole and the other treat is that this is the biggest fairway on the course. At 350 yards, a good tee shot can get you into a scoring-club mood, but there is the hazard down the right side and a meandering marsh that cuts across the hole 130 from the tee. Also, this hole is quite open to a wind that will have to be considered when choosing clubs and intended flight paths. The approach will have to negotiate a few guarding bunkers as well as the unique design of the green – having a bottom and top portions that act almost like mini greens with a thin stretch in the middle. When the pin is there, swear at the greenkeeper (under your breath because the maintenance garage is just to the right of the green) and pick on of the two minis to aim for. Oh yeah, OB comes up quick if the shot is too strong.
(The approach to #16 – if played smart, it should be from inside 125 yards)
Sixteen and 17 are matching par fives of nearly identical distance, approximately 470 yards. Both feature almost 90 degree doglegs and both are hazard intensive. Each one also offers a risk/reward depending on the wind and the skill level of the player. Number 16 snaps hard right at around 240 yards from the tee and there is OB all down the right side and through to the front of the green where it becomes red-staked. The risk to be considered is flying the trees and cutting the OB with a drive of about 240 in the air (a tail wind is advised). This could leave you 150 yards in for your second shot. However, you will not be able to see the ball land and the shot is low percentage unless you regularly carry 250 with a high trajectory, but certainly fun to try in the scramble you might be playing in that day. Therefore, you will likely hit your ball (or provisional) down the middle and from there will take a short iron either over the corner of the trees or unimpeded to about 100 yards out. The reason for the layup is that there is a stream running across the hole at the 75 yard marker and the green is quite narrow to hit with a long second shot from what would easily be 200 yards plus. The bunkers left and long can prevent an errant approach from hazard-ville, but not always. Number 17 banks hard to the left and is much more liberal than the conservative, standard 3-shot 16th hole. The dogleg starts earlier down the fairway and the trees featured in the hazard all down the left side to the green actually present a rather wide gap for players of the blues (or whites) to shoot through to the fairway on the other side of the leg, again leaving a second shot of only about 150 into the green. What makes this a bit easier is that the gap is wide and the shot only requires about 215 in the air and no more than 260 total to hold the fairway. A long ball here will end up in the pond that you saw back on number two and that will be present down the remainder of the right side of this narrow hole starting at the turn and for that reason, I have often used a 3-wood with great success. The risk here is seemingly low considering your penalty is to drop and hit three into the green with a short iron and with a good chance to still make par – or even birdie. The hole can always be played conventionally – 200 yards off the teen to the turn, 175 to the widest part of the fairway, leaving about 85 yards in for the final approach – but if you didn’t see any eagles on number nine, you could spot one on the scorecard at 17.
(The tee at #17 – the fairway is right, the “gap” is left)
The closing hole will remind you that this “short” course is anything but. At 420 yards, the issue for players is the protected area that starts at about 145 yards from the green and cannot be flown by a tee shot of any magnitude. This means the hole really plays a lot longer because no matter how well you hit the tee shot, you will still have at least 150 yards in to an uphill green. This is also true for those playing the forward tees, so for some this hole will feel more like a par five. On average, you will have anywhere from 175-200 yards in for your approach with OB right and long of the green making this one of the hardest finishing holes you may ever play.
(Number 18 – notice the 150 yard marker before the protected area)
Where the Ospreys Golf Club at Belmont Bay earns high marks is with general course condition especially the speed and consistency of the greens, paired with the difficulty of the layout. Over the past 18 months, there have been several positive changes designed to speed up play, create more aesthetically pleasing views, and keep some of the golf ball “casualties” to a minimum. Where she suffers is in golf course amenities like a lack of either a driving range or a true “19th Hole”. There is a beautiful restaurant that houses the pro shop, and although there is an attempt to create a stopping point (especially on weekends), the facility seemingly only caters to the many weddings held on the grounds. That said, from a purely golfing standpoint, if you think you are hitting the ball well and would like an inexpesive test of your game, I recommend the Ospreys. Just remember to bring all of your clubs…and a lot of golf balls.