At the historic Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C., the portable hand-washing stations are either broken or bone-dry. The asphalt cart paths, worn by time and use, are mostly chunks and dust. When I visited in February, a snow shovel lay beside the tee marker of the second hole for no apparent reason other than to clear, if you wished, what appeared to be an almost intentional ground cover of goose droppings over every brown blade of dormant Bermuda grass.
Yet for all this disrepair and neglect, dozens of golfers were walking the course that Saturday afternoon, letting out familiar groans over narrowly missed putts and cheers of joy from the simple pleasure of bending a small ball to one’s will and skill.
Their bright outfits and clattering clubs created a vibrant atmosphere that was a testament to the course’s overwhelming popularity: Between here and its sister properties, East Potomac Park and Rock Creek Park, Washington-area golfers average 120,000 rounds per year—a pace that matches the top resorts in the country, and at $25, is much less expensive.
But change is afoot. An all-star lineup of architects has signed on to pro bono renovate the city’s municipal courses. Gil Hanse, best known for his course at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, will turn Rock Creek Park into a 9-hole facility with a reimagined practice range. Tom Doak of Pacific Dunes fame, among others, will try to restore East Potomac Park’s original 18-hole reversible design.
Beau Welling, who worked on upgrading the historic course at Stanford and has assisted on projects with Tiger Woods’s TGR Design, is on board to redesign Langston. In addition to serving the community, Langston is slated to host the revived Howard University golf team, which received a donation from NBA star Stephen Curry to fund both men’s and women’s golf for six years. The land itself is promising, with open fairways, views of the Anacostia River, and a layout that plays across the river onto an island for three holes before jumping back to the mainland.
This push is being spearheaded by the National Links Trust (NLT), which in 2020 won a lease from the National Park Service and now runs all three courses. A 501(c)3 nonprofit, it was founded in 2017 by two industry insiders, Mike McCartin and Will Smith, and both have spent time working for Doak, one of the most influential designers of the past 30 years. McCartin and Smith say that if they can successfully transform the three courses, it could form a blueprint to upgrade municipal golf across America. Instead of a ramshackle collection of scrubby afterthoughts, the courses will be urban oases to welcome both new golfers as well as serve the longtime regulars.
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