WASHINGTON — Many golfers in the D.C. area may be laying low during the coldest of the winter days, but the District's municipal courses are gearing up to make improvements to their links.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw golf become a refuge for people to get outside and safely enjoy going places. In D.C., the National Links Trust (NLT) took control of running the three National Park Service (NPS) courses during 2020, and the partners agreed to a 50-year deal to overhaul and run the East Potomac Golf Couse, Langston Golf Course and Rock Creek Golf Course.
Changes have already begun on the District's courses, with long term renovations that will include an overhaul of facilities and courses at Rock Creek, Langston and East Potomac.
New golf carts, driving range mats, and other little improvements here and there around the courses have been noticeable to the regulars at the courses already.
The clearing of non-native/invasive plants and a small number of trees is a noticeable change that golfers will see once they make a trip to the courses again when temperatures warm up. The removal of these invasive plants and trees -- which is part of an ongoing conversation with the U.S. government because it's National Park Service land -- will help with the aesthetics of the golf courses and drainage issues that can water-log holes on its courses during periods of the year.
National Links Trust Growing DC Golf
These facility changes will not only create a better golf community for D.C. but also expand the game to communities that may not have as much exposure to the game -- including veterans and communities of color.
National Links Trust has said part of its long-lasting mission is to open up the game of golf, growing it across the region for everyone and anyone who wants to play the game. Because golf has grown so much in popularity due to the pandemic, it may be a very reachable goal.
These renovations were overdue to help sustain the courses built between the 1920s and 1930s. And in a melting pot city like D.C. -- where golfers from countries all over the world visit - the public courses in the heart of the nation's capital offer a multinational opportunity.
"This is the only golf course in the country where on a Saturday afternoon, you can hear six different languages being spoken on the front porch, because there are people from the World Bank and people from all different parts of the world here playing golf," Tim Krebs, director of golf for the National Links Trust, said. "So this is the unique place and I think that's part of the attraction in making it as good as it was in the 20s."
Krebs is back at D.C.'s public courses after first working in the District from 2008 to 2015. He's excited to be a part of the team from Troon golf that will help run courses for National Links Trust on a day in and day out basis.
Another person helping grow golf in DC for National Links Trust is Sinclair Eaddy Jr.
Eaddy was named the executive director of National Links Trust back in November 2020. He has a lot of experience leading the First Tee of Baltimore, which he hopes to apply his knowledge to what can help grow the game in underserved D.C. communities, and expand the First Tee experience already developed in the District.
"They are great golf courses. My favorite is East Potomac, and my sentimental favorite is Langston," Eaddy said. "When I was a kid, one of my coaches was a very good amateur golfer, and my first away golf trip was to Langston, which was a big deal for a kid from Baltimore, playing the public courses, to take a trip to D.C. to play a course. That's how I got my introduction to it."
The Changes You Will See At Golf Facilities
So what will cause changes look like at the three courses?
Renovations at Rock Creek Park will bring a driving range to the property and varied course layouts. This course location is in the heart of D.C., but can also serve as a new way to get golfers to the course. Instead of the 18-hole layout that it has been since its creation in 1909, a nine-hole course and a par-three course will be part of the plans. These changes will help introduce people to the game of golf by providing easier ways of entry for people to enjoy the game who are new to playing the sport.
East Potomac will see updated practice facilities, a driving range and a course design that will restore its links-style track when it was originally built in the 1920s. The course was initially built to mirror the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.
Langston may be the most exciting prospect, with plans for the course's layout to include views of the Anacostia River while playing the back nine. This part of the golf course is actually on an island, meaning it could lead to even greater views for golfers.
"The NLT group is partnering with Anacostia Watershed Society, and they're going to be removing trees along the Anacostia watershed so that when you're playing on that island, you actually can see the river and the leg and understand that you're on an island will totally change the way that course feels when you're playing at length," Krebs said. "It'll be totally different and a lot more exciting."
Growing The Game To Fit Every Community In DC
A big thing for growing golf in DC is keeping it affordable for everyone and making it accessible to all communities. Especially communities of color that may not have felt comfortable playing the game, or may not have had access to the sport.
"We want to make the golf courses and the programs that operate at those courses inclusive in every and every way," Eaddy said. "That's part of our mission. The National Links Trust wants to be a positive influence for change and making the game more diverse."
NLT has started service days through its community efforts. Langston Golf Course recently had people help clean up around the course, helping the community feel even more like it's a part of the success that can happen.
Langston -- which was one of the first African-American-run golf courses in the United States when it opened up in 1939 -- also has plans to be the team golf course with Howard University.
NBA superstar Stephen Curry himself has a vested interest in Langston. His backing of Howard University's golf program is a part of a long-term goal of both the school and NLT to make Langston a fit for a college golf program.
National Links Trust back in December said it will look to have more conversations with Howard University and its golf program going into 2021.
"I think we'll get to a point that probably would be my guess in the spring, where we'll sit down and talk with them and try to try to map out kind of what their needs would be from a practice facility standpoint," Krebs said. "As far as the course goes, there's not going to be much we can do until we get to the point of restoration. I think the plans come to fruition, we're going see a practice center that collegiate teams could use, and hopefully, Howard would be calling it home."
NBA star Stephen Curry sponsors first D-1 golf program at Howard University
There Is Still A Lot Of Work To Be Done
There are still big questions for NLT and its courses. Financial backing will have to still be considered through the pandemic. And, there are still companies that are looking to see if it's worth investing in D.C. golf and a new nonprofit given the hard financial times the nation faces.
But the backing of National Links Trust by prominent leaders in the region is a known fact, and has helped with selling the golf courses to the public and businesses.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Norton released a statement back when the partnership between the organization and the National Park Service was announced. She congratulated the partnership and what is to come for the community.
“With the signing of the lease, we have finally achieved the public-private partnership that will infuse desperately needed capital into these golf courses to maintain and preserve their historic features while making them fully available to the public,” Norton said. “Congress created the first of these golf courses in the 1920s, but never allocated the necessary funding to maintain them."
The Great Outdoors Act, which could provide millions to America's National Parks, may also provide financial benefits to the courses.
And while a lot financially will still need to be planned out, Krebs said he is confident that businesses will see the worthwhile investment into the courses and all communities that can use these facilities for years to come.
"I know, there are some big-name companies that have expressed interest and companies that have already signed on, but I know that COVID put a hurt on companies," Krebs said. "I think ultimately, the standpoint is that we've learned from COVID is that golf can be a sport that everyone enjoys -- whether they are people that played it because they loved it or played it, or because they just wanted the house and had to clear their mind for a little bit ... I think that you'll continue to see big levels of support from the big companies in the industry."
National Links Trust has its work cut out, but there is a lot that has gone right so far for the nonprofit. It has been able to start selling merchandise and even host a few events.
"It's going to get better and better," Krebs said about what's to come for the courses.
To learn more about the National Links Trust and the work they are doing to upgrade the D.C. golf experience, click here.