As the Masters tournament wraps up this weekend in August, Georgia—and questions come to the fore on just how steeped in White privilege and segregation it is—a pair of golf industry insiders are working on revitalizing Washington, D.C.’s municipal courses for the masses. And after that, America’s.
Mike McCartin and Will Smith founded the National Links Trust in 2017, and in 2020, the 501(c)3 nonprofit won a lease from the National Park Service to run the capital’s three municipal courses. The goal: Instead of a ramshackle collection of scrubby afterthoughts, the courses will become urban oases to welcome new golfers, as well as serve the longtime regulars.
Between the historic Langston Golf Course 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.
An all-star lineup of architects has signed on pro bono to renovate the 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 University 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.
What the NLT is aiming for is a maintenance plan that’s feasible on a city budget—not PGA Tour-quality facilities.
“If a segment of the golfers pays $200 [as greens fees], they expect a $200 experience,” McCartin says, which “can take away from the golf course feeling like a welcoming place for people just taking up the game.”
Langston has some history on its side. Built in 1939 to serve the Black golfing community, it became a catalyst for civil rights in 1941 after members protested the lack of maintenance and staffing by playing a round at the White golfer-only East Potomac Park under the protection of park police, fending off hecklers and insults. The news reached Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, who ordered all national parks—and thus the city’s municipal courses—opened to all.
“Our priority is to protect the inclusive culture that has developed and ensure these courses remain the gateways to golf for the D.C. community,” McCartin says. There is little political will to contribute to a park that’s perceived to benefit only elitists.
Indeed, Wendell Haskins, former senior director of diversity and multicultural initiatives at the PGA of America, says the key is for the local community to have a stake. “You need Black people, women, and other minority groups to be part of this economy,” he says. “That’s often grossly overlooked.”
Earl Cooper, co-founder of the Eastside Golf apparel brand, says his hope for the NLT is that it will keep prices low for the kinds of players who play golf now. So far, the NLT concurs. “Good golf doesn’t have to be expensive golf,” McCartin says.
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Watch This Space
Keep a lookout Saturday for a special edition newsletter with Bloomberg Green. Once a month, we will bring you an exclusive story at the intersection of luxury, lifestyle, and the environment.
First up, a zero-emission superyacht that will offer vacations where people can learn about the climate science. The atomic-powered ship itself will be equipped to do scientific research and cost passengers $3 million for a 10-day trip.
The founder of the project calls the ship “The Eiffel Tower of our generation.” Find out why this weekend.
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