Home Rule?

First off, anyone throwing around terms like “mini-Augusta National” or “PGA Championship-style” when describing anything involving East Potomac, Langston, Rock Creek, or Washington DC, for that matter, is oblivious to reality, but the Washington Post suggests the fate of DC public golf rests in such hands (well, not entirely, since Congress will dictate the resolution here, but we’ll let other blogs carry on the debate over the merits of home rule.)

Still, the proposal intrigues enough that a few points need to be made up front:

  • While a “championship” golf course of any kind is the last thing the DC area—or anywhere in the world outside of possibly Rio at the moment—needs, one could imagine a higher-end public course doing relatively well inside the city. Or, at least, not losing money, which would be a tremendous accomplishment in and of itself for the golf industry these days. It would be interesting to see the books at Laurel Hills to determine how Fairfax County’s similar experiment has fared.
  • IF the decision were made to invest in one of DC’s three golf facilities, without a doubt Langston would make the most sense as the superior piece of property. Rock Creek certainly would work as well, although it would require moving quite a bit of dirt. I’m pretty certain that even the ghost of Alister MacKenzie would fail to do anything noteworthy with the artificial swampland that fills out East Potomac.
  • And, East Potomac shouldn’t be touched for another reason. “We view East Potomac as the model of what a municipal golf course should be,” claims a VP for “Golf Course Specialists Inc”, the company that currently runs the facility. He’s half right. Show up any Saturday and you’ll find young, old, well-off, poor, black, white, asian, male, and female “patrons” before even getting to the clubhouse; everyone plays at East Potomac. But, in terms of the quality of the golf experience, East Potomac is anything but a model; its success certainly proves the maxim that location is everything. A similar quality facility would be lucky to attract more than a handful of foursomes a week.

Which brings us to the real scandal here; one barely alluded to in the article. “Golf Course Specialists Inc’s” ability to hold on to these contracts through the years is absolutely criminal.

In my 16 years in the area, I’ve yet to see a fairway on any of the DC courses in mid-July made up of more than 50 percent grass. Plenty of dirt, weeds, or crab grass though. The greens will be in slightly better condition — the tees, much worse. Yes, the climate is tough here, but how is such a sorry state of affairs possible other than utter neglect or incompetence? And please, no ridiculous sermons on the evils of the “tree” and its dreaded canopies blotting out the sun and its greedy roots monopolizing water. Again, no-one—other than Eleanor Holmes Norton, apparently—wants or expects to be playing off a carpet. A 20 footer that bumps along a few times to the hole isn’t going to upset anyone and we’ll risk the ire of the USGA and Steve Spurrier by kicking the ball a few yards in the fairway to avoid a bare spot.

So rather than fool around with grand projects that will do little to enhance the experience of the public golfer they are presumably trying to serve, how about the Park Service just makes clear in the next contract that the winning bidder will be expected to keep grass on the tees, fairways, and greens through the season?

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