The ComMUNIty Project: National Links Trust Selected to Manage D.C.’s Courses

Non-profit will negotiate with the National Park Service to operate and improve the capital's municipal golf courses


American municipal golf got a boost today as the National Park Service announced that it will begin negotiations with National Links Trust to operate three municipal golf courses in Washington, D.C., under a long-term lease. National Links Trust (NLT), a non-profit headed by Michael McCartin and Will Smith, plans to make a multi-year, multi-million-dollar investment in the East Potomac, Rock Creek Park, and Langston golf properties.

As The Fried Egg previously reported, NLT has partnered with management company Troon Golf, developer Mike Keiser, and a trio of leading design firms. Tom Doak’s Renaissance Golf Design hopes to restore Walter Travis’s reversible layout at East Potomac; Hanse Golf Course Design has agreed to improve Rock Creek Park, a William Flynn design; and Beau Welling, a senior design consultant for Tiger Woods’s TGR Design, looks to renovate Langston.

“Our plan calls for celebrating the history of the three golf courses, particularly their role in the integration of public golf and recreational facilities in both the greater Washington, D.C., area and the nation,” McCartin said in a press release today. “We are honored to take on the responsibility of revitalizing these remarkable properties and look forward to expanding recreational opportunities for underserved communities, including seniors, veterans, individuals with disabilities, and those new to golf.”

The NPS’s decision is the outcome of a process that began in July 2019, when the agency put out a Request for Proposals for the lease of East Potomac, Rock Creek Park, and Langston. A panel reviewed the bids and ultimately endorsed NLT’s vision of accessible, architecturally compelling, historically authentic municipal golf.

Once it has a long-term lease in hand, NLT hopes to begin the process of reviving the unique and historic golf scene of Washington, D.C. The Fried Egg has been following this story from the beginning, and we will continue to provide updates as the improvement projects get underway:

A little history

When it opened in 1921, East Potomac Golf Course set out to be “the model public playground.” The reversible nine-hole Walter Travis design was an immediate hit among Washington, D.C., residents and led to a surge in enthusiasm for golf. The East Potomac facility quickly expanded from nine to 18 reversible Travis holes in 1925. Still unable to meet demand, the facility added yet another nine—this one designed by William Flynn—in 1927. In its first year of operation as a 27-hole facility, East Potomac logged over 157,000 nine-hole rounds. East Potomac was so well-regarded that President Warren Harding would often play it instead of his home club at Chevy Chase.

East Potomac today. Photo credit: Andy Johnson

Looking to develop more golf properties, the city turned its attention to an existing course in D.C.’s famous Rock Creek Park. In 1926, William Flynn transformed the nine-holer into an 18-hole course.

Rock Creek today. Photo credit: Andy Johnson

The final piece of the puzzle was Langston Golf Course. When Langston opened in 1939, it was one of only 20 courses in the country open to Black golfers. The course was designed with the help of William Gordon, and it soon became a hub of the African-American game. Many well-known Black golfers—including Ted Rhodes, Ethel Funches, Charlie Sifford, Lee Elder, and Calvin Peete—played there regularly.

Langston today. Photo credit: Andy Johnson

All three of these historic courses have taken their lumps over the years. The NPS’s short-term leases discouraged operators from investing meaningfully in the courses, and profit-driven managers allowed the facilities to deteriorate. But now, with a lease of 50 years potentially on the table, NLT should be able to undertake large-scale improvement plans and recoup the costs over time.

Along with the planned revitalization of Philadelphia’s Cobbs Creek, NLT’s success so far in D.C. points to a new trend in golf architecture: serious, well-researched restorations and renovations of municipal golf facilities. Could this be the start of the Great Muni Revival?