Before Michael McCartin and Will Smith got involved in the golf course architecture business, working with the likes of Tom Doak and Gil Hanse, they were golfers themselves. Among the places they played were East Potomac Park Golf Course in Washington D.C., a historic municipal facility dating back to 1919.
So when the National Parks Service was looking to change operations at East Potomac Park (pictured in the 1930s), Langston Golf Course, and Rock Creek Golf Course in Washington, D.C., from a concession system with short-term contracts to a longer-term lease where a lessee would make capital improvements to that trio of beloved munis, it perked their interest.
“When the RFP came out a few years ago, Will and I decided the most important element was to tell the history of these courses, which is incredible, and to at least inform whoever does get the lease to recapture what was lost instead of doing something new,” said McCartin.
After another group working on a bid declined to work with them, the pair decided to go for the lease themselves. They created the National Links Trust (NLT), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization focused on the idea that affordable golf does not have to mean uninteresting golf.
McCartin and Smith believe that all three courses can benefit from that ethos. “For example, the course at East Potomac Park was a spectacularly interesting Walter Travis design that has just deteriorated over time due to deferred maintenance,” said McCartin, who wrote a thesis on the course while earning a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture at the University of Georgia. “You wouldn’t even know that
design existed today.”
With the backing of private donors and some powerful players in the golf industry— including architects Doak, Hanse, and Beau Welling (who will donate design services to renovate the courses); Bandon Dunes founder Mike Keiser; and Troon — plus partnerships with civic, philanthropic, and environmental organizations, the NLT finalized a 50-year lease agreement last October with the National Parks Service.
Troon did not hesitate to come on board, according to McCartin. “They recognized the value of these courses to the fabric of golf and how important they are to introducing people to the game,” he said. “They have really thrown their support behind the project in every way you could imagine. Without a partner like Troon we wouldn’t have the gravitas to necessarily win the bid.”
Troon’s Honours Golf® division will provide initial golf operations, agronomy, retail, sales, and marketing, plus varying food and beverage services at the three properties, with all course employees becoming Troon associates.
“Troon is proud, and honored, to be part of The National Links Trust’s all-star team and share in their vision and commitment to bring these historic courses back to their original prominence,” said Tim Schantz, president and chief executive officer, Troon. “We look forward to being a part of delivering accessible, affordable, and engaging public golf to the D.C. area.”
Over the next 12 to 18 months, the NLT will focus on various capital projects, including building driving ranges at Rock Creek and Langston Golf Course. Renovations at each of the courses are expected to follow thereafter during what will be a multi-year project.
More immediate changes include new golf carts, new maintenance equipment, course beautification projects at Langston Golf Course along Kingman Lake and Anacostia River (in collaboration with Anacostia Watershed Society), new course websites and a new overarching website at www.PlayDCGolf.com.
“We’re also continuing to build out fundraising,” said McCartin. “But the good news is that the National Park Service is in lockstep with us regarding what we want to accomplish, so I don’t really envision any roadblocks. But we still have to go through the required processes.”
“I think people recognize that these are special places in the game, but could be more,” added McCartin, who started going to the East Potomac Park driving range as an 8-year-old with his father. “Our vision is of making a difference in people’s lives through golf and these courses. It’s amazing how many people want to make sure golf is affordable and accessible, and not just a game for a very small subset of the population.”
Smith, who has been taking his 6-year old son to the range at East Potomac Park every Saturday in recent months, also recognizes the project’s potential impact. “This is a 50-year lease, so when it expires, if my son and daughter still live in D.C., they will be 56 and 53 years old, and hopefully will have spent their whole lives playing at these courses,” he said. “It doesn’t get much cooler than that.”