Links to the Past

The National Park Service is studying the National Park Service golf courses in the District of Columbia. The study's results will aid in the interpretation and management of the sites.

A man instructs three boys on a putting green.
A golf pro works with local youth at the Langston Golf Course in 1979. (Reprinted with permission of the D.C. Public Library, Star Collection)

Copyright Washington Post

“I favor a freer use of public parks by the people than we have had in the past. They should be used for tennis, baseball, skating, golf and like games...I think all our parks should be opened for golf unless there is some specific objection in public needs.”

President William H. Taft in support of the development of public golf courses in the District of Columbia, February 1913.

Introduction

Aerial view of East Potomac Park golf course.
Early aerial view of the golf course at East Potomac Park, ca.1925.

Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-135450)

In the summer of 2016 the National Park Service will be starting a study on the history and design of the National Park Service golf courses at East Potomac Park, Rock Creek Park, and Langston. 

While there is evidence of golf being played in various towns and counties in colonial, revolutionary, and 19th-century America, it was not until the late 1880s that the country saw the first modern golf clubs, an effort pioneered by English and Scottish immigrants and Scottish Americans. Many factors propelled the development of golf in the United States between the 1880s and World War I, including the rapidly growing middle class, mass consumerism based on rising disposable income, increasing leisure time, as well as changing attitudes toward the healthful benefits of recreation that made outdoor sports more acceptable and desirable for Americans.

As enthusiasm for the sport began to grow in the early 20th century, the District of Columbia’s public golf courses were built by the federal government for those who could not afford to play at the area’s private clubs and as part of the expansion of parks and recreation facilities in the nation’s capital. Initially built between 1918 and 1939, the three courses have hosted numerous tournaments, Presidents of the United States, renowned American golfers, as well as countless local citizens. The golf courses also played a role in the city’s Civil Rights movement, the National Park Service’s position against segregation, and the integration of the city’s recreational facilities between 1941 and 1954.

Why is the National Park Service studying the golf courses?

Men golfing
Men golf at East Potomac Park, 1922.

Library of Congress (LC-F8- 21160)

While all three of the National Park Service golf courses are listed in the National Register of Historic Places, they lack up-to-date and comprehensive documentation to fully understand their values and characteristics. 

Why are these golf courses important to the National Park Service?

The first 18 holes of the East Potomac Park Golf Course were built from 1918 to 1923 and designed by renowned golfer Walter J. Travis. In 1941 the course was the site of efforts to desegregate the city’s public golf courses.

The East Potomac Park Mini Golf Course was built in 1931 and is one of the oldest continually operating miniature golf courses in the United States. 

The Rock Creek Golf Course was built between 1921 and 1926 and designed by golf course architect William S. Flynn. President Warren G. Harding helped open the golf course on May 23, 1923. 

The Langston Golf Course was built 1935-1939 to replace a segregated course on the Lincoln Memorial grounds and was expanded to 18 holes in 1955. Numerous celebrated African American golfers have played on the course including Charlie Sifford and Lee Elder.

How is the National Park Service studying the golf courses?

The National Park Service will be completing a history of the golf courses and documenting changes to the golf courses over time. 

How will these studies be used?

The National Park Service will use the studies as critical planning tools for the on-going management, interpretation, and public use of these golf courses. 

Will these studies affect play at the golf courses?

The studies will not affect the public use of the courses. You may see a team on the course taking photographs, field notes, and mapping information to record existing conditions of the golf courses. 

For more information or additional questions, please contact the National Capital Region Cultural Resources Office.

Last updated: June 10, 2016