The Langston Initiative: A New Vision for the District’s Public Golf Courses

Within the pastoral beauty of Washington’s three public golf courses is a historic opportunity for transformation. The Federal City Council (FC2) is reimagining the Langston, Rock Creek and East Potomac golf courses, with a vision of partnering with the National Park Service (NPS) and the District of Columbia to open up new avenues for education, tourism and economic opportuni-ty.

Referred to as the Langston Initiative, the project aligns with other FC2 efforts emphasizing revi-talization, repurposing federal property and investing in economic development to benefit District residents and visitors.

“The FC2 wants to create multi-faceted strategic investments in its Initiatives,” says Tony Williams, FC2 CEO and Executive Director. “Leveraging these federal golf courses will create an economic engine for change. Golf courses create value for housing and real estate. From education to housing to recreation for kids, these all can be centered around reclamation of these golf courses.”

The Initiative’s goal as a public-private partnership is to promote greater use of the NPS-owned courses and their facilities, increased enjoyment by residents and visitors, enhanced environmental stewardship and preservation of the relative affordability of the three public courses with scaled greens fees. The combined estimated renovation costs are between $29 million and $40 million, which is a preliminary estimate and focused on assets within the courses.

“The Federal City Council is uniquely suited to align disparate parties and constituencies in reaching solutions,” says Rusty Lindner, President and CEO of the Forge Company and a member of the Langston Initiative planning committee. “After all, we are committed to strengthening the threads that bind our community together.”

In the spring of 2014, FC2 began exploring and discussing different partnership models with federal officials. The federal golf courses have fallen into disrepair and endured insufficient investment. The District government has joined those conversations and will inform the process going forward.

“What we’re proposing is a somewhat unique partnership with the National Park Service,” says Matthew Cutts, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs and a member of the FC2 executive committee and chair of the committee spearheading this initiative. “There’s a distinction between utilizing an urban park and preserving a wilderness area, which requires a different paradigm. You want to encourage the bird watchers and other enjoyers of nature, and we have every reason to believe those activities can harmoniously interact with a world-class golf course.”

The Langston Golf Course serves as the organizing landmark. Originally built as a segregated course in 1939, it rests along the edges of the Anacostia River in Ward 5, just north of the RFK Stadium complex. Named for John Mercer Langston—founder and first dean of Howard University’s Law Department and Virginia’s first African-American congressman–both the golf course and Langston Terrace, the District’s first public housing complex, are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Langston has an 18-hole course and driving range and enjoys a beautiful topography along with its historic narrative. The revitalization would include turning the course’s club house into a community center. Its proposed market niche is competitive and neighborhood golfers. Its challenges are retaining local access and usage and its limited impact to the people living along the Ana-costia River in Wards 5, 7 and 8. Its estimated renovation costs are $12 million to $16 million.

The East Potomac Golf Course and Driving Range is located in the shadow of the monuments on the Potomac River in Ward 2. Frequently referred to as Hains Point, the course has the largest footprint of the three courses. It touts an 18-hole course, a 9-hole par-three course, a 9-hole executive course, a miniature golf course and a driving range. Its proposed market niche is tourists and visitors, while accommodating local usage. Its challenges are frequent flooding, accessibility and transportation isolation, with an estimated renovation cost of $9 million to $12 million.

Rock Creek Golf Course is located in Ward 4 off 16th Street, NW in Rock Creek Park and is known for its hilly, wooded terrain and myriad wildlife. The demographics of the adjacent communities encourages the weekend golfer and families as a market niche. The charge is to turn it into a golf education center and add a driving range. Challenged by poor course infrastructure, the estimated renovation costs are $8 million to $12 million.

The three golf courses reside in three different NPS districts, making this a complicated under-taking for all parties involved, but one worth the effort, say committee members.

“There’s a real opportunity to meet the need for a golf-loving population,” says Jake Jones, Executive Director of External Affairs and Public Policy Operations for Daimler North America and a member of the Langston Initiative planning committee. “The golf courses have an impact on the city more broadly, too. They make the city more livable by creating these options for residents and more attractive as a destination for tourists.”