Category Archives: Design + architecture

The real red, white and blue in Washington

By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer

While walking up to 11th green on the Blue Course at East Potomac Park, it’s hard to imagine any golf course having a more beautiful backdrop.

With the Jefferson Memorial directly ahead, the Washington Monument just past that, and the dome of the U.S. Capitol Building peeking over the tall buildings to your right, and considering you’re on a magnificent, lush golf course in the first place, there is certainly no better view in all of Washington D.C.

Located minutes from the Jefferson Memorial (roughly two minutes by car, 10 minutes by foot), the East Potomac Park golf facility offers memorable experiences to golfers of all skill levels.

There are 36 holes of golf on three differently styled courses, a driving range with 100 stalls, several practice greens, and even a miniature golf course.  That alone is pretty remarkable for a public facility.

But the exceptionality of East Potomac is most noticeable while playing on the full-length, headliner Blue Course

Playing to a par-72, the Blue Course is a flat course that isn’t particularly long but does require accurate shot-making, offering a challenging and enjoyable experience to golfers of most skill levels.

Keeping the tee shot in the fairway is imperative, but not for typical reasons.  While there are only few marked hazards and several holes do run next to out-of-bounds areas, the real danger preventing golfers from finding their balls is the rough.

Many of the par-4 holes have thick rough, in the range of three to five inches, and if your shot drifts into this grass, it can take you the full five minutes allowed by the rules to find the ball.  This can get frustrating golfers who easily lose shots either direction off the tee (which is no doubt most golfers).

The thicker rough provides a unique opportunity compared to other public courses, which tend to have sligh

tly shorter rough.

The course is easily characterized as an open course, considering there aren’t many trees, almost no fairway bunkers and most of the holes run parallel to one or two other holes.  As a result, the ball tends to stay in-play, which frankly makes the experience more fun – nobody likes to go out to a course and lose 15 balls because the each shot requires almost professional precision.

Another reason most golfers should enjoy the Blue Course is the greens, which roll at a fair speed and are in great condition.  In fact, the lush color of the greens does as much for the beauty of the course and setting as do the n

ational monuments.

The two nines are fairly similar to one another, though the back nine does play slightly longer than the front.  The first few holes of each side away from downtown, while the closing holes play directly toward the Washington Monument.

On the front nine, the par-4 holes are all manageable, playing less than 400 yards for the men and around 275 for the women.  But the side makes up for it with two long par-5 holes.  The long third hole comes in at a massive 590 yards for the men, requiring three huge and accurate shots just to get on the green in regulation.

The par-3 eighth hole is the most picturesque spot on the course.  No matter what day you play that hole, the flagstick always seems to be directly in line with the Washington Monument.

The back nine features shorter par-5 and par-3 holes but the par-4 holes are longer, averaging nearly 375 yards, with two over 400 yards long, for the men and around 300 yards long for the women.  Because of the increased length of these holes, the back nine presents more of a challenge, but is still quite manageable.

Overall, the Blue Course is an excellent full-length public course, helping make the whole East Potomac facility be the most popular in Washington.  Though this popularity is a gift for management, it can be a curse for the patrons.  The course gets crowded on nice weekdays and jam-packed on the weekends, so be prepared for a slow-paced, potentially five-hour round.

Still, the entire facility is great for all golfers.  The Red Course is a nine-hole par-3 course, all of which are around 100 yards and ideal for beginning golfers.  The White Course is also a nine-hole course, with normal length par-3 and par-4 holes and presents a good test for average players.

All three courses at East Potomac Park, like the two other public course in Washington, are owned by the U.S. Park Service and managed by Golf Course Specialists Inc.

The facility has been an important part of the city’s history since the 1920s.  The first nine was built in 1921 and the subsequent three nines were constructed in 1923, 1924, and 1930 respectively, all by different, little-known course architects.

Despite its age, the course managers keep the facility in great shape, with the Blue Course being the best conditioned course in Washington.  With rounds moderately priced, at $27 on weekdays and $31 on the weekend, the Blue Course offers an affordable, enjoyable experience for all amateur golfers.

Scoring Redgate: Is it remarkable?

Redgate's par-5 14th hole

By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer

Redgate Municipal Golf Course is a challenging par-71, public course managed by the City of Rockville, Md., designed by local golf course architect Therman Donovan. Since its opening in 1974, Redgate has become a well-known opportunity for local golfers to test their skills.

But is the course really worth your 4 1/2 hours and $50?

Let’s evaluate the Redgate experience, scoring each hole individually, to see whether each part of the course is truly exceptional.

(The scoring system: decently designed holes, challenging and fair will be given a par.  Poor or below-average holes will get a bogey, and beautiful, exceptional holes will get a birdie. So, a good, worthwhile course would finish with a score right at par.)

1. Par-4, 376 yards

This uphill, dogleg-left hole is a good starting hole and sets the tone for the rest of the course.  There’s change in elevation, fairway bunkers and trees surrounding the green, all of which are constants at Redgate.  The hole requires two good shots to a manageable green, a solid test for a first hole.  Par

2.  Par-3, 168 yards

Players must hit over a small creek on this challenging par-3 that drops downhill significantly to a difficult, sloping green. The green looks beautiful from the tee, though the trees between there and the green are kind of an eyesore.  Par

3.  Par-4, 324 yards

Easily the most beautiful hole on the front nine.  The view from the tee box is simply magnificent, as some 100 yards of lake must be cleared before finding the fairway this short, uphill par-4.  Assuming you avoid the fairway bunkers and the trees, the second shot should settle nicely on an easy green.  Fun hole for golfers to all levels. Birdie

4. Par-5, 560 yards

A long hole featuring a lake between the fairway and a creek just in front of the green.  The approach shot is fun, as the fairway drops some 40 yards to the green.  The green is difficult, so try to stay below the hole to avoid a three-putt.  Par

5.  Par-4, 350 yards

Really nothing special.  The tee shot is blind and severely uphill with trees on either side.  The hole turns slightly to the left for the approach shot to a huge green.  Don’t miss the green to the right because the ground is hard and the grass is poor.   Par

6.  Par-3, 137 yards

Another picturesque hole.  This magnificent, short par-3 requires a simple shot in between three green-side bunkers.  Be careful with a green that slopes pretty significantly toward the front.  Birdie

7.  Par-4, 362 yards

This hole begins a short stretch of holes that straddle the line between average and poor.  The seventh hole squeaks by in the former, barely because it’s challenging and the fairway and green are in good shape.  The one knock is that it runs parallel to the parking lot, and average golfers don’t need the added stress of financial repercussions for their tee shot to the left.  Par

8.  Par-4, 423 yards

Again, here’s another hole that barely makes the grade.  Players can’t see the fairway from the tee on this long par-4 (not being able to see the fairway or green really takes away from a hole’s quality).  Once you reach that fairway though, the view of the green is exceptional, featuring an elevated putting surface surrounded by bunkers on three sides.  Par

9.  Par-4, 456 yards

The most challenging hole for the average golfer is also the least attractive.  The view to the green is what brings it down.  The fairway slopes awkwardly to the side on the left side and has a big, drooping tree blocking the right side.  The green is also needlessly big.  Overall, a poor way to finish a good-looking front nine.  Bogey

After nine holes, Redgate’s course design is pretty exceptional, and is sitting at 1-under-par.  Considering that par is a good score for all courses using this system, being better than that is awesome.  The two beautiful holes are much more memorable than the poor finishing holes.

10.  Par-4, 412 yards

This is the last in the aforementioned stretch of mediocre holes and like the others, is another long par-4 that demands two quality shots, though this green is the most challenging on the course so far.  The green is a slick beast, slanting drastically from right to left.  Here’s a case where challenge balances out unremarkable design.  Par

11.  Par-4, 309 yards

Just a remarkable, short par-4.  There are hazards on either side, but the tee box is some 20 yards above the green, tempting everyone to bring out the driver when a lay-up tee shot is the smart play.  For years, this green has had irrigation and disease problems but is finally in good shape.  Play smart and you’ll get the same score:  Birdie

12.  Par-4, 383 yards

Clearly the eyesore of the back nine.  The tee shot must carry up a slope of some 50 or 60 yards just to make to a part of the fairway.  The view to the green, surrounded by trees and out-of-bounds, is unspectacular, like the rest of the hole.  Bogey

13.  Par-4, 415 yards

This features yet another blind tee shot, with the green nowhere in sight.  From the fairway, you face another severe drop to the green.  Though blind tee shots are frustrating, there’s something beautiful about the view from above a well-manicured, bunker-surrounded green.  Par

14. Par-5, 507 yards

The 14th hole is the most spectacular on the course.  It’s a medium-length par-5 that plays downhill from the tee to a challenging green surrounded by long, deep bunkers.  The view from the tee box is simply stunning, with the nuances of the hole clearly visible.  Golfers know exactly the test before them; it’s a matter or being able to conquer.  Birdie

15.  Par-3, 138 yards

Here’s an average-looking, short par-3.  The shadows from the huge trees on either side disguise the green, throwing off one’s depth perception.  It’s tough to judge tee shot distance and the green is huge, making it a fun little hole.  Par

16.  Par-5, 498 yards

The most difficult hole on the course to judge.  On the one hand, it’s a short par-5 that presents the possibility for good scores.  On the other hand, there are awkwardly sloped areas of rough between patches of fairway and hazard that can make the hole unpleasant to play.  Still, everyone enjoys a short par-5; just keep it in play.  Par

17.  Par-3, 200 yards

The 17th is a difficult, uphill par-3 that is anything but scenic.  On the right is an area of ugly, dry trees and shrubs; and on the left is out-of-bounds and netting that guards an office building.  Not pretty, but it’s challenging and the green is in good shape.  Par

18.  Par-4, 437 yards

Probably the flattest hole on the course, tee-to-green.  Two long, precise shots are necessary for this slight dogleg hole.  The view from the tee is good; the view to the green is great.  The green is guarded by a man-made lake on the left and bunkers on the right.  In all respects, it’s a great way to complete the course.  Birdie

For the round, the design of Redgate scores a 3-under-par, which is remarkable.  Though the course hits a slight snag on the quality-meter between holes seven and 10, the course is excellent overall.

Many of the holes have elevation changes and well-kept, lush fairways and greens, which any golfer should love.  If you haven’t been out there, it’s time to grab your sticks and experience Redgate.

Where’s the windmill? Not even a clown’s mouth?

By Jeremy Walsh
ArtsPost staff writer

Miniature Golf at East Potomac Park:  fun for the whole family?  Not quite.

Simply put, the course isn’t fun.  It lacks a colorful and entertaining design and the holes are incredibly challenging for most adult players, let alone for children.

Built in 1930 and billed as the oldest running miniature golf course in the United States, the East Potomac course is not your typical amusement facility.  When most people think of miniature golf, they no doubt imagine colored carpeting, funny designs and fun playing conditions.  This course features none of those typical attributes.

The holes are all lined with bland, poorly conditioned green carpeting, giving the course a dreary feel.  The carpets have obviously not been replaced in a long time, considering the many little nicks and faded appearance.

As a result of the years of wear, every hole is extremely challenging.  Many of the holes seem to roll faster than the greens at Augusta National.  And most of the cups are placed just in front of little hills or slopes, so when if your ball barely trickles past the hole, it usually rolls five or more feet past the cup.

If the conditions are tough and irritating to an adult, it’s difficult to imagine little kids enjoying themselves (unless you’re raising a golf prodigy, in which case your kid will have better touch on the greens than Tiger Woods).

Even worse is the course design.  On the one hand, it probably closely resembles the original design, which adds to its historical value.

But parents and kids today rightfully expect a clown’s mouth, a windmill, or at the very least, a volcano hole.  Instead, many of the holes are bland, straight-ahead or winding shots that require players to guide the ball toward or away from curbs.                                The rest of the holes do have some elevation changes, where players hit toward a hole with a pipe, leading to other greens.  Holes like these are typical of any miniature golf course, but usually these holes with pipes are covered by a house or windmill.  At the East Potomac course, the holes are visible, without any sort of covering or decoration.

The front nine of the course is much more challenging than the back nine, mostly because the holes on the front tend to have shorter pars.  Also, the carpeting on the first nine holes is horrible, so the ball will roll about every direction except into the cup.  The unfair conditions are not as pronounced on the back nine – plus the bigger pars allow you more shots to get that little colored ball into the cup.

Unfortunately, this course is really the only family miniature golf course in Washington, and the only one in the surrounding areas that is Metrorail accessible, though you will need to take a long, but scenic 20 minute trek from the Smithsonian stop.

If you’re looking for a birthday venue for your youngster, you’ll be better off skipping the Miniature Golf at East Potomac Park experience.  The course is insanely difficult without offering any of the appealing visual elements of normal miniature golf facilities (there isn’t even an arcade, decent food shack or indoor seating).

If you happen to be a teenager or adult trying to hone your putt-putt skills to make it as a professional miniature golfer, then this might just be the perfect place for you.  Since you probably aren’t in that miniscule minority, you’re better off skipping this place.  Find a mini-putt game online instead.

The best bet in Washington

By Jeremy Walsh

ArtsPost staff writer

Of the three municipal golf courses in Washington D.C., Langston Golf Course may not be the most exceptional facility, but it is certainly offers an affordable, unique golf experience, which is enough to satisfy almost any average golfer.

The 18-hole, par-72 course is divided into two nines that are different from each other in almost every recognizable way.  The front nine plays 200 yards shorter than the back nine for the men, and just under 100 yards shorter for the women.

As a result, the front nine presents the best opportunity for scoring, with two short par-5 holes and five manageable par-4 holes.  The most challenging hole on the side is the long, par-3 eighth hole, which forces all golfers to hit a long iron to a green guarded by out-of-bounds markers and a bunker on the right and a larger bunker on the left.

The front nine be characterized as an open series of holes because there are not many trouble spots for players.  There are few trees, only several bunkers, and the one hazard is a skinny creek running across the third fairway.  Still, right-handed golfers must avoid a slice on five of the holes lest they hit it out-of-bounds.

One glaring downside about the front nine is that the holes run back and forth and fairly close to one another without being clearly marked.  Cart paths do not run the entire lengths of holes and do not run from one green to the next tees, so if first time golfers aren’t paying close attention, they may end up hitting their second tee shot from the seventh tee box.

Such a problem would never occur on the back nine, as it is designed in the classic links style, with each tee box following each green as the holes curve around Kingman Lake like links of a chain.

Because of the links design, nearly every hole has a hazard or out-of-bounds running alongside the fairway, with five holes having such trouble on both sides.  Precise tee shots are a must.

The back nine plays more difficultly than the front, mostly because of its increased length.  While the front features easier and shorter par-5 and par-3 holes, the back presents challenging par-5 and par-3 holes that demand precise shots and calm putting if a golfer is to escape with pars.

Though the front nine also has greens with significant slope, the back nine has greens that roll noticeably faster, adding another test for the average golfer.

The difference in the structure of the two nines is no doubt attributable to the fact they were designed at separate times.  Most of the holes on the front nine were designed by little-known golf architect George Parish and opened in 1939, whereas the holes around Kingman Lake were designed in the 1950s.

Langston’s opening in 1939 was historically significant because it was the first municipal course in Washington that allowed African-Americans to play – though it was a segregated golf club.

Today, the course remains an integral part of the local African-American community in the city, as the course is played predominately by African-American golfers.

Langston also features a unique location for a golf course.  On the one hand, the course is in beautiful condition, with most of the fairways and greens appearing a lush green, perhaps due to its proximity to the lake.

Further adding to its magnificent condition is the fact the course, like its two sister municipal courses, is maintained by the National Park Service and managed by the group Golf Course Specialists Inc.  In fact, after the heavy rains early the past few weeks, Langston is remarkably dry and in much better shape than the other two courses.

And while Langston is mostly flat, the one elevation change on the course (the third green and fourth tee box being atop a hill) allows a scenic view north and east of the city.  Over the tree line north, FedEx Field, home of the Washington Redskins, is visible, and RFK Stadium can be seen from almost any point on the course.

The course is also accessible by public transportation, with a Metrobus stop 200 feet from the clubhouse.  However, the bus ride, approaching the course from either direction, goes through a poorer part of the city.  Unfortunately, for the golf course, the sight of closed businesses, empty buildings and polluted streets makes clear that Langston is not located in an appealing part Washington.

Nevertheless, Langston is one of the best facilities in the entire DC-Metro area.  In terms of quality, the course is beautiful and challenging, the driving range and practice facilities are large and well-kept and the Langston Grille offers decent food and drink.   In terms of price, it’s the best bet in the area, as weekday prices, which start at $24 for adults, are the fairest in and around the district.

Overall, Langston offers good quality, great prices, and unique historical significance, making it a must-try for any golfer in Washington.