Great Golf in Washington D.C

Raspberry Falls Golf & Hunt Club
John Kernick

Politicians often veer left or right, but if they stray too far from the middle they'll lose. The same goes for golfers. Both politicians and golfers need a strong power game, but the best players in each sport know finesse is crucial. And both understand that spin can ruin or save them.

In honor of this year's presidential election -- and all the commonalities between America's two favorite pastimes, we've compiled a rundown of the best public golf in the nation's capital. There's no shortage of notable private courses there -- Congressional Country Club and TPC at Avenel to name two -- but there's plenty of strong public-access golf too. Start with three worthy National Parks Service venues, then try a trio of newer courses in greater Washington D.C. This swampy old town may be all about connections, but democracy reigns at these tracks, which are open to all.

East Potomac Golf Course, the district's most popular muni, is practically in the shadow of the Washington Monument. I cannot tell a lie: The story of young George's throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac is a myth, but East Potomac Park is not to be missed -- its full of the city's famed cherry trees. Two courses, the Red and the White, are your basic nine-hole pitch-and-putts, but the Blue (completing the patriotic color scheme) is a regulation track with wide-open fairways as inviting as the $27 greens fee.

Pace of play on the Blue is typically brisk, and you might get paired with the likes of former CNN anchor Bernard Shaw, a regular here. But no high finance, please: A placard beside the practice green bears a crossed-out dollar sign and the warning, "No competitive putting on this green."

If you're looking for action, a better bet inside the Beltway is Rock Creek Golf Course, where the 4,715-yard routing features seven par 3s and 11 par 4s, four of which measure less than 300 yards. But the scorecard belies the challenge, particularly on the back nine, where the greens are small, the elevations deceiving and the narrow fairways are shouldered by woods as deep as recent parks department budget cuts.

The four closing holes at Rock Creek make the best D.C. golfers sweat. You don't need to be long off the tee on the 368-yard 15th and 351-yard 16th, but with tree limbs jutting out from the sides, you must be as accurate as a Senate witness under oath. And if you can thread your tee ball to the minuscule green at the par-3 17th, hail to you.

Facts & Contacts
East Potomac Golf Course
Greens fees $21.50 - $26.50
202-554-7660
golfdc.com

Rock Creek Golf Course
greens fees $19 - $24
202-882-7332
golfdc.com

Langston Golf Course
greens fees $21.50 - $26.50
202-397-8638
golfdc.com

Whiskey Creek Golf Course
greens fees $78 - $93
888-883-1174
whiskeycreekgolf.com

P.B. Dye Golf Club
greens fees $69 - $89
301-607-GOLF
pbdyegolf.com

Raspberry Falls Golf & Hunt Club
greens fees $76 - $96
703-779-2555
raspberryfalls.com

The most interesting of D.C.'s National Parks Service tracks is Langston Golf Course. Built on the site of an old city dump, Langston opened with pomp and circumstance in June 1939 as a nine-holer for black Americans. The man behind the course was Harold L. Ickes, FDR's progressive Secretary of the Interior. Today, Langston is in the National Register of Historic Places. It's open year-round from sunup to sundown. In 1999 the course opened a second nine notable for a pair of first-rate par 3s: The 175-yard 13th reaches over the lake to a wide, bi-level green, while the 203-yard 15th plays uphill over a valley. Langston also offers the hairiest tee shot in the Beltway: a forced carry over Kingman Lake at the 538-yard 10th hole.

The golf is better beyond the Beltway, and several fine daily-fee courses have opened in the burbs during the past two presidential terms. Ernie Els, who won his second U.S. Open title at Congressional, consulted with designer Mike Poellot at Whiskey Creek Golf Club, a handsome 7,010-yard track opened in 2000 in Ijamsville, Maryland, 45 minutes north of the capital. Named for a nearby stream used by bootleggers to float barrels of hooch into town during Prohibition, Whiskey Creek ambles through the countryside like a tipsy lobbyist. Boulders flank the tee box at the 402-yard fifth hole. The 547-yard 18th is the home hole in more ways than one, with the stone ruins of a German immigrant's farmhouse splitting the fairway.

After it opened in 1999, P.B. Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville drew fire from golfers who felt the design was cruel and unusual. A few adjustments quelled the complaints without erasing the Dye touch (check the island green at the 169-yard 11th hole). P.B. had shaved the banks around the greens, a la Pinehurst No. 2, so that errant approaches funneled into collection areas. That proved too penal, so management let the grass grow. Today you can enjoy your round at P.B. Dye without getting too P.O.'d.

The Gary Player signature course at Raspberry Falls Golf & Hunt Club in Leesburg, Virginia, is 15 minutes from Dulles airport, but once you set foot on this 7,191-yard links-style gem you'll feel transported. How many modern courses host fox hunts? Civil War-style stone walls and a manor-like clubhouse contribute to the rustic setting. Player gave his stacked-sod bunkers nicknames suggesting their toughness: Grant's Tomb and Satan's Foxhole.

Washington has been a golf town since gouty William Howard Taft took up the game a century ago. Many of our presidents have played; a few have even played well. Whether noted speed golfer George W. Bush or occasional duffer John Kerry wins this month's election, the world can rest assured that the next American president will pose no threat to par. "You da potus!"

When presidents tee it up in the nation's capital, they can often be found at Congressional Country Club, site of three majors. But wherever he plays, George W. Bush never goes out as a singleton. The posse of the POTUS (White House staff moniker for "President of the United States") includes:

Personal Aide Acts as liaison between POTUS and other staff.

Advance Person Handles details including scheduling tee time, securing golf carts, transporting POTUS's clubs arranging food and beverages.

Military Aide Accompanies POTUS on all trips; carries "the football," i.e. the attachE case that contains, among other things, nuclear launch codes and phone numbers for every federal judge in case POTUS is incapacitated and VPOTUS must be sworn in.

White House Communications Agency Sets up secure communications for use by POTUS, monitors a secure fax machine and coordinates portable messaging systems (radios, pagers, etc.) for POTUS and staff.

Physician A White House Medical Unit doctor accompanies POTUS on all public outings.

Photographer Chronicles official White House outings and snaps meet-and-greet shots of POTUS with constituents.

Press Pool Present at every public appearance. Often referred to by staffers as being "on deathwatch" since their only duty on an event such as a golf outing is to be present in case disaster strikes.

Secret Service Escorts and protects POTUS at all times.

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