Langston Golf Course: Golf history in the capital

The first African American men’s and women’s golf club in D.C. adds to its lore during National Golf Day.


Aerial view of Langston Golf Course
Langston Golf Course, the first African American men's and women's golf course in Washington, D.C., is one of the sites of a community service project at this year's National Golf Day. Photo courtesy of Troon Golf

Editor's note: National Golf Day is May 7-10. GCM is covering GCSAA's involvement in the event with stories all week long. To keep up with our complete coverage, click here.

Legendary comedian Bob Hope played there. So did President Gerald Ford. Ditto for sports icon Jim Thorpe, the first Native American to win an Olympic gold medal.

Something major and spectacular is going on at Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C., and GCSAA is right there to do its part in showcasing all that Langston GC was and can be.

Today, May 10, the first African American men’s and women’s golf club in D.C. is the site for its inaugural National Golf Day (NGD) Community Service Project to aid in beautifying the grounds, work that already is in progress thanks to the course’s dedicated agronomy team. Add a group of 50 project workers from across the golf industry — including team captains from the Eastern Shore GCSA — and Langston GC will be a beehive of activity.

Simultaneously, Langston GC is hosting a First Green event. Twelve industry volunteers, including superintendents and GCSAA staff, are overseeing it.

“I am thrilled. It’s a historic golf course that for so many years was one of the only places African Americans could play,” says Craig Kirby, founder and CEO, of Golf. My Future. My Game. “Things like the First Green are such good exposure for kids to learn, ask questions about the game from superintendents.”

A resurgence has been in the works recently at Langston GC, which already has quite a storied history. Named after John Mercer Langston, Virginia’s first African American in Congress, Langston GC opened in 1939 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Enshrined in the National Black Golf Hall of Fame, Langston GC is situated just south of the National Arboretum and near old RFK Stadium, the former home of the NFL’s Washington Commanders.

The 18-hole facility is under the umbrella of National Links Trust (NLT), a non-profit organization dedicated to positively impacting the community and changing lives through affordable and accessible municipal golf. The organization’s vision is to be known as the leading advocate and resource of municipal golf across the U.S. NLT’s first project has focused on the municipal golf facilities in the nation’s capital: Langston GC, East Potomac Golf Links and Rock Creek Park Golf.

Timothy Zurybida is the director of agronomy for Troon/National Links Trust for all three facilities. In April he spent time at Langston GC with a representative of The Toro. Co., which is sole provider of equipment for NLT and the head supplier of equipment at the three D.C. public golf courses. Zurybida says that he gets goosebumps every time he steps onto the Langston GC property. “It is a very, very special place. An oasis in the middle of the city,” he says. During National Golf Day, participants will plant 60 azalea bushes and refresh some of the course's mulch beds.

Zurybida’s plans to take Langston GC to another level include fairway improvements and a solid fertility plan. “We’ve got cool-season greens with Poa. “We’re looking good, using proper agronomic practices,” he says, noting that project manager and 13-year GCSAA member Adam Schilpp has made significant strides in that area already, along with a helping hand from the Eastern Shore GCSA. “The most important thing is change in culture, which has changed dramatically. The culture, the attitude, has permeated to everybody here.”

Kirby is among those who have witnessed it.

“It’s become more diverse. And the diversity of it is bringing more exposure out there,” says Kirby, whose also shares that the first African American to play in the Masters, Lee Elder, was general manager there. Boxing legend Joe Louis became known for his relationship with Langston GC’s No. 3, an uphill par-5 that seemed to collect Louis’ tee shot more often than not. “That hole was like a homing device to him,” Kirby says.

If you do come visit or play this facility that is drenched in history, Kirby suggests you start with breakfast at the clubhouse. “A lot of neighborhood folks come for the kitchen in the clubhouse,” Kirby says. “The pancakes are so, so good.”

Howard Richman is GCM’s associate editor.