- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

PLAY EAST POTOMAC PARK

You’ve always been meaning to play one of the in-town courses. You’ve heard others talk about historic Langston or tranquil Rock Creek Park. But it’s Hains Point that has always intrigued you. Built on a sliver of land jutting into the Potomac River between Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and downtown, East Potomac Park, commonly known as Hains Point, has views of the downtown monuments and power buildings and the majesty of planes taking off and landing.

The land could be one of the world’s great courses, but tearing up Hains Point and rebuilding it would be a political process more complex than tax reform. So play Hains Point for what it is - a neat little in-town course where you’re as likely to get paired with a top congressional aide as a night watchman. And enjoy the scenery.

CATCH A GLIMPSE OF THE WHITE HOUSE PUTTING GREEN

The White House is one of two places where you could historically discover summertime golf intrigue - but maybe not this summer. President Bush gave up golf in 2003, saying, “I don’t want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the commander in chief playing golf.”

The White House putting green is just outside the Oval Office to the southeast. Ike had it built, but he had difficulty keeping the squirrels (which Harry Truman had nearly tamed by hand-feeding them) from burying nuts in the green. Most modern presidents have been avid golfers, and the green has been maintained by most presidents.

CHECK OUT THE FIRST TEE PROGRAM WITH A KID

The First Tee of Washington, D.C., introduces young people in the city to the game and helps them develop character. The program is based at historic Langston Golf Course, across the street from RFK Stadium. There, the program uses a new putting and chipping area, the driving range and the course. The First Tee also operates at East Potomac Park.

As participants become certified and ready to play golf, they get a card that entitles them to discounts at both facilities along with Rock Creek Park Golf Course. In the future, the First Tee of Washington, D.C., hopes to build a nine-hole kids’ course for the program.

The Washington chapter started in 1999 with 75 kids. Executive director Scott Allen, who along with life skills coordinator John Garner came on board in 2001, says participation has jumped dramatically the past several years.

“The first year I was here, we only had about 200 kids because we had to shut the fall session down due to the sniper scare,” he says. “After that, we had about 350 for two years in a row. We had 700 kids in ‘05, 1,500 in ‘07. We could have close to 2,000 this year. There are plenty of kids in the District and the surrounding areas that can benefit from programs like ours.”

IMPROVE INDOORS

Indoor golf fitness and practice never felt cooler than at Clubgolf Performance Center, located right off I-270 at the Rio Center in Gaithersburg. A proven approach and a state-of-the-art facility, Clubgolf combines video analysis, specialized fitness training and private lessons with an indoor practice center to put a year-round focus on your game.

Clubgolf will design a customized performance program to take your game to the next level. For those who insist on the sun, however, Clubgolf has teamed with Blue Mash Golf Course in Olney to allow members access to its grass range and short-game facility.

REACQUAINT YOURSELF WITH SOME GOOD COURSES

The advent of upscale golf has diminished the crowds at some old close-in favorites. Fewer players, some renovations and better maintenance have improved places like Northwest Park in Wheaton, Falls Road in Potomac, Reston National in Reston and Penderbrook in Fairfax to the point where they are fun to play again. Tee times are easier to get since the days of lining up at 3 a.m. for a Saturday morning round are long gone.

PLAY NINE

We’re usually not big on half-rounds, but at Hilltop Golf Club in Alexandria, it’s a perfect fit. The course is the best nine-holer in the area thanks to the design work of Lindsay Ervin (Queenstown, Hog Neck, Old South). Built on a trash dump, the course has a bit of a Scottish links flavor. From its highest points, it has great views for an urban course.

PLAY NINE HOLES WHILE COVERING JUST 15 ACRES

Georgetown Preparatory School on Rockville Pike in Bethesda always has had a nine-hole course. It used to spread across 60 acres but thanks to a redesign by Joe Hills has been condensed to just 15. The course is just outside the Capital Beltway.

The “precious land” design features seven artfully crafted and buffered green complexes, a driving range that shares part of the course and a short-game development area. It sounds cramped, but somehow it all works. With the cost of land these days, the course might become the blueprint for future space-saving, urban designs.

VIEW SOME NATIONAL GOLF TREASURES

The Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History is under renovation until the fall, but upon reopening you can see a few notable golf-related exhibits. In the Presidential wing, you’ll be able to get an insight into why “We Like Ike” still to this day. In various places throughout the building you can see reminders of Ike’s passion for the links. Displays include Eisenhower’s golf bag with covered woods in it, iron covers and three of his tees; an original artwork from a 1954 newspaper cartoon depicting him “hitting the free world towards peace,” a notation of Eisenhower having had the first putting green installed on the White House lawn in 1953; a mention of a hole-in-one he had; and a photo of him playing golf in Baja, Calif., two years after leaving office.

TRY A DIFFERENT KIND OF GOLF GAME

TopGolf USA in Kingstowne, Va., just a few minutes from the Capital Beltway, is more than just golf - it’s a meet-and-greet bonanza. Kick back with a beer and some friends where technology meets tradition. TopGolf is a sports entertainment complex where anyone can come out and compete or just come out and relax.

There are 76 “golf suites” for up to five players, and the facility features patio and cafe dining, a conference room with an adjacent private patio for up to 30, a large pro shop, a golf academy and 36 holes of mini golf on its mountain and desert courses.

HELP OUR TROOPS IMPROVE THEIR GAMES

A driving range at Camp Victory in Baghdad is in need of donated golf equipment. Clean out that garage, and you’ll probably find a club or two that no longer makes its way into your bag. The range was spearheaded by Lakewood (Rockville) CC member Bruce Riddle and his son-in-law, Steven Labows, a Navy officer on a one-year assignment in Iraq. Donations can be made through guru@myclubguru.com.

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