This week is the final Quicken Loans National in the Washington D.C. area before it moves onward to Detroit Golf Club, where property developer and Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert will be able to further promote his mission of urban renewal. We'll bid adieu to the D.C. collection of posh area clubs that have hosted the event in years past, from Congressional to Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms.
The Beltway is certainly one of the better-stocked parts of the country for elite private clubs, which makes sense given the amount of money and influence that pours through the nation's capital. But examining the public golf scene, D.C. leaves quite a bit to be desired. Given how tourist-friendly its attractions are and how thoroughly planned out the city was, golf - or at least an accessible version of it - is pretty disappointing.
East Potomac Park is the city's most historic public facility (with an 18-hole course and two 9-hole courses) and one that has seen better days. I played it years ago and the setting is pretty surreal, with what feels like a steady stream of helicopters flying congressmen back and forth from the capitol to Reagan airport across the river, and the Washington Monument serving as an iconic backdrop. The course itself is pretty featureless at this point and regarded to get pretty swampy. It may be convenient for those in the city in need of a quick loop, but in its current state it's tough to get excited about. Langston and Rock Creek round out the muni (but owned by the National Parks Service) options in the district.
What D.C. lacks in great munis it fills the void at least partially with its Department of Defense courses, but public access to these base courses can fluctuate. Andrews Air Force Base has added online tee times in recent years to MiltaryTeeTimes.com and provides 54 holes.
Otherwise, your best bet is playing relatively new semi-private residential courses in a suburb of Virginia or Maryland. Destination Hotels' Lansdowne Resort is a fine stay-and-play option about an hour from the Capitol (but requires a resort stay).
An examination of the Top 10 courses within 30 miles of D.C. based on Golf Advisor reviews shows few standouts, but Westfields Golf Course, Little Bennett and Hampshire Greens appear to be satisfying area golfers the most at present.
Los Angeles is another city where it's tough to get too excited as a public golfer. Besides the showy Trump National and Terranea's scenic par 3 in Palos Verdes, and perhaps the chance to find a bargain Gil Hanse design at Rustic Canyon to the northwest, the rest of the public offerings are generally short courses and munis most notable for their poor pace of play.
New York City residents can hang their hat on the 90-hole Bethpage State Park complex on Long Island, but other than that there are very few golf courses in the five boroughs. (How many more landfills can be converted into park space ala Ferry Point, anyways?)
One city on the Eastern Seaboard recently announced a big step forward for public golf. Philadelphia, home to an A-list roster of privates, will turn over its historic and maligned Cobb's Creek muni to a non-profit foundation that will extensively renovate it and Karakung Golf Course.
Similar plans (complete with Congressional hyperbole) have been kicked around in D.C. for its munis, even considering creating a PGA Tour-worthy venue, but as D.C. residents know too well, the combination of federal and municipal entities in respect to funding and direction of parks or landmarks can often lead to serious logjams.
There are cities with reputations for punching above their weight with public golf. San Francisco not only has stellar golf in its core with Presidio and TPC Harding Park (and the potential of Sharp Park), but the greater Bay Area has enjoyed serious upgrades at Baylands Links and Corica Park. Chicago has a solid mix of privately-owned daily fee facilities - highlighted by 72-hole Cog Hill - plus various county-owned and municipal facilities.
Municipalities throughout the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex have built new - or renovated courses in the last decade or so. The City of Dallas' renovation of historic Stevens Park by Colligan Golf being chief among them.
The PGA Tour has recently announced moves to Minneapolis and Detroit, two Midwest cities with an abundance of options for public golfers. The possible move of the Houston Open to Memorial Park via Houston Astros owner Jim Crane is another example of a city with plenty of affordable golf for the masses.
Meanwhile, D.C. and L.A. strike me as two metros that have among the greatest disparity between public and private golf. Given the fact undeveloped land is so sparse in both, it's tough to really see things ever changing.
But maybe one day East Potomac - or perhaps one of the three Andrews AFB courses - will get a major update and get golfers excited about golf in the capital.