Golf Course Architecture - Issue 56: April 2019

50 all the way up to the Old course at St Andrews. But the nineteenth century golf boom was largely driven by private clubs, as would-be golfers banded together to create a venue for their sport. And, as golf began its spread around the world, that spread was a top-down rather than a bottom-up process. The first golfers, and the first clubs, in most new locations, were affluent and posh. It was only after golf had been established in a location for a time that less well off individuals discovered the game – largely, in the first instance, through caddying. Municipal golf, which started to come along at the end of the nineteenth century, proved to be a success in both Britain and America. Many millions of golfers got their first taste of the game on a muni, and they were a cash cow for the local authorities that ran them. Unfortunately, the golf building boom of the late twentieth and very MUNI CI PAL GOL F In the first few years of the twentieth century, Washington DC had developed a master plan for the area that is now the Mall, building on Pierre L’Enfant’s design for a grand public space within the city (this was called the McMillan Plan – Olmstead, Daniel Burnham and many other big names were part of the commission that put together the plan). The Mall and its surrounding area is actually a national park called Potomac Park. The McMillan Plan split the park into two sections: West Potomac Park would be the national gathering space which now houses the monumental core of the city (Washington Monument, all the major memorials, the Smithsonian Museums, etc); East Potomac Park was set aside as a site for locals to enjoy active recreation. The idea was to build a municipal recreation facility at East Potomac Park that could be a model for the rest of the country to follow and of a standard that it would complement the monuments it shared space with. The first component of East Potomac Park to be built was the golf course and the city hired Walter Travis to design it. I should note that East Potomac Park exists on a man-made peninsula in the Potomac River and the land is relatively flat. Turning that potential weakness on its head, Travis designed a reversible course (the first nine – A/B – opened in 1920 and the second – B/C – in 1923). Travis’s design was replete with three-ten foot elevation changes, contoured greens and a complex, highly strategic bunkering scheme. The reversibility, scale of the contouring, wild greens and numerous hazards make it impossible to imagine that Travis wasn’t inspired by St Andrews. The original 18-hole course was extremely popular and well regarded. It hosted the second ever USGA Public Links in 1923. It routinely did more than 100,000 nine-hole rounds per year and was so popular that William Flynn was brought in to build an additional nine holes – the E/F course – which was also reversible. The original course, and the facility in general, has deteriorated since the 1930s despite remaining extremely popular. The original Travis design is mostly gone, though some details remain here and there throughout the property. The course’s deterioration comes down to two major factors. First, the National Park Service, which owns the course, is not set up to manage golf courses. The NPS used a concessions system that essentially limited golf course operators to leases of no more than seven years at a time, which precluded major infrastructure investments on the property. Second, the standardisation of design in the 1940s to 60s was not kind to Travis’s unique design – it was during this time that the reversibility was abandoned and changes were made to the course to facilitate one-way play. What’s left over from an architectural perspective is pretty bland and uninteresting, but the facility itself is full of character and, in my opinion, one of the great places in golf. Travis’s reversible masterpiece Mike McCartin describes the possible restoration of East Potomac Park “The original Travis design is mostly gone, though some details remain here and there”