One of the first golf courses constructed primarily for African Americans, Langston Golf Course in Washington, D.C., has made a lasting impact on the community since it opened in 1939. But the time had come for the community to step up and make an impact on the golf course.
Langston, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1991, boasts an 18-hole facility on the northeast corridor of the District, but maintenance tasks are challenging. The course was constructed by the Department of the Interior in 1938 and the National Parks Service is the custodian of the property, meaning that all improvements must be approved by the federal government. The budget allows for only the most basic of maintenance work to be performed, even though the course logs more than 30,000 rounds annually.
That is where Dean Graves, the superintendent at Chevy Chase (Md.) Club, stepped in. A longtime member of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), Graves was brainstorming with other superintendents about a project they could celebrate during National Golf Day, which takes place on Wednesday, April 26, in Washington.
That path led him to Langston, where African-American golf pioneers such as Lee Elder, Calvin Peete and Charlie Sifford frequently played, as well as local and national celebrities, including former heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, an avid golfer who competed in United Golfers Association events there. Langston is also the longtime home of the oldest African-American women’s golf organization in the country, the Wake Robin Club, which was founded in 1937.
Graves met with Chava McKeel, director of government affairs for the GCSAA, and Kim Thomas, president of Golf Course Specialists, which manages the Langston property, to see how he could help. It didn’t take long for Graves to determine his next step.
“I looked at the short-game practice area and saw it needed a lot of work,” said Graves, who has been at Chevy Chase Club for 17 years. “Of seven bunkers in the practice area, six of them were completely grass at this point. So I thought it would be nice to do something for Langston during Black History Month.”
Graves used his contacts to recruit local vendors to donate the products, materials and time required to rebuild the bunkers, and helped take care of the required paperwork and logistics with the Department of the Interior.
It was one of the easiest recruiting jobs he has undertaken. Golf course builders McDonald and Sons provided the labor, Davisson Golf provided transportation, York Building Products provided the sand and Collins Wharf Sod Farm provided sod.
“It was a no-brainer,” said Graves. “It was nice weather, their schedule – usually in spring time, it's wet and cold and they’re behind – this year they’re getting a lot of projects done, so they had more time to donate to this project.”
The project was completed in three days, wrapping up on Feb. 22.
“The effort of Dean Graves to pull together golf industry leaders and local businesses to help restore a heavily used community golf course is not only inspiring but a model that others could adopt in their local communities,” said Elliott Dowling, a USGA agronomist for the Northeast Region. “By donating their time and resources, they are helping fill some maintenance gaps and restore this wonderful local amenity.”
As someone who helped The First Tee get established at the course, Graves has a longstanding fondness for Langston.
“For me, it’s hard to accept that there were golf courses where blacks couldn't play,” he said. “So it was very important for me to be a part of this project – to help out The First Tee, to help the community that plays this golf course, so they have a good place to practice their game and get better. It’s more than just a golf course.”
Joey Flyntz is an associate writer for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.