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145 acres. 18 holes. And a setting so peaceful, you could almost forget the racial injustices that black golfers conquered all those years ago. Langston Golf Course is among the nation’s earliest integrated golf courses, and it is a long-standing haven for D.C. residents. Now, as it becomes the subject of a national bidding war, patrons and neighbors fear change for the beloved course.
“Langston is not like what it used to be,” says Adrian Stewart. He is a former player at Langston, and when he was a youth he participated in the junior golf leagues and tournaments once offered at the facility. “Langston had that feeling of going to your grandparents’ house. You ate good food, heard great stories, and could always find the older cats sharing their wisdom there with young people.”
But those days are becoming a distant memory for golfers and residents alike. After years of mismanagement and inconsistent operation, the famous black golf course is open to a long-term investor to upgrade and operate Langston. The National Park Service is taking a competitive route to leasing the course. It released a request for information (RFI) for Langston—bundling it with East Potomac Tennis Center, East Potomac Golf Course, and Rock Creek Golf Course—in October, with applications due this week, in the middle of the government shutdown, as it turns out.
The Federal City Council, a D.C. nonprofit that’s been working on economic growth in the city since the 1950s, was previously in talks with the NPS about refurbishing the course. The two groups had signed a letter of intent in June 2017 to negotiate a permanent lease for the Federal City Council to improve and manage this urban parkland. According to the letter, the partnership could “result in a multi-million-dollar renovation of three dilapidated golf courses and a tennis center in the District.” However, the NPS ended all negotiations with the Federal City Council in late October 2018. The NPS has yet to comment on why they switched to a competitive bidding process.
“If we had remained on the process and the time limit we’d been on, we certainly planned to engage directly with the community as soon as we were nearing signing that lease, but we’re on a different path now,” says Emeka Moneme, deputy executive director of the Federal City Council. Moneme says he can’t speak for why the NPS changed gears.
The Federal City Council anticipates there will be other operators and investors interested in the Langston project, but the nonprofit still wants the lease and is confident in its work. “We spent a lot of time developing it, so we feel comfortable competing for it. We will put together a team which we’ve been talking to, and we will pursue the solicitation,” says Moneme.
Located in the northeast quadrant of D.C., residents from the Carver and Langston Terrace communities say they want the golf course restored to its original grandeur, back to empowering African-American golfers and cultivating community. “This was the mecca of black golf on the east coast. [It drew] not only the golfers but black entertainers. Langston brought everybody together. Now, the fear is change,” says Ernest Andrews, longtime patron and professional golf instructor at the facility. “As long as the name doesn’t change,” says Andrews, who wants to see the course’s legacy preserved.
A generational mainstay, Langston continues to be vital to younger members of the community. A 17-year-old golfer and high school senior, Lauren Artis, has genuine hopes for its improvement. “I wish conditions were a lot better. It feels like they don’t care about the golf course,” says Artis. Like many, she started coming to Langston young and began to learn the sport. She now has a full ride to Hampton University because of her golf skills and achievements at Langston. “I hope they move in a direction that actually benefits the golf course and the other facilities, not just for getting the money,” says Artis.
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NPS will create a formal solicitation for the lease and improvement of the three D.C. golf courses and tennis facility based on responses to the RFI. Qualified respondents to any future proposals for this lease will have to provide documentation of appropriate experience in golf course management.
Katie Liming, an NPS spokesperson, didn’t comment on what ended talks between the NPS and Federal City Council, or what compelled the federal agency to release the request for information. In response to questions (before the government shutdown), she wrote, “The courses currently have limited amenities and need substantial capital investments. The NPS has determined that a competitive lease for the management of the courses will ensure the best deal for the American people and the best possible recreational experience for visitors.” (NPS did not respond to recent follow-up questions. A spokesperson working during the shutdown says that Liming is on furlough. The working spokesperson explains that she can’t answer any of City Paper’s questions because she is an “intermediate” employee during the shutdown.)
Langston is thus far open during the government shutdown, though the NPS hasn’t released a statement on the status of its RFI submission process. The current concession holder, Golf Course Specialists, tells City Paper that it has extended its concessions contract “through the 2020 golf season.” GCS is responsible for managing the Clubhouse and the Grille, or food and beverages, at Langston.
But Langston regulars question what will happen in the long term, and whether the current process is stalled. The NPS issued one extension for the RFI before the government shutdown even began. “It’s been closed a handful of times, too. They didn’t have a contract,” says Andrews. When no concession contract is in place, operations can come to a standstill.
Mayor Muriel Bowser wrote a letter in 2017 to the White House recommending that President Donald Trump and the government “transfer or extend the lease for the long term, while also removing restrictions from future use,” on landmarks like Langston. “[We can] transform to create and preserve green space, add much-needed housing and retail, include a sports and/or entertainment purpose and above all generate jobs for our residents and the region,” she wrote. But is this what the community wants?
Langston opened its gates in 1939. Over time, it became a center for enrichment programs for at-risk youth, employed community members, and increased the feeling of safety in the area. “[Langston] gave me something to do that helped me stay out of trouble; to compete and have fun while learning golf meant a lot to me as a kid,” says Stewart. He fondly remembers visiting the course’s after-school tutoring center, the computer lab, participating in community giveaways, applying to college scholarships there, and enjoying trips—one being an annual trip to the Bahamas for a junior golf tournament. “It made Langston become another home for a lot of kids, including myself,” says Stewart.
Things changed when a popular acting president, James “Jimmy” Garvin, was named in a bribery scandal with former D.C. Councilmember Harry L. Thomas Jr. in early 2012. “When I left everything ceased,” says Garvin. He was one of five people to plead guilty to charges following a federal investigation of over $350,000 in taxpayer money—previously allocated for the arts, youth recreation, and summer programs—funneled through nonprofits into Thomas’ hands. Garvin was a principal at one of those organizations, the Langston 21st Century Foundation, and he ultimately pleaded guilty to concealing and failing to report Thomas’ theft. For these reasons, Langston’s community operations came to a screeching halt.
“When Mr. Garvin was there, the golf course would come to the neighborhood and pick up the kids by the busload and take them different places to do different things. He was the backbone of Langston,” says Shirley Richardson, an 80-year-old Langston Terrace resident and a past associate of the golf course. She served 22 years as a board member on the Langston Terrace youth program, collaborating on numerous projects with Garvin. “You can’t expect [them to bring back] what we did back in the day,” says Richardson. With a tumultuous past and an uncertain future weighing on the Carver and Langston Terrace communities, Langston Golf Course supporters face this reality with heavy hearts.
“Right now, Langston has only benefited because of the name, but we’re talking about the people. The people here are not benefitting,” says Clarence Miles, a self-titled Langston Terrace “community navigator” and director of the nonprofit youth program Uniting Our Youth. Miles worked with the golf course during Garvin’s presidency and hasn’t visited since his departure. Miles declines to discuss why collaborations have ended between the golf course and Uniting Our Youth. Rather, he talks about what the community needs and wants from a potential long-term agreement.
“We want to get people some jobs, create scholarships for the people here so they can go to college,” says Miles. “If we’re talking about a long-time project, then the people need to benefit from it.”