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Four men—each one chomping on a fat, smoldering cigar, each one brandishing an obnoxiously large driver—approach the first tee of the 18-hole public golf course on Hains Point. On this sun-drenched Friday afternoon, the foursome of black middle-aged men is in full cry, the stench of braggadocio fighting through their silk designer shirts.

“I’m going first,” shouts the brawniest in the quartet. Adjusting the brim of his Greg Norman Shark hat, he addresses his ball, takes a few seconds to review the cardinal rules—head down, eye on Titleist, please-dear-God-don’t-let-me-gag-on-this-sonofabitch-in-front-of-my-friends—and then reveals an improbable herk-‘n’-jerk swing that breaks all laws of golf and physics. But even though the guy handles the driver like Don Knotts, the result is anything but clumsy: a low-to-high beauty that soars straight for 240 yards or more. His friends nod in appreciation and golf-clap through the fog of stogie smoke.

The second player, thirsty to outmuscle his boisterous pal, takes a mighty hack at his ball, too. The result, however, includes no sound of impact, only the swiiissshhh of the club as he whiffs by a good 6 inches. The quiet remains. No one says a word. He silently re-tees and finally gets the ball away.

Scan left, 30 feet from the foursome: On the main practice green, two Capitol Hill staffers—white 20-somethings with government-issue paisley ties tucked inside Oxford shirts—spend lunch break putting for beer. They pick the longest possible shots—tricky camel rides that break every which way—and swear at themselves when they don’t hole out on the first stroke. They trash-talk like b-ballers and cough at inappropriate moments. They also cheat like hell, with subtle taps of their loafers.

Fifty yards to the west, at the double-decker driving range, a young father—followed by his pregnant wife and preschool daughter—tugs a baby carriage to the top level and commences a rhythm of escape from the daily grind: pitching wedge, 3-iron, 3-wood. When his wife—sporting a Grateful Dead tattoo on her pale ankle—gets bored, Dad lets her take a few cuts. Little Miss looks on as her mother’s bloated belly sways with each shot; Mom giggles at her awkward attempts, then pats the progeny that will soon make the family a foursome.

In a neighboring stall, two Korean men are clad in nice pants, nice shirts, nice ties. One quickly tees up the red-striped range balls; one quickly pounds the crap out of them. The only English spoken amidst their frantic, high-pitched discourse is a random, throaty “Good shot!”

It’s a pretty portrait in a place not known for its grandeur: Hains Point is really just a couple of hard rains away from being riverbed. Swampy and featureless, the nondescript courses here never show up on Golf Magazine’s Top 10 list. Still, like a wide, gaping sand trap, these links suck up a significant number of the most heinously dressed and ill-equipped golfers in the region. There may be no other place in all of Washington as subtly utopian as the homey, homely golf course on Hains Point. Show up—by yourself, with a pal, with a posse—and you’ll soon be paired up in a democratic scrum that belies golf’s rarefied lineage.

Welcome to East Potomac Park Golf Course, the most public of all public courses.

Cue the majestic blimp shot and the accompanying reverent announcer: Sprawled unabashed on Southwest D.C.’s scenic Hains Point, East Potomac is where the mixed-bag masses come with bright hopes of breaking the century mark—though most would settle for a mulligan-free 105. Designed by golf architect Robert White in 1923, East Potomac is the busiest public course in the nation’s capital and, according to manager George West, also one of the largest, “volume-wise,” on the East Coast. The National Park Service owns the deed to the land, but the operation is run privately by two men, Frank Coates and Bob Brock, who also oversee the District’s other two, more intimate, public courses, Langston and Rock Creek. On an average summer weekend, more than 1,000 folks will flock to this flag-riddled field flanked by the Washington Channel on one side and the Potomac River on the other.

Unlike the slew of private and public-but-pricey courses in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, East Potomac—one of the first area courses to allow black players—practices a chummy brand of golf you never see on ESPN: Everybody is welcome; the rounds are incredibly cheap; a first-come, first-serve setup replaces tee times; and freedom of speech is honored by the tsunami of “damn”s, “shit”s, and “dickhead”s that wash over every inch of the two separate courses, the driving range, the putting green, and even the clubhouse.

All of the social classes are well-represented at East Potomac—upper, middle, and lower; criminal, governmental, and golf-impaired—and once the glistening Beemer is parked next to the rusty Buick, social rifts smoothly morph into a common struggle against that dimpled white ball. It’s a lovely transformation, a natural commingling of race and class where the only color that truly matters is the questionable hue of your golf pants.

Forget the Mall: East Potomac, despite rain, snow, or sleet, is the area’s most cherished and utilized cultural resource. Dropping $80 on some expertly manicured course in the built-yesterday suburb of Morestarch, Va., is a blatant waste of cash for most below-average duffers. Sure, the sand traps there are more like soft beaches than gravel driveways, and it’s always a cheap thrill to name-drop a fancy course just before teeing off at the neighborhood links. But why would a bona fide hack want to shell out an enormous greens fee just to shoot 118 with a few casual do-overs?

At East Potomac, golfing in a beef-stew-stained tank top and cruddy Keds is considered par for the course. It is here, among your hooking, slicing peers, that you can play for the sheer love of the game—and the hatred of the game that inevitably ensues. You don’t head out to East Potomac to woo a client or plan a merger. You go there to eat a mustard-slathered half-smoke at 9:30 in the morning and to celebrate your almost-par on No. 9.

West, who’s been working at the course for eight years, has no trouble teeing up the proper adjective to describe his clients: “Crazy. No exaggeration. No joke. The sport takes over these golfers. I’ve seen ’em break expensive clubs out of frustration. I’ve seen ’em go at each other’s throats over a bad game. Golfers here are crazy.”

Helping oversee operations pretty much 24-seven, West praises his humble links for having “a laid-back atmosphere, where everyone is sharing the experience together. We get about 85 to 90 percent of the golf business in the metro area because we’re so relaxed.”

Relaxed. Crazy. Laid-back. Frustrated. Sort of like the game.

At 1 o’clock on a Friday afternoon, Connie and Anne are enjoying a couple of cold beers in the clubhouse. They gossip; they argue. They drink more beer. They are well into the back nine of life—ages are never uttered, but 60 is probably on the young side—and the swinging grannies have been golfing at East Potomac “for more than 20 years.”

Anne, born and raised in Staten Island, now resides in Foggy Bottom; Connie is from McLean. Both women wear floppy Gilligan hats as protection from the penetrating sun. They smile at everyone who passes by.

“We usually play together in the morning, around 9:30 or 10,” says Connie. “Today, we played the White Course.”

Busy bouncing a yellow golf ball on the uneven pavement, Anne looks up and blurts, “I got so tired on the last hole, I just picked up my bag and said, ‘The hell with it!’”

Connie laughs and sighs, “We don’t really keep score. Only on the first hole.” Then an admission and a shrug of the shoulders: “I’ve always been

a beginner.”

“Well, Connie, we have to play more to get better,” Anne says, finally pocketing the bouncing ball. “We only come out three, four, five times a year.”

“Oh, Anne, we play more than that.”

“Well, that’s what I do: I exaggerate on one end; I exaggerate on the other.”

When Anne is asked if she would mind having her picture taken, she scampers off, yelling behind her, “My first husband might find me!”

As his young sons buzz around him like nattily attired electrons, Harold Thomas has a worn-out look on his face that says maybe early lessons for the kids should have started on the putt-putt track next door—instead of the nine-hole White Course. Thomas, who lives in D.C. with his family, heads out to East Potomac “whenever I can make it,” and has just introduced his sons to the game.

Harold Jr., 8, and Enrico, 7, carry matching bags and mini-clubs, bought at a PGA store in Tysons Corner. When I tell Enrico I managed a firm 70 on the White Course just this week, he cackles and confides, “This is Harold’s first time!” The older brother doesn’t turn around; he’ll deal with Enrico later.

The direction of the clubhouse doesn’t matter much to the kids—they run ahead, run behind, just plain run around—and Harold Sr. trudges on and sighs. I don’t have the heart to ask him how he’s hitting ’em today.

Old Straw Hat is catching a breather in the shade. His chapeau is kept tight on his age-spotted melon thanks to a thick black chin strap. He peers through Buddy Holly glasses at the young men teeing off at the start of the Blue Course. He keeps his hand on the grip of his pull-cart, which holds a Wilson golf bag that could be older than he is. I want to ask him about Gene Sarazen, the Squire, the inventor of the sand wedge, the 1922 U.S. Open champion, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 97. Instead, I just ask him how his game is coming along.

“You gotta go quite a ways to be as bad as me,” Old Straw Hat says. “I just come out here for

the exercise.”

East Potomac’s centerpiece is the wide-open Blue Course, an 18-hole, 6,261-yard, par-72 ordeal of mossy fairways, ulcer-inducing rough, and schizophrenic greens—although most are a shade closer to brown—that turn fast-slow-stop with no respect for reason. On a weekend afternoon, when the grounds resemble an ant-infested picnic, the Blue Course—which costs $16.50 weekdays, $22.50 weekends—will take up close to six hours of your time (not counting the hour you’ll undoubtedly have to wait to tee off).

On Big Blue, most golfers sling cheap bags over sore shoulders in lieu of using a cart. Why bother? If you lose a ball in the godforsaken rough, don’t panic: You’ll find someone else’s long-forgotten Top-Flite soon enough. The active groundskeepers do their best to keep on top of the spread, but all their efforts can’t stop rampant weeds and a barrage of odd detritus—blue-crab shells, soiled condoms, empty 40s of St. Ides—from sending you head-down into the rule book. (Let’s see, ball wedged against a crusty Trojan? Is that a free drop?)

On a wet Saturday morning, Rick and Anthony muckwomp through a bog on the way to the Blue Course’s 12th-hole tee box. After 11 holes of double-bogey golf, these two young black men have just now revealed themselves to be family: the White brothers.

“Pretty funny, huh?” says the thin, sweet Anthony, shrugging his shoulders and tossing stray dreadlocks from his face. “The Whites?”

Waggling his driver and waiting impatiently for the foursome in front of them—including the intolerable Mr. Pinkie—to pick up and move on, the stocky, cocky Rick peers through the fog of a just-sparked Newport and smiles back at his younger sib.

With his white Nike ballcap (with blue Tiger swoosh), white golf sweater, and bag of fancy sticks—OK, so the grimy jeans ain’t exactly Augusta—Rick, 27, is a “golf junkie” who has traversed the Blue Course here at East Potomac “about 100 times.” (“We’re thinking of playing 36 today,” he boasts.) He knows almost every swale, dip, and divot on this exaggerated lawn, and before each hole, Rick always imparts a helpful hint: “This one’s about 30 yards short today, ’cause we’re playing with a temporary green.” Of course, being an East Potomac regular doesn’t prevent him from slicing a beauty closer to the Potomac than the pin, but he always seems to know that “you should come at the green from the left.”

When the dreadlocked Anthony, 23, crosses a green, shrinks down into a wobbly crouch, and studies a disheartening lie, the sun engulfs him from behind and casts the peculiar shadow of Medusa lining up for a birdie. He is dressed in a long-sleeved blue shirt, grubby jeans, and run-down running shoes. His bag of clubs is a mixed salad of old and older; his ball is a red-striped driving-range disaster. And for most of the day—even though bad shots outnumber good shots 20 to 1—he won’t stop grinning.

(OK, time for a quick disclosure: Despite the bulk of hours I spend watching and playing golf, I wouldn’t be able to keep my head down if there were a bowling ball tied around my neck. I chili-dip the pitching wedge; I get the yips with the putter; and don’t even mention my driver, which I only go to once the round has officially become a nightmare. I’ve never had the luxury of leaning knock-kneed over a $20 tap-in and winning free Buds back in the clubhouse. When I golf with my friends—two-man teams, $5 holes, best player gets me—I’m not a threat; I’m an ATM.)

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Mother Nature let loose a sleep-jarring storm the evening prior—spotting the course with myriad impromptu ponds—and she looks primed for a repeat rainfall in a matter of seconds. As if the threat of a shower weren’t enough, in the group ahead is the dreaded, awful Mr. Pinkie, who takes 15 practice cuts before each shot—then craps out a stinker anyway. Repeat practice, repeat shot, repeat dud. The man’s got a bad case of the laterals, but he probably blames it on the wind. No one likes a Mr. Pinkie—especially at a joint like East Potomac.

So Rick and Anthony and their two playing partners play hurry-up-and-wait and fill the downtime with that friendly, self-deprecating sort of chatter that evolves when weekend twosomes pair up at the public course and enter battle together as strangers. Rick—the type of guy who’ll graciously guide someone’s putt with an earnest “Get in there, you mother!”—is a small-business lawyer. He lives in a Southwest D.C. high-rise that leans over the waterfront and, a little farther to the west, the golf course. No matter what topic of conversation is thrown at him, Rick always segues back to the game—and the course—he cherishes.

Anthony goes to Howard University and is slowly becoming as addicted to pasture pool as his overboard brother. His personality shines through his awkward game: When he rips a worm-burner that fails to outdistance the ladies’ tees, he doesn’t cuss or kick or stomp; he simply twirls his club clumsily and laughs off his beginner’s ways. Anthony has also brought a flask to the course today. And that is a pro move in any league.

“I brought a little something for the nerves,” Anthony informs Rick while walking up the fairway on the fifth. He pats his bag and gives a thumbs-up.

“What’d you bring? Cognac?”

“Oh yeah. Some Remy. In the flask.”

Later, on the 14th, when someone in his foursome smokes a 3-wood blast dead solid perfect up the middle of the fairway—that would be me, oddly enough—Rick is the first to extend a hand: “You got a hold of that one, cuz! You boomed that!” Rick then reaches into his brother’s bag and says, “How about a shot to celebrate?”

And there is Anthony’s silver flask, chilled and dewed, dented and chipped. And on that unassuming East Potomac trophy, engraved on an oval plate of gold, are two simple words:

“One Drop.”

A grandfather, a father, and a son are about to tee off on their neighborhood golf course when the starter mumbles that a fourth player will be arriving shortly. The men wait and grumble for 10 minutes before a beautiful redheaded woman strolls up to their group, pulls on a red glove, and says she’s ready to play. Gesturing dumbly, with mouths agape, the men allow her to hit first, and hit she does: a sumptuous smack, straight down the fairway, maybe 220 yards out. She’s a ringer, and the men—as men will do—instantly fall in love.

She consistently outplays the grandfather, father, and son all day, and by the time the foursome arrives at the 18th green, the redhead, for the first time in her life, is one stroke away from breaking 80. But it won’t be easy: She’s looking at a 15-foot putt, a tough read with a curious break.

The woman steps back, smiles at the men, and says, “OK, boys, I have a deal for you. I will make wild, passionate love to the man who can give me the best advice on this putt.”

Immediately, the son falls to the ground, eyes the lie, and says, “It’s definitely breaking to the left.”

The father follows suit, bumps his kid out of the way, and says, “It’s definitely breaking to the right.”

The grandfather stays standing, smiles at the redhead, and says, “I’d call it a gimme.”

—joke overheard on the third hole of the White Course

If the 18-hole Blue Beast is considered too crowded or too daunting, people drag their bags over to the adjoining nine-hole, 2,505-yard, par-34 White Course—the first course built at East Potomac—where hole length averages 300 yards (and on the weekends, even the abbreviated loop still takes almost four hours to play).

A beefy guy with an Izod shirt three sizes too small and his patient girlfriend play “best ball” here—although when neither shot is considered “best” they just slip ball in pocket and keep strolling. The White Course—$11 weekdays, $15 weekends—may not offer the full challenge of a complete 18, but the view can be spectacular: Along with longer holes that offer splendid vistas of the Washington Channel and the Potomac River, most of the layout has been orchestrated with a full appreciation of the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the Capitol. No one is immune to the star-spangled chills induced by strolling through such spectacular federal iconography. Let’s see them conjure that kind of patriotism out at Congressional.

A second nine-hole course, the Red, which was once a smaller version of the White, is being converted into a 12-hole “executive” setup, slated to open later this summer. The three additional holes—10, 11, and 12—will be used by the Capitol City Golf School, which issues inexpensive lessons out of a rickety trailer on the premises.

Four wide, well-tended practice greens—actually the greenest greens on the entire property—front both the clubhouse and the driving range. Be sure not to bring your wedge near one of these greens, or you’re bound to get reprimanded—and not by a starter or a house pro. “That’s right, keep chipping, boys,” says a pot-bellied regular to two ill-attired young men one morning. “Those ‘No Chipping’ signs are only for the rest of us. They don’t apply to you.” He shakes his head with disgust, then falls back into his sloppy cheeseburger.

The practice greens are where East Potomac’s stiffest gambling action can be found, although numerous warnings are wedged into the turf prohibiting wagering of any kind (“No Competitive Putting on This Green”). But don’t let the signs fool you: Betting on putts—not to mention every other facet of the game—happens at every municipal course.

“Once upon a time we had gambling, but we put a stop to that,” West contends, adding a story about some gentlemen a few years back who used to wager $2,000 to $3,000 on a single putt. “They’d write personal checks and IOUs—and then come right back the next day for another ass-whuppin’.”

“There are five or six guys who still come here just to bet on putting,” says one employee, who wishes to remain nameless—maybe for fear of being frozen out of the pool. “They’ll bet three, four hundred dollars. For some guys, it’s like a full-time job. They just come here to gamble.”

The multi-tiered driving range is probably the cheapest and most relaxed of its kind around: 100 tees, $4 for a bucket, shirts optional. The kid with the ratty “Newport With Pleasure” T-shirt looks bored as he hands you a token for balls. The simulated fairway is an ugly patchwork of yellow and green stretches of Astroturf, making the area look like a bombed-out driving-school track. And every other minute, another deafening 727 jets off from National Airport. It’s a nice sound effect when you finally unleash a beauty.

A scrawny red fox makes a mad dash across the driving range one weekend morning, and immediately the red-striped balls stop dropping. A look down the line shows dozens of golfers with clubs resting on shoulders and eyes watching the misplaced wildlife with amazement. The guys who run the ball-retrieval trucks aren’t as considerate: They lob ball after ball at the poor critter, then hop into their menacing vehicles and take off after him. Before it gets ugly, the fox turns on the speed and runs out the other side of the range.

The golfers commence hitting again, but now most of the balls are aimed right at those rumbling range trucks.

East Potomac is the type of place where most golfers leave their games on the driving range. You can knock the bejesus out of that last practice ball with your 3-wood, but swinging the same club from the first tee on the Blue Course, you somehow flop your initial cut 20 yards into a shrub.

“The average golfer here is probably a 15-handicapper and up,” says Shaun Kirby, 29, who helps run the driving range and sports a swing as soft and pure as a Sunday hymn. “These are your average hackers.”

Built like a Laguna surfer and showing off a play-all-day tan to match, Kirby claims East Potomac is “the only golf course in D.C., really. Everyone comes here. They don’t want to go out to the suburbs.” (Although our golf-obsessed president has never let ’em fly at East Potomac, “Bob Hope used to play here and at Langston when he was in town,” Kirby adds proudly.)

No matter how well you’re hitting them, the best part of teeing off at the range is the constant trade wind of grease and beef and potato wedges that wafts in from the clubhouse. Sharing half of the quaint, neoclassical main building with a wannabe pro shop, the eatery looks like what it is: a clubhouse where no one pays dues. Unfortunate golf art adorns the walls. The hard benches are

an ugly fast-food orange. Limited oxygen mixes with sweet saturated fats. And hoarse, amplified order calls mingle with the starter’s drone for who’s got next.

The draft beer is cold—real cold—and cheap—cheap enough. A thick half-smoke, grilled crisp on the outside and juicy on the inside, and a plastic cup of suds will run you a little more than $3. In the men’s room, there is a questionable shower—and some lockers without locks—but you don’t want to walk barefoot in this john or you’ll be taking home more than a bad score.

When all is hooked and sliced, the truth becomes evident: East Potomac is more like a dog track where people happen to play golf.

Fran Sneider of Bethesda “started golfing as a kid, stopped, 25 years ago started again, stopped, and now I’ve been playing for the last three or four years.” She refuses to let the game knock her out for good. No, when she starts feeling low about a blown putt or a bladed chip, she just looks down at the colorful fuzzy puppy heads covering her clubs. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a round seem like a great walk made better.

She’s hitting farther and straighter lately, a phenomenon she credits to “modern ball structure”—jargon is as much a part of golf as divots—and the “excellent” golf school at East Potomac. When I ask her about her choice of links, she switches to a different kind of argot:

“I love the diversity here, all of these different kinds of people.”

I feel a hug coming on, but then Sneider quickly adds, “I also come here because you don’t have to make a tee time.”

Three middle-aged men sit on a bench on the clubhouse deck and—in between generous sips of Budweiser and puffs on El Producto Blunts—talk their own version of modern ball structure.

“You gotta get Precepts. Precepts stick.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m big off the tee with Precepts. Big off the tee.”

“No, no, no: I don’t like the roll with Precepts. Growing legs and all.”

This discussion will continue for quite some time—or at least until the Bud runs out.

“Hey, could I get a cigarette from one of you two? These guys don’t smoke.”

Adam is wearing tight blue athletic shorts—the 10th-grade-gym-teacher kind of shorts that you never want to stare at too closely—and a ball cap boasting of the pricey Goose Creek course out in Northern Virginia. He says East Potomac is a “forgiving course. Lots of room,” and then pulls out his driver. His first shot is PGA perfect; his second shot squirts helplessly into the rough.

Bummed cigarette dangling from his lips, Adam goes searching for his ball. He may be wearing a Goose Creek hat, but he definitely owns an East Potomac game.

A cabbie and a passenger do the loop around Dupont Circle. With a bulky golf bag on his lap, the passenger gives a simple direction:

“I need to go to the golf course at Hains Point, please.”

“Hiney Point? I do not know Hiney Point.”

“Hains Point? The golf course? East Potomac Park?”

“Is that where the Park Police are?”

“Yeah, and the miniature golf course and the pool.”

“Near the Jefferson Memorial?”

“That’s the place!”

“Oh, I haven’t been there in seven years.”

“Well then, this must be your lucky day.”

It is the hottest day of the year—temps are averaging a turgid 92 degrees—but Michael Sieverts has been granted a reprieve from the wife and kids. His decision is easy: Screw the heat; it’s time for nine.

Due to the oppressive weather and the Memorial Day weekend, Sieverts, a policy analyst at the National Science Foundation, has the Blue Course pretty much to himself. Besides a tan shirt and some baggy shorts, he wears a white floppy hat, a beige utility belt for tees and balls, and a black knee brace. At the end of his putter is a plastic suction doodad for retrieving balls from the cup. He smiles: “My kids give me this stuff.” Yeah, sure, pal.

Sieverts, who looks like an average white sitcom dad, has a controlled, laid-back game; he may not knock ’em stiff from 200 out, but he rarely disappears on a brush safari. He appreciates East Potomac because of its bumps and bruises, and, while dodging a sprinkler stream on the first fairway, sums up the experience like this:

“This is golf heaven, really. People come out here and play together like they should.”

After saying this, the golfer blushes a bit, as if he has just coughed up a cheeseball line from some Aaron Spelling-produced movie of the week. But Sieverts shouldn’t be embarrassed at all. He’s right. And I really want to hug him, too, but I’m afraid the utility belt might come between us.

Cue that closing blimp shot, with the announcer now speaking in hushed greenside tones: As the course succumbs to long, late-afternoon shadows, a lone East Potomac golfer puts his bulky bag over his right shoulder and starts walking to his apartment in Dupont Circle. He strolls through the parking lot and stares with envy—for this walk is not a short one—as fellow duffers drop sticks in trunks and trundle off into better-putts-next-time denouement.

He walks along the waterfront and uses his putter to knock random fish parts back into the channel. Taking one last look at East Potomac—that blessed carnival of hacks—he’s instantly overcome by a vicious darkness: Today is Sunday, tomorrow is work, and the golf course is well behind him.

He wants to go back. Maybe just to sit in the shade with Old Straw Hat. Maybe just to toss back another one with Connie and Anne. Maybe just to stave off Monday. But he keeps walking.

In the distance is the Jefferson Memorial, and when the lone golfer reaches 14th Street, he crosses the thoroughfare and joins the myriad tourists in their stroll around the Tidal Basin. He passes a down-on-his-luck fisherman, stoop-shouldered and miserable. The golfer waves; the fisherman doesn’t wave back.

Three hellions on knobby-tired 10-speeds wait behind him for a red light; their snickers at the guy with the sticks are snot-filled and mean—the first bad buzz he’s had all day. In a dusty field across from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, a dozen pale, thin white guys play the most gentle game of rugby on record. They stop to look at this strange man with his hand-me-down clubs.

And his bag, with the twisted carry-strap rubbing his shoulder raw, gets that much heavier.

Shuffling through large puddles of schoolchildren—each and every one dressed in a bright red T-shirt and gawking at everything except what they’re supposed to be looking at—the golfer catches his first glimpse of the Mall. And what he sees is not a celebration of people, but a fairway, a long par-5 with lots of questionably dressed hazards. He turns and grins at the people stuck inside a broken-down Tourmobile. Then he walks into the thick of the mob, the middle of the Mall.

And his bag gets that much lighter.

From the Washington Monument to the Museum of Natural History to Freedom atop the sun-kissed dome: He needs a 3-wood, a 5-iron, a pitching wedge, and the putter. A makable birdie, even by Hains Point standards.

And the solitary golfer thinks this: Today is Sunday, tomorrow is still a goddamn workday, but I’ve just hit the perfect drive onto the lush Capitol lawn without drilling one tourist in the head. Next time, the lone golfer will bring a flask. CP

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Photographs by Darrow Montgomery.