Nov 1, 2023 - News
Town Talker

Rock Creek Park Golf Course fixes are stuck over tree clearings

Photo: Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post via Getty Images

In Rock Creek Park, an iconic golf course was set to undergo a major renovation — that is, until, environmental advocates caught wind that 1,262 trees would be chopped.

Why it matters: The 100-acre course that opened in 1923 is a rare public jewel among Washington's exclusive country clubs.

State of play: The property has seen better days. Overgrown shrubs and years of deferred maintenance mean only 14 of the 18 holes are available to play.

  • National Links Trust wants to rescue the course. The nonprofit took it over in 2020, fixing up five holes. Its board, stacked with heavies from blue-chip companies and white-shoe firms, states its mission is to make golfing more accessible.
  • Along with Rock Creek, they're planning upgrades at East Potomac Park and Langston golf courses, all of which are on National Park Service land.

What they're saying: "It's going to change the whole focus of municipal golf in Washington," says National Links Trust board member Mark Tuohey, a D.C. mover and shaker who was once legal counsel to Mayor Muriel Bowser.

  • Their vision is financial sustainability for the facilities and to open up golfing to public schools.

Yes, but: Casey Trees, the nonprofit guardians of the city's canopy, is mobilizing after being tipped off two weeks ago about the tree situation.

  • Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton and advocates got NPS to extend its environmental assessment public comment period through Nov. 4, buying more time — and delaying the project start.
  • Council member Janeese Lewis George agrees with clearing the dead wood, but says the scope of the tree removal "goes too far."
A map of the golf courses with shaded areas showing proposed tree removals
A map of the course shows where trees are proposed to be cleared. Image courtesy of NPS

Zoom in: The golf course was always meant to be verdant — but it's gotten out of hand.

  • For example, it's hard to catch sight of the 12th hole "due to tree encroachment that has narrowed the fairway into unplayable conditions," according to an NPS report.
  • A new pollinator meadow would replace some of the removed trees. More than 19 acres of meadows and naturalized areas would be scattered.
  • The project would include a new clubhouse, create a 1-mile ecological trail loop for non-golfers, and improve irrigation.

Even accounting for all the dead and invasive trees that will be removed, 707 healthy and native trees would still be cut, says Vincent Drader of Casey Trees. The group believes there will be "profound negative effects on ecosystem services."

  • Counters Tuohey: "I don't think that's an accurate statement. There are tens of thousands of trees in the park."

If 1,200 new trees were to be planted elsewhere, that could "elicit a different reaction" from advocates, suggests Jeanne Braha, leader of the Rock Creek Conservancy.

💭 You know why golfers carry an extra pair of pants? In case they get a hole in one. Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics and power. Send me tips: [email protected].

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that Mark Tuohey is a board member for National Links Trust.


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