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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Five Golf Courses That Hurt the Region

I was going to make another Top 10 this week on Top 10 golf courses that are ruining our urban fabric. I'm not a golfer, but I tried to be objective about this. I understand that people will want to golf, if I may generalize for a moment, the people who want to golf tend to have a little more pull then the people who aren't golfing.

There are always going to be lots of golf courses nearby because there are going to be a lot of well-to-do (and I'm sure plenty of middle class) folks that want them there. I searched long and hard, thinking I'd have a laundry list of golf courses that need to be nixed. Fact is, I only found five of them, and I believe two of them are public! Three of them are in Montgomery County and two of them are in DC. These five courses are disastrous to the urban fabric of the city:

5. Langston Golf Course, Northeast DC
As if the Anacostia River wasn't cut off from the city enough, Langston Golf Course sits on the western shore of the river north of Benning Road. I imagine a riverfront park that could offer more activities to engage the communities in that part of town. In addition to being a waste of valuable riverfront space in the city, a golf course doesn't seem appropriate for the surrounding communities of Carver-Langston, Kingman Park, Trinidad, Mayfair, and River Terrace. That's not a commentary on the demographics of the neighborhoods. I simply think that this much land in the middle of several neighborhoods of urban density should be able to serve more than a few dozen people at a time.

4. Chevy Chase Club, Chevy Chase
This Course chokes the Wisconsin Avenue corridor between the highly dense areas of Friendship Heights and Bethesda. This "dead zone" between the two downtowns induces speeding along the stretch. Perhaps building some street frontage along the east side of Wisconsin might do the trick, connecting Friendship Heights with Bethesda in a pedestrian sense, but I believe this club would best serve the region if it moved to another location.

3. Woodmont Country Club, Rockville
I've said before that this golf course is disastrous to Rockville Pike. Situated opposite the Metropolitan Branch railroad, it creates a choke point on Rockville Pike and puts a major strain on the road network. This in turn hampers pedestrian-friendly development from occurring along the Pike. I don't think this club needs to totally relocate, however. If only a few of the 36 holes were realigned, the county could connect Jefferson Street to ease the traffic on Rockville Pike and create ease the bottleneck there.

2. East Potomac Golf Course, Southwest DC
There are so many golf courses around here, even the Tidal Basin has one. BeyondDC also thinks this course might be somewhat ill-conceived. I agree with his proposal of putting a few buildings on the island, maybe a small mixed use community, a couple restaurants, something to make the island more of a destination. DC has tons of squandered waterfront. Do we really need two golf courses beside the rivers?

1. Columbia Country Club, Chevy Chase
This is my least favorite of all of them. Apart from the fact that it further suffocates the road network between two major corridors inside the Beltway, it's using thousands of square feet of land illegally by fencing off 84 feet of the 100 foot right of way of the Capital Crescent Trail for a quarter of a mile. Straddling the Capital Crescent Trail on both sides, this club has also been a major opponent of the Purple Line. The actions this club has taken to prevent transit from connecting PG and Silver Spring to Bethesda have in my opinion perpetuated some of the nasty stereotypes about the types of people that are members of these country clubs. Fact of the matter is that this is an utterly horrible location for a country club, and its mere existence at this location undermines regional planning.

Part of the reason I only criticize five of them is that I noticed may clubs inside the Beltway and along the major corridors are places so that they don't necessarily disrupt the layout of the city. Army Navy CC in Arlington is in the middle of the city, but it is fronted by low density housing and is primarily along the I-395 corridor. It is more "tucked away" than the five I mentioned above. Perhaps in the future this course too ought to be relocated, but for now it doesn't seem to disrupt the city layout much.

I have worked in a country club. Though I am not a golfer, I think these facilities are okay to have around a city. But diligence should be used when zoning for them. If an area is likely to become denser, then golf courses will be nothing more than a burden that serve few people at a great expense of land. This is particularly true for private courses. And what really annoys me is the fact that such clubs exist like Columbia, Woodmont, and Chevy Chase... when there are several other country clubs within the immediate vicinity! Indian Spring Country Club was forced to relocate from Four Corners up to the Layhill area when the Beltway was built. Eminent domain was used to make this happen. Why can't we use the urgent need for transit lines and denser development to do the same? Is it only okay to move a golf course if a highway is coming through?

Country clubs are devastating to the pedestrian environment. as density inside the Beltway increases, this type of land use should be squeezed out to the hinterlands. I'm not saying get rid of every gold course inside the Beltway, but we ought to at least consider forcing them to comply with the urban fabric that surrounds them.


Cavan said...

about the golf course on Benning Rd. NE... That was not originally land. Like RFK stadium, it sits on land that was originally tidal marshes. It was filled in and turned to a golf course before those neighborhoods were built if my memory serves me correctly. The original L'Enfant city ends where H St. becomes Benning Rd and intersects with Maryland Ave and 15th St. NE. and Bladensburg Road.
I don't find that one too destructive to the urban fabric there because the neighborhood grew up around it.
I can't agree more about the TWO country clubs in Chevy Chase. Just silly. In their defense, they were founded when that was the fringe of the region.
However, the Columbia CC's actions with regards to transit are indefensible.

Anonymous said...

I have a more basic question.

The land these courses are on is worth hundreds of millions due to its prime location. Without the super-rich patrons, such a thing could never be justified economically to serve a few hundred people. There is much greater economic forcing of people towards TOD and cities recently, however - perhaps things have changed in some cases. Several hundred million is a huge sum that could buy you a chain of courses in the outlying areas.

Are these courses free to develop land as they like? Or is their place in the world currently pinned in place with a zoning commission decision? So much else is (unnecessarily IMO) that I just thought I'd ask.