EAST POTOMAC PARK GOLF COURSE
The East Potomac Park Golf Course is located along the banks of the Potomac River, south of the Washington Monument, in Washington, DC. It consists of several links-style courses, designed by noted golf course architects Walter J. Travis, William S. Flynn, and William F. Gordon. Construction on the first 18 holes and their associated field house and locker rooms (designed by Horace Whittier Peaslee) began in 1917. Additional courses and features (including a driving range and mini golf course) were constructed on a nearly continuous basis through 1984.
East and West Potomac Parks were jointly listed as a National Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973; the nomination was updated in 1996. The nomination included the following resources of the East Potomac Park Golf Course Cultural Landscape: the East Potomac Park Golf Course, listed as a contributing site; the associated field house (East Potomac Park Field House), listed as a contributing building; the East Potomac Park Miniature Golf Course, listed as a contributing site; and the East Potomac Park Driving Range Building, listed as a non-contributing building. The period of significance for the full East and West Potomac Parks Historic District is 1882-1997.
This CLI is currently underway, and evaluations of significance are in progress.
The East Potomac Park Golf Course cultural landscape was created from the swampy marshland of the reclaimed Potomac River flats in the late 19th century. The reclamation project sought to address the siltation of the river, unclogging the flow of the tidal river to enable commercial traffic on the waterway. Improvement efforts began in 1857 with the publication of a report by civil engineer Alfred Landon Rives,
who proposed the replacement of the river’s Long Bridge (where the 14th Street bridges are today) and the reclamation of the mud flats along the shoals of the Washington Channel. By the late 1860s, sediment accumulation in the Potomac River was so severe that Congress appropriated $50,000 to improve the river between the Long Bridge and Georgetown; the first phase of the project was underway by
1871. By 1882, over 240,000 cubic yards of material had been dredged and dumped on the Potomac Flats, resulting in a new land mass above the water line. Subsequent plans and dredging campaigns conducted throughout the 1880s and 1890s would focus on transforming the new Potomac Flats landscape into useable terrain.
The reclamation of the Potomac Flats coincided with a new movement to create greenspace in Washington, DC, and the 1902 publication of the McMillan Plan further bolstered the efforts to design a recreational infrastructure for the federal city. The final plan devoted an entire chapter to the newly-created Washington embankment and Potomac Park, which spanned 739 acres by this time. The peninsula between the Washington Channel and the Potomac River offered a blank slate for recreational greenspace, and by 1911, reclamation was complete and the new East Potomac Park was transferred to the Office of Public Buildings and Grounds the following year.
Although the McMillan Plan did not specify which recreational uses should be incorporated into East Potomac Park, the idea of a golf course on the peninsula emerged in 1911 and was incorporated into park plans by 1914. In 1917, park officials hired former U.S. amateur golf champion, and renowned golf course architect, Walter J. Travis to design a course for East Potomac Park. Inspired by the landscape’s proximity to the Washington Channel and the Potomac River, Travis designed a traditional links-style course with a reversible progression of play. Construction of the initial 9-hole course began in the spring of 1917, and by June 1920 (after a halt for World War I), the first nine holes, referred to as the A-C Course, and two wings of their fieldhouse were complete. The back nine, called the B-D Course and also designed by
Travis, was completed by June 1923.
The course proved so popular that the concessionaire, S.G. Leoffler, hired golf course architect William Flynn to design another nine holes almost immediately. Flynn’s course was also influenced by the linksstyle design of Travis’ course, and was also reversible. Called the E-F Course, it opened to the public in May 1925. By 1931, the course also included the 9-hole G Course, a driving range, practice putting green, and 18-hole miniature golf course.
The East Potomac Park Golf Course continued to be popular throughout the 1930s and 1940s, praised as “one of the scenic beauty spots in the District.” During this time, the course’s concessionaire continued to make improvements to the course, renovating facilities and addressing periodic floods that swamped the peninsula. The Civilian Conservation Corps was also responsible for some planting projects in the landscape. In 1941, the addition of tennis courts and ballfields at the tourist camp resulted in alterations to several holes in the G Course; that same year, the United States Army took over a portion of the F Course, replacing several holes with four anti-aircraft guns. Given these events, gasoline rationing, and new flooding, Leoffler eventually closed East Potomac Park Golf Course for the duration of the war.
In the years after the war, William Flynn designed the rehabilitation of the F Course and improvements to the 18-hole Travis-designed course. In 1950, William F. Gordon Co. redesigned the G Course, and in 1956, Gordon and his son reworked Flynn’s F Course. Despite these upgrades, the popularity of the course declined through the 1960s and 1970s, compounded by ongoing drainage issues from flooding. After several years of deteriorating conditions, the National Park Service commissioned a survey of the course conditions in the 1970s and oversaw renovations to the fieldhouse wings beginning in 1978.
In 1983, Golf Course Specialists Inc. (GCS) took over the concessionaire contract for East Potomac Park Golf Course. Soon after, the National Park Service demolished the F Course to create new picnic grounds, but amidst public outcry, the course was soon rebuilt. GCS oversaw renovations to the course in the 1990s and 2000s, an improvement program estimated at $1.5 million that included the redesign and modernization of the 18-hole Blue Course and the 9-hole Red Course. By 1995, a new driving range structure was in place west of the fieldhouse wings.
Historic Maps and Images
Analysis and Evaluation
Today, the East Potomac Park Golf Course is situated on the peninsula encompassed by the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. The cultural landscape is bordered by Hains Point to the south, Ohio Drive to the east and west, and Buckeye Drive to the north. It comprises three different, adjacent courses totaling 36 holes. The courses are supplemented with a driving range, four practice putting greens, a miniature golf course, and two fieldhouse wings.
Contributing landscape characteristics identified for the East Potomac Park Golf Course cultural landscape are: land use, topography, spatial organization, buildings and structures, vegetation, and views and vistas. Non-contributing landscape characteristics include circulation and small-scale features.
Land Use: The use and purpose of the East Potomac Park Golf Course cultural landscape has not changed since the period of significance, when the site opened as a public golf course. It has served as a municipal golf course ever since and is open to play by anyone, for a fee. It retains integrity of land use.
Topography: The topography of East Potomac Park is human-made and was created during reclamation of the Potomac flats in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As reclaimed land, the park’s topography was generally flat, rising only four feet above sea-level at its highest point. The site’s lowest point was 1.5 feet above sea level. During the period of significance, the topography of the site was somewhat manipulated. Walter Travis called for the creation of approximately 190 mounded bunkers, 170 sand traps and 35 combination, or “hump and hollow” hazards as part of his design for the site’s 18-hole golf course. Additional hazards were added throughout the site during construction of the White Course (1925) and the Red Course (1930). While hazard construction affected the site’s topography slightly, they are considered part of the overall design and layout of each course, and as such, are discussed in detail in the Buildings and Structures section of the Analysis and Evaluation. For the purpose of this cultural landscape inventory, hazards are considered part of the landscape’s buildings and structures. This is because they In general, the
site’s current topography, remains flat, as it was when Travis laid out the course’s first eighteen holes. As such, it retains integrity of topography to the period of significance.
Spatial Organization: The spatial organization of the historic courses centered on the fieldhouse as the anchor of the landscape and the starting point for each course. The layout of each course changed throughout the 20th century, altering the progression of play within the historic courses. Nevertheless, the arrangement of the three historic courses in relation to the Washington Channel, Potomac River, and each other is consistent with the general spatial organization of today’s Blue Course, White Course, and Red Course. They remain centered around the fieldhouse, which continues to serve as the entry and exit point for the overall cultural landscape. East Potomac Park Golf Course thus retains most of the character-defining features of its historic spatial organization.
Circulation: East Potomac Park Golf Course does not retain integrity of circulation. The course featured few circulation elements during the period of significance, including sidewalks and social trails, and most of those features were altered or relocated throughout the 20th century. The only contributing feature is the north section of the main parking lot, which is consistent with the original construction of the course. The remaining circulation features—including progression of play for two the three courses, as well as driveways, secondary parking lots, and social trails or cart paths throughout the course—do not contribute to the significance of the cultural landscape. The only contributing circulation
feature is the Blue Course progression of play.
Buildings and Structures: For the purpose of this CLI, the three East Potomac Golf Courses and their individual layouts are treated as single structures; the description of each structure includes the overall approach to each course’s design, as well as the design of individual holes including tees, fairways, greens and hazards). The three courses, along with other extant buildings and structures, including the fieldhouse and miniature golf course, collectively contribute to the overall integrity of the East Potomac Golf Course as a public recreational landscape.
Though the layout of all three courses at East Potomac Park has been substantially altered since the end of the period of significance, the overall landscape retains nearly all of the essential features present during that period that make it identifiable as a public golf course, designed during the early 20th century. Among these features are: three golf courses, totaling 36 holes, which offer golfers of different abilities a variety of options for play; open, relatively flat fairways surrounded by very few trees; a central fieldhouse used as a starting and ending point for play on all three courses; and a miniature golf course designed and built in the early 1930s during the period of the game’s peak popularity (1926-1930). As such, the entire East Potomac Golf Course Cultural Landscape, including all three golf courses, the east and west fieldhouse wings, the miniature golf course and Practice Putting Green 1, retains integrity of buildings and structures, as relates to National Register Criterion A, for importance in the area of Recreation, as one of the earliest and most popular public golf courses in the District of Columbia.
The swimming pool and poolhouse building, located west of the fieldhouse wings, were not evaluated for this cultural landscape inventory, as they are managed by the DC Department of Parks and Recreation. They are included within the description of adjacent lands.
Small Scale Features: East Potomac Park Golf Course’s small-scale features do not have integrity. The cultural landscape’s earliest small-scale features, such as benches and fencing, have been replaced by non-historic features, while a historic bird house and other fixtures have been removed altogether. Additional non-contributing features include interpretive and wayfinding signs, picnic tables, light stands, trash cans,
and water stations. The construction date for an additional concrete water fountain has not been confirmed, but historic photographs and drawings do not definitively place it at the site until 1993; it was likely added in the 1980s or early 1990s. The small-scale features of East Potomac Park Golf Course therefore do not contribute to the significance of the cultural landscape.
Vegetation: Character-defining vegetation at East Potomac includes: a wide open, treeless landscape, with borders of trees around the perimeter of the courses; a variety of turf grass maintained as fairways, rough and greens; a group of historic cherry trees on the White Course; and a row of trees separating the front nine and back nine on the Blue Course, near Hains Point. The open landscape envisioned by Walter Travis during the period of significance has been affected by successive planting of trees throughout East Potomac. Maturation of vegetation and additional planting since the period of significance, has resulted in the loss of view sheds and changed the feeling of playing the course, designed in the relatively treeless links style. These developments are reversible and the course retains a sense of openness, especially in the holes located along the center of peninsula, and on much of the White Course, north of the fieldhouse. Replacement of turf grass since the period of significance reflects regular golf course maintenance practices and advancements in turf technology. Current varieties that match those used during the period of significance include bent grass, bluegrass, and fine fescue, and are considered contributing landscape features. Varieties introduced since the period of significance such as bermuda, tall fescue, rye, and poa annua are considered non-contributing, but compatible. As such, integrity to the original landscape design remains partially intact and is considered contributing.
Views and Vistas: Based on the topography, spatial organization, and vegetation patterns of the site, significant vistas during the period of significance included views to the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, United States Capitol, National Defense University, Washington Channel, and Potomac River. In addition, views to the fieldhouse wings historically served as a visual anchor in the landscape to orient golfers as they moved through the course. Although some vistas have become obstructed over item by maturing vegetation, views of each of these landmarks are still available from multiple points in the course. The views and vistas of the cultural landscape retain integrity.
The final report is available on the National Park Service website here.