At the National Links Trust, a better side of golf

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East Potomac Golf Links was still shrouded in darkness on Monday when Will Smith squinted down the first fairway to the green, about 345 yards out. It was 5:10 a.m. He put his tee on the grass. The hole—and the day—stretched out before him.

“The flag is in,” he said, and without a cup of coffee or a warm-up session, he accepted the first ball of the longest day in golf. You had to trust that he went to the right of the fairway, because who could see the ball?

It’s a sport that’s in the midst of chaos at its peak, with no way of determining when and how the professional game will fare. The US Open begins Thursday at the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and talk has raged there all week about the renegade Saudi-backed LIV Golf series and the viability of the old guard PGA Tour. . Discussing his move to the rival circuit, 2010 US Open champion Graeme McDowell said: “I have always seen golf as a force for good in the world.

But the good the game can do is much greater at the local level. That’s why, on Monday morning, I met Smith and Mike McCartin under cover of darkness at East Potomac, the century-old municipal course that stretches between the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. Their intention: to play more than 100 holes on Washington’s three public courses: East Potomac, Langston and Rock Creek. My job: caddy for the morning — if I could do it.

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Smith and McCartin are co-founders of the National Links Trust, a nonprofit that two years ago took over management of the district’s three munis, which are on National Park Service land. They are local guys who have worked with the world’s best architects on some of the world’s most renowned golf courses. Smith, who turns 47 next week, grew up in the district and only got hooked on golf while he was at Yale. McCartin, 41, grew up in Arlington and learned the game when his father, Gerry, dragged him and his three siblings to the East Potomac driving range, where they watched him bat balls before picking up some clubs and join the shots.

“For a father,” Gerry said Monday, “it was a dream.”

McCartin’s dream now is to take on the skills he developed working for famed architect Tom Doak – on such major projects as Old Macdonald on the Oregon coast and the Renaissance Club on the Scottish coast. – and to apply them to the public courts of the district.

Smith and McCartin share a passion for the game and the court it is played on. Their second “annual 100-hole hike” on Monday was just another step in raising funds and publicity for their project.

Before firing that first shot, Smith looked at his phone to quantify his current support.

“$209.50 a hole,” he said. “$599 per birdie. $17,754 for a hole-in-one.

For the last generation or more, good golf has been so expensive that the sport has prolonged a history of exclusion. The National Links Trust hopes to reverse this trend. By overhauling and restoring the district’s public courses, Smith and McCartin believe they can increase local accessibility to the game — across income and race — by providing engaging amenities that remain as affordable as they come. are today. Their weight in the sport is evident: Not only is Doak volunteering his time to help remake East Potomac, but Gil Hanse – a renowned architect whose projects include the Country Club and other US Open venues – is working with the National Links Trust on Rock Creek. Beau Welling, who worked on Tiger Woods’ design team, joins Langston’s restoration.

It will take time, but it will be worth it. As we trudged through the day, I asked McCartin to liken the project to a marathon. How far are they?

“A thousand three or four? he said after thinking about it. “But I think that’s a really important point because we’ve established all the things that will make him successful.”

When Golfers Don’t Know Who Signs Checks, They Miss What They Buy

What is discussed at the US Open – and will be discussed during the professional golf season throughout the summer – is the game at its highest. But if golf can be a force for good, it’s more likely to happen at the community level — and in places like Langston and the East Potomac.

Consider the numbers since the National Links Trust took over management of the district’s courses: 230,408 rounds, with 25,095,674 shot balls hit by 237,583 patrons. Golf isn’t special because of how – or where – the game is played by the best in the world. It’s special because anyone can pursue it throughout their life. This process shouldn’t always start in a posh country club. It should start at places like Langston, where subway trains rumble past the 10th tee.

So in support of all that, I caddy. I started on McCartin’s bag over half an hour before sunrise, joining Smith’s brother Ben on Will’s bag. At 7 a.m. we were already at the 17th hole of the East Potomac Blue Course – and the mercury was rising. After 27 holes, Ben Smith had to get to work – and he could still be there on time easily. He was replaced by Gerry McCartin, who took over as his son’s caddy while I started working for Will Smith.

Playing 36 holes a day is a lot for any golfer. By the time Smith and McCartin had finished 36, it was 9:15 a.m.

It was a combination of pure joy and absolute hard work. The morning included two loops around regulation-length blue, two more around executive-length white, two more around par-3 red, and shots at the East Potomac’s three practice holes, not to mention a few golf holes. improvisation between the two. The morning may or may not have included a stint or two as I ditched the pack and took shelter in a support cart. That certainly included some shots – especially from McCartin, who birdied nine in the East Potomac alone. Just before 1 p.m., the pair guzzled half-smokes before heading towards Langston. I went home to take a shower.

By the time I met the boys at Rock Creek Park Golf Course — just off 16th Street NW — it was nearly 5:30 p.m. and the day’s toll had begun to settle. As they played at Langston, the temperature had risen. above 90 degrees and the humidity approached 60%. McCartin had traded in his baseball cap for a wide-brimmed wicker number that tied under his chin. Mud was stuck on both of their calves. They had played 98 holes. They wanted the 14 more that Rock Creek was offering.

“It’s definitely a walking cane stretch,” Smith said, using his putter as a prop as we climbed up one of the steep inclines that characterize Rock Creek.

Even in their fatigue, McCartin and Smith couldn’t help but discuss the future of Rock Creek. They are visionaries in spirit and training, so it is nothing for them to see the fairways where the overgrowth now exists. Listening to them is thrilling for any golf lover, this one included.

At the 100th hole of the day, McCartin closed the match and the two shook hands. On the 103rd, McCartin approached the green, stopped short, and muttered, “There’s a light bulb.” On 111, Smith – perhaps emboldened by the Mason jar of vodka his wife had mercifully delivered a few holes earlier – earned the final birdie of the day. And at 7:07 p.m. — 1 p.m. 57 minutes after Smith put that first stake in the ground — they made the final putt on the 112th and headed out to the pizza party that awaited them.

“Do you still like golf after that?” asked one of McCartin’s friends.

Yes, it does. Professional golf is riven by controversy over where wealth comes from and what is right for the elite. But the real future of gambling – for ordinary people on regular incomes who need a recreational outlet – lies in the hands of people like Will Smith and Mike McCartin and the National Links Trust. Thank goodness for that.

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