By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
When play begins Thursday morning at the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Washington's golfing elite will gather. There is no more storied venue in or around the nation's capital than the club founded by Indiana congressmen Oscar E. Bland and O.R. Lubring in 1924. It has hosted the U.S. Open and will do so again, and Tiger Woods, the world's best golfer, considers it the perfect venue for the PGA Tour stop he founded and hosts there. But around the Beltway, just as Woods and 119 others are preparing to compete for the AT&T National's $6 million purse, play will continue at just $22 a pop. Langston Golf Course, tucked into Northeast Washington within sight of RFK Stadium and some 20 miles from Congressional, has never hosted a PGA Tour event, let alone a U.S. Open. But Langston is as much a part of Washington's golf history as Congressional, and if you don't believe that, pull up a chair next to Red Anderson and Dave Stroman, because they'll let you know.
"We're out here every day," Stroman said. Well, not Saturdays and Sundays. But show up during the week at 9:30 or 10 in the morning, and stay till 5 or 5:30 p.m., and they're there. They will talk golf. They will talk life. They will talk everything in between.
Anderson grew up in the Deanwood section of Northeast and now lives just over the Maryland border in Suitland. He is 93. Stroman grew up in Northeast and Columbia, S.C., but settled here, and lives just off North Capitol Street. He is 97. They once played at the old West Potomac course, which was down on Constitution Avenue, the only place African Americans were allowed to play in Washington in the 1930s. They have played at Langston since the day it opened 70 years ago, and they still play there a couple of times a week.
"It's the camaraderie," Anderson said. "Come here and meet friends, and even if you don't play, we sit down, and we tell a whole lot of stories and talk a whole lot of . . ." Well, you get the idea.
The state of golf in the Washington area is such that it incorporates Woods and his tournament, Red and Dave and their set at Langston and the gamut between the two. There is, golf experts say, virtually no more diverse golfing community in the nation than that around Washington. Prince George's County is home to the Country Club at Woodmore, which has a majority African American membership, a rarity among American country clubs. The private Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Prince William County has brought the Presidents Cup to Northern Virginia four times. And Congressional hosted the U.S. Open in 1964 and 1997, and will do so again in 2011.
Now, Congressional hosts the AT&T National, giving Washington a PGA Tour event for the 30th consecutive year. In 1980, the Kemper Open was first staged at Congressional. The tour moved to the club formerly known as TPC Avenel across the street in 1987, and then returned to Congressional in 2007, when Woods became the tournament host. That streak will end in 2010, when the tournament moves, for two years, to Aronimink Golf Club in suburban Philadelphia so that Congressional can overhaul its greens before it hosts the Open. But Woods's tournament will be back from 2012 to '14, when Congressional has agreed to host again. Woods hopes, too, it will be back beyond that.
"This is a great golfing town," Woods said. "This event, over the past couple of years, has been phenomenal. They have had great support here, and even when the tournament used to be played here at Avenel, they always had a great turnout. I think what we are doing for kids, and especially honoring the military, I think people sort of understand that and want to come out and support this event."
Woods's tournament, founded just three years ago and essentially saving professional golf here, provides an anchor for Washington's golf scene, perhaps even more than the PGA Tour's previous events here did.
"The kids, they look up to Tiger as a role model," said Ray Savoy, who runs one of Langston's three youth programs. "They're aware of everything he does."
That, then, changes the golfing landscape in Washington, which is becoming something of Woods's East Coast base. Not only is Woods's signature event now here, but Woods's foundation will announce, at some point soon, the location of a Tiger Woods Learning Center in the area. The center, which will be just the second of its kind -- joining the original in Woods's native Orange County, Calif. -- isn't golf-based. Rather, it will serve as an educational venue offering after-school courses to District students. It may not directly promote golf, but it places Woods's brand further into Washington, especially with kids.
"When the tournament came about and we had the opportunity here, it made the decision very easy," said Greg McLaughlin, the president of the Tiger Woods Foundation. "Why not have a learning center in the nation's capital? There are so many individuals and corporations that share the same views we do on education that are there, and that would believe in our after-school program, that it made complete sense."
There is, then, a trickle-down effect in the golfing community. Last month, as part of a slew of events meant to mark its 70th anniversary, Langston hosted a Saturday morning youth clinic, to which kids lugged bags and hit balls. Calvin Peete, one of the most accomplished African American players ever, gave a speech, pausing occasionally for a Metro train to pass overhead.
"You can play golf," Peete told the crowd of maybe 100, "but you have to stay in school. That's most important. You have to stay in school."
The message fit, precisely, that of Jimmy Garvin, the pro at Langston who came to Washington to be a student and play baseball at Howard University, and has since made himself a fixture on the District's golf scene. Garvin likes to say: "Golf is the carrot, but education is the key." Yet the connection with Woods, even at the clinic Garvin organized, was obvious, with tiger-shaped head covers on several bags.
x "Having a PGA event here can show these kids that golf is a game you should pursue and can pursue, without a doubt," said Leslie Duke, a teaching pro in Florida who grew up in the District. "Going out there and watching as a kid, it sets certain standards for you. And Tiger is a phenomenon that has grown exponentially. Prior to that, if a kid from Washington was interested in golf, he was probably one out of 10. But now, he's got friends and more friends getting into the game."x
There is, though, a balance. Savoy, a District native who is the director and founder of the Langston Junior Boys and Girls Golf Club and works closely with Garvin, warned of becoming too attached to Woods, "because these kids need role models they can touch, they can talk to."
"Golf is just much more open to the kids, because it's being offered at a historically black golf course," Savoy said. "They can see how it's done. At one time, for us, it was just caddying or shagging balls. There was no avenue for a young man that wanted to explore it, to take part.
x "Now, at Langston, you have young African American kids that are willing to give it a try. You got parents that want to be responsible. They're involved. You got educators who want to come out and educate these kids. Someone like Tiger can be important, and it's good he has a tournament here. But these kids need real people."x
Woods, then, is trying to become something of a real person to such kids, and the learning center would be a step in that direction. Last year's AT&T National raised $2 million for local charities, and it has issued 10 college scholarships to area students. The tournament, though, serves as the focus, the most visible way Woods appears in the community.
"When Tiger teed off the first year, it was late in the day, and the crowds were extremely big," McLaughlin said. "The galleries literally thanked him. That was the most unique thing that we had seen, just so many people thanking him for bringing the tournament here."
On a day-to-day basis, that doesn't affect those who play at Langston. There is, though, a connection. Anderson and Stroman remember when their only connection to the game came through caddying, then being allowed to play the courses at which they hauled clubs only on Mondays. They remember when Langston opened, and they remember what it meant to have District native Lee Elder -- a PGA pro who ran the course for a few years in the 1980s -- bring stars such as Lee Trevino and Gary Player and Charlie Sifford and Peete out to play.
"We've seen them all, everyone who's come through here," Anderson said. "Now, it's Tiger, and we know how much the kids look up to him."
Woods himself won't come through Langston. But he will come through Washington. And in a way, that impacts every golfer at every local golf course, putting a stamp on the District's golf scene that is unlike any it has had before.