National Parks that Aren't Par for the Course

Katherine RivardPursuits
The sun low in the horizon with fog over the pairie at Cuyahoga Valley National Park
Cuyahoga Valley National Park — National Park Service

From civil rights to lawn care research, golf courses within the National Park Service are rooted in a deep history with stories to tell and opportunities for study and play. Golf’s increase in popularity at the start of the 19th century led to the creation of courses throughout the country, several of which were in or adjacent to national parks. Today, a handful of courses remain for visitors to play the sport they love within the parks they cherish.

Golf Courses as History

Old black and white image of the Langston Driving Range at Anacostia Park in Washington, DC
National Park Service

In the early 20th century, planners envisioned Langston Golf Course as a public amenity along the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C. Today it remains an important symbol for the development of public golfing. Opening in the summer of 1939, Langston Golf Course was named after John Mercer Langston, one of the first African Americans elected to public office, and offered black residents a place to practice the sport.

At the time, this golf course was the only one in D.C. open to black golfers, and it was home to the Royal Golf Club and Wake Robin Golf Club, the nation’s first golf clubs for African-American men and women. Ultimately, the course’s golf clubs challenged the segregation policies of the city’s other federally-owned golf courses. Langston Golf Course is now on the National Register of Historic Places for its role in integrating golf, and it is one of three remaining golf courses preserved in national parks in the D.C. area.

Experimenting on the Green

A man golfing at Cape Cod National Seashore
National Park Service

Golf courses within national parks also provide new arenas for scientific study. At Highland Links Golf Course in Cape Cod National Seashore, a lawn care pilot study is being conducted. The green is treated exclusively with natural, organic ingredients, and the effectiveness of this method will be tested over several years. Established in 1892, today the course is run by outside concessionaires, but it is included in the National Register of Historic Places.

Other Courses to Visit

Yosemite National Park’s Wawona Golf Course opened in 1918, laying claim as the Sierra Nevada’s first course. Spring through fall, visitors can enjoy the meadowy area. Renamed Big Trees Golf Course, the 18-hole course allows golf enthusiasts to try their favorite sport in one of America’s more scenic spots.

Black and white image of Maud Clark teeing up at the Presidio Golf Course at Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Maud Clark teeing up at the Presidio Golf Course

National Park Service

From Theodore Roosevelt to Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Presidio Golf Club in Golden Gate National Recreation Area has seen its share of fame. Though originally part of the Presidio military base, the course opened to the public in 1995. Visitors can explore the Presidio then grab their clubs and enjoy the course’s views of San Francisco.

With four courses, Cuyahoga Valley National Park has the greatest number of courses in any national park. Though none of the courses are federally owned or operated, they remain open to the public. Visit Brandywine Golf Course, located between Cleveland and Akron, to begin at the course’s open nine holes. Then venture deeper into the denser forests for the back nine.

Whether preserving a piece of America’s cultural history or maintaining a natural setting, these national parks offer visitors a unique and affordable golfing experience. Next time you #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque, be sure to pack your clubs and check the concessionaires’ website in advance. After all, the only thing better than a hole in one, is a hole in one at a national park!


Furnace Creek Golf Course is inside of Death Valley National Park and well maintained when I played it in November, 2018.

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