Before I get into my review, a little background: I've been playing golf for most of my life and have seen all types of courses in all kinds of conditions. As a kid, caddied for a few summers at Bellerive Country Club in St. Louis which is one of the top courses in the Midwest and been host to many PGA tournaments over the years. I grew up with a family membership at a country club with 36 holes of championship golf. On the other side of the coin, I used to regularly play a course during family vacations in Michigan which literally had a barn full of old farming equipment as it's pro shop/clubhouse. In other words, I've seen both ends of the spectrum in terms of golf courses. My wife is just now getting into golf (yesterday was the 3rd round of her career!) and despite having been around the game for at least 20 years, I'm still probably a 20 handicap so we're not snobs.
We are fairly new to DC (moved here about 10 mos. ago) and have just started to explore the area golf scene. We've played all three of the DC metro courses within the last month (Hains Point, Langston, Rock Creek) with Rock Creek being the most recent so I feel well-qualified to review Rock Creek in the context of the two other DC courses.
PROS: Extremely convenient location right off 16th Street. We're pretty lucky here in DC to have 18 holes of golf so close to the city center. Some of the review I read here before we played indicated that the back 9 offered a more wooded, secluded feel and with that in mind, we asked to go off the back. The reviews did not disappoint and we were thrilled to find several holes deep in the woods with lots of shade and no way to tell that we were actually in the middle of the capitol of the world. Very courteous and friendly staff. No trace of pretentiousness to be found. As I have mentioned other golf course reviews, we like to have a few drinks during our round and had no problem sneaking in our cooler. There are several fun holes that would provide a fun challenge to even the best golfers. For the most part, the greens are in pretty decent condition. Some of the cart paths are paved, which you cannot say about Hain's Point or Langston. We teed off around 11:45 and we pleased to find that the course was not crowded at all. A few people out, but we never waited to tee of nor did we ever feel pressure to speed up our pace of play from a group behind us. This is important for beginning golfers and duffers like me.
CONS: The course is truly in bad shape. Tee boxes are often bare and devoid of grass. Fairways are non-existent on some holes which makes for some brutal lies and difficult approaches. The rough is very long and seems to appear randomly in the middle of some holes which means even if you hit mostly good shots, you're still going to lose a lot of balls. Some of the ladies tees are impossible to find in the overgrown grass. I think I read on Yelp that park regulations prohibit irrigation on the fairways. This won't be a surprise to you as you set out at Rock Creek. Fairways are approximately 60% weeds and 40% dirt.
Now, it should be noted that we were not expecting Augusta and we still had a lot of fun despite conditions. If you're a casual golfer looking to make a few shots, have some fun and enjoy the outdoors, this place is fine. If you're a serious golfer or you're looking to do some gambling on the course, stay away.
I am a beginner golfer and I started off the spring by taking the Get Ready Golf course with Coach Lester. I would say that it was probably the best $99 I've spent. Our class was about 8 people and so not many swings per class, but Lester encouraged us to practice throughout the week and continually invited us to come to RCGC to practice (clubs and balls provided if needed). He encouraged us to buy Ben Hogan's Five Lessons book on Amazon (cheap and also considered the "Bible" of golf), and I found the book to be very helpful in retaining the skills we were learning in class. I now realize that as a beginner, solidifying the basics is really the most important part. So although we didn't swing so much in class (the fun part), I felt like I really got a solid foundation of the basics (grip, stance, swing, putting) and I have been able use those techniques effectively to refine my swing when practicing outside of the class. I have found my game to rapidly improve- largely due to learning the basics, and then continuing to practice the new skills outside of class. I HIGHLY recommend the class to any new golfer- it is WELL worth the money. Just go into the class with the understanding that it isn't all about swinging away, but learning the foundations of golf so swinging is more fun and satisfying when you get to it!
As for the golf course- it is a rustic, relaxed atmosphere with not an ounce of pretension. I find myself eager to go there and I feel like I've escaped the city for a while when I'm there. It is peaceful and I very much enjoy the natural terrain and wildlife (minus the gnats). I have also found the people who work there to be very friendly, easy to chat with, and welcoming.
There are three things you must do before playing a round of golf at Rock Creek:
1) Understand that the course is almost never in good shape.
2) Accept that the lies will be awful sometimes, even in the fairways.
3) Realize that you are hitting a ball with a stick, and no matter how good you are at hitting a ball with a stick, it's still hitting a ball with a stick - so don't take yourself too darn seriously.
If you do those 3 things, then you'll enjoy yourself here, especially on the back nine. There are some legitimately challenging holes back there, and the setting is beautiful. Deer, hawks, even the occasional eagle can be spotted.
If you walk the back nine, you had better be in decent shape because it's hilly - REALLY hilly. So why isn't the course in better shape? If you're interested, I have a little inside knowledge which I will share.
All three DC golf courses - Rock Creek, Langston, and East Potomac Park - are all run by the same company, called Golf Course Specialists. They lease the land on all 3 courses in only 2-year increments from the US Park Service. That's right - they have to renew the deal every two years, pending approval from the very standoffish USPS.
At this particular course, because it is in Rock Creek Park, the USPS does not allow fairway & tee box irrigation due to fertilizer runoff. Tree trimming is also never allowed (unless a tree/branch is determined to be a safety hazard).
I have personally spoken to rangers about this course and they are very bullish about their policies; it quickly becomes clear that the rangers would prefer not to have a course at this location at all, but it's been here for almost 100 years, so it stays.
Obviously, you must have light and water to grow grass, so it's understandable why the course is in the shape it's in. Ever-encroaching trees = lots of shade & very little sun. No irrigation = scorched fairways and patchy tee boxes.
Any company would lose money hand-over-fist if they invested in this course. It loses money every year as it is. It would take millions to get it in tip-top shape. With the lack of water and sun, it wouldn't matter anyway; you could sink a billion dollars into it and still have the same problems, and since the USPS could deny the lease renewal at any time, it's a no-win situation.
Before golf became the fancy schmancy activity we know today, it was often played in conditions similar to what you'll find at RCGC. So quit whining, hit the ball with the stick, take in the scenery, and enjoy a beer on the patio after your round.
I was enrolled in the Fall Beginners Golf at Rock Creek Golf Course. Lester was our instructor. It was an evening class. I have definitely had better.
Our first (of six) classes was a lecture in the classroom. Excuse me? He was basically telling us about his experience and how he became a golf instructor and telling us to go to the bookstore and buy this Ben Hogan book and read it. He also told us that for the price we paid, we normally would be getting one lesson. We should be glad that he is teaching us six times for the price of one lesson. Oh. Ok, gee thanks.
Our next class was out a the first hole. Oh, ok. Right in front of everyone. Gee thanks. Way to build confidence. Again, more urging to read this book. He requests a book report. Also, the available daylight is diminishing with each week of class. As it turns out, he moves the time of class up an hour without telling anyone (well, me) and I arrived as class was ending. Gee thanks.
The next week, during the waning daylight, a half herd of deer came galloping across our fairway while we were trying to hit. "Um, excuse me deer, yeah, we're trying to hold golf class here? Yeah, if you could please not gallop across? That would be great?" But we were out in nature. So I guess we were in their way? But it was the fairway, man! C'mon man! Really?!?!?! (At least they didn't drop any turds...)
Each class went exactly the same way. I am so sorry. I have heard Tiger Woods and other athletes mention that they improved at their sport after repeating it at least 10,000 times. We did not even come close to hitting the ball or practicing in class with teacher support not even 100 times. Not even 50 times. I noticed more improvement when I cornered the other two lady classmates after class, insisted we meet at the student driving range one saturday, and hit balls there for two or three hours.
Not that our teacher was not helpful, it's just that meh, I've experienced better.
We teed off with a couple of deer watching us 20 feet away. But that's really the best thing I can say. The whole time we played, we all had the same feeling of "I wish someone would take care of this place". A lot of potential, great views. But the same things people complained about on Yelp since 2010 (lacking fairways, greens that look like rough, rough that looks like a Civil War battlefield, etc.) haven't been addressed.
If you've ever complained about East Potomac or Langston, go to Rock Creek once.