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Langston hopes Obama to make tee time

Maybe you remember Herman Boone, who always insists with a twinkle in his eye that he was far better looking than the man who portrayed him -- Denzel Washington -- as the hard-nosed, pioneering high school football coach at T.C. Williams high school in Alexandria, Va. in the Hollywood mega-hit, "Remember The Titans."

Years after the movie came out in 2000, Boone remains a widely sought-after motivational speaker around the country. But at his favorite golfing venue in the world, he's just another one of the guys who often finds it difficult to get a word in edgewise as he sits around the clubhouse over morning breakfast, afternoon lunch or even early evening bacon and eggs with his small battalion of golfing buddies at historic Langston Golf Course in northeast Washington, D.C.

"When I'm not traveling, I got there pretty much every day to meet and talk to my friends," Boone said in a recent interview. "I can't think of any place I'd rather be, to tell you the truth. For a lot of us, it's a home away from home, and the only golf course in town you can still get breakfast at 6 in the evening."

Langston has been both a playground and a meeting ground for generations of African-American golfers. In recent years, the course has also drawn a diverse flock of dedicated players of all ages, genders and races to its challenging 6,500-yard, par-72 layout that stands a driver and a 3-wood away from RFK Stadium.

The course, which counts about 25,000 rounds played a year, was opened in 1939 at a time when African-American golfers were prohibited from playing virtually all of the Washington area's other segregated public or private golf courses, unless it was caddie day. Harold Ickes, then the Secretary of Interior under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was a driving force behind getting the course built. Over its 70-year existence, the venue has attracted more than its share of famous black golfers, including heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Hall of Fame baseball player Maury Wills and professional golfer Lee Elder, who once had a contract to manage the facility in the 1980s.

Ted Rhodes, considered one of the greatest African-American players in the 1940s and '50s, often played the course, which also was an annual stop on the circuit of black professionals who were unable to play regularly on the then-racially restricted PGA Tour. Calvin Peete and Jim Thorpe, who later did play on the Tour in the 1970s and '80s, also were frequent visitors at Langston early in their careers.

These days, the course, named for noted educator and politician Mercer Langston, is owned by the National Park Service and operated by Golf Course Specialists, a management company that also runs D.C.'s other two public courses -- Rock Creek Park and East Potomac. The man in charge of all three operations is Jimmy Garvin, who once worked on the maintenance crew at Langston while a student at Howard University. He now uses Langston as his home base and office.

The regulars who come out almost every day to either play, eat or simply socialize in the modest clubhouse say Garvin has done wonders for the conditioning of the golf course, as well as making the entire facility a hub of activity that includes three junior golf programs, a driving range, a short game practice area and a learning center for neighborhood kids and adults. The price also is attractive, about $37 including a cart on the weekends ($24 to walk) and $30 during the week ($17 to walk).

"With his calmness and his demeanor, Jimmy has also brought with him an atmosphere where people tend to respect each other," Boone said. "It's his personality, a nonconfrontational nature. He doesn't mind talking with you, and he doesn't just talk about doing things. He gets it done."

When Garvin first got to Langston as the general manager in 1991, he found a course in terrible condition and a clubhouse that had iron bars on all the windows and doors to prevent constant break-ins. Golfers arriving on several greens around the course often found that approach shots they thought were on the putting surface could never be found, mainly because neighborhood kids frequently slipped under the fence and added them to their own collections, often selling them back to other unsuspecting golfers back in the clubhouse parking lot a few days later.

"People were afraid to come over here and play," said Tony Burnett, the long-time groundskeeper at RFK Stadium who also is a Langston regular. "Now, it's not unusual to see a congressman or a senator show up. Jimmy went out in the neighborhoods and he got kids to come over here to learn to play the game or work around the course. We don't have those kinds of problems any more. It's a safe and friendly place, and in my opinion, one of the best kept secrets anywhere around here."

Garvin would also like to add a president to the list of luminaries who have walked Langston's fairways. He's already made inquiries to see if President Barack Obama might come out and play later this spring and he's confident the latest First Golfer will one day soon show up on the first tee.

"He'd be the first president to play here," Garvin said. "What a great thing that would do for all the kids we work with out here. Wouldn't that be something? I'm definitely working on it."

The new president, who took up the game a dozen years ago and more than occasionally breaks 90 when he does play, will find a challenging venue if he does decide to make the 10 minute drive from the White House to the course. Langston includes what Washington Golf Monthly magazine once described as "the scariest shot in beltway golf."

That would be a tee shot that requires a 200-yard carry to clear Kingman Lake on the 538-yard par-5 10th hole. There is a tough, 440-yard slight dogleg par 4 at No. 12, and the No. 1 handicap hole on the course is No. 3, a 520-yard par 5 that requires one shot over a creek and an approach to a small, elevated green.

Garvin considers Langston very much still a work in progress. Dealing with the federal bureaucracy as well as coming up with the necessary funds to try to make major course renovations and build a new state-of-the-art clubhouse and learning facility, as well another nine-hole children's course, are among the more frustrating parts of his job.

"It's a slow process, because you have to get private funds to be matched by the federal government," Garvin said. "Langston does remain in need of a major overhaul, but we make sure the golf course is as playable as possible every day, and the greens are always in great shape. People who play the course love the course, and we've really got a devoted group of golfers."

That would include members of the Wake Robin Club, one of the first social organizations for African-American, female golfers. There also is a regular Monday Morning Club that tees it up year round, including several golfers in their 90s who have been coming to Langston since the day the place opened.

On a recent January afternoon a few days before President Obama's inauguration, the temperature was in the low 20s with snow flurries spitting down. Nevertheless, a handful of well-layered golfers were out on the course. Inside the noisy clubhouse, several dozen regulars, including Burnett, were telling tall tales during a typically lively lunch hour, even in the dead of winter.

"Best cheeseburger in D.C.," said Burnett, who plays golf almost every day he can. "A lot of people have discovered this place, too. On the weekends, it's hard to find a place in the parking lot, and we're seeing people coming in from the suburbs, a real diverse crowd now. For me, it's a wonderful place to come every day. Don't know what we'd do without it."

"The golf course is an unrecognized jewel," Boone said. "I just enjoy going there, the whole feel of the place. Even when I'm not playing, that's where you'll probably find me. It's an atmosphere of congeniality and respect, and a place I can still break 80."

Eat your heart out, Denzel.

Leonard Shapiro is a contributor to ESPN.com's golf coverage. He can be reached at Badgerlen@aol.com.