News & Politics

Who Can Fix the Capitol Lawn? Golf-Course Experts, Obviously.

The US Golf Association is on the case, and it does look pretty golfy.

Photograph of Capitol Lawn by Lauren Bulbin

There’s no golf course on the grounds of the US Capitol—much to the chagrin, no doubt, of many lawmakers. But recently, the west side of the building has been looking less like Congress’s backyard and more like Congressional Country Club. What was once a muddy afterthought is today a verdant 144,000-square-foot expanse just begging for some 7-iron action (though such activities are very much forbidden).

It turns out this revamped west lawn is a golf course, in a way: The designer-grass makeover was done in collaboration with the United States Golf Association. “It’s America’s yard. Everyone looks at it, everyone takes pictures of it,” says Mike Naas, the Capitol grounds’ turfgrass manager. “It needs to be treated like a sports field. It gets that kind of wear and tear.” Before his current gig working for the Architect of the Capitol, Naas had a similar job overseeing the golf course at Silver Spring’s Argyle Country Club, and he used to call the USGA for turf-related tips. When Naas was assigned to fix up the Capitol’s surrounding greenery in 2018, he figured: Why not bring in the nation’s foremost grass gurus to help him out?

The golf group sent one of its agronomists, Elliott Dowling, to investigate the situation. Dowling is a serious lawn doctor, with college degrees in horticulture and turfgrass management. His diagnosis: The Capitol grounds needed a warm-weather grass that could withstand the crush of crowds without intensive upkeep. The team eventually landed on Tahoma 31, a variety of Bermuda grass that has become the blade of choice for Mid-Atlantic courses.

Dowling has worked on plenty of prominent landscaping projects, including prepping courses for the US Open. But getting in the weeds over the Capitol grass was especially thrilling. “I really almost got goosebumps,” he says. “It is the only picture I have on my phone of grass that I actually bring up and show family and friends.”

Once the type of grass was selected, the next step was for Naas and his crew to plant it, which they did in two stages in 2019 and early 2020. (The January 6 attack on the Capitol didn’t affect their efforts, because during winter the grass is dormant.) Now a similar revamp is in the works for the Capitol’s other lawns.

Today, visitors can ooh and aah over the greenery, and even walk on it. But what do experts think? We called up local fairway pro Ryan Severidt, director of golf-course and grounds operations at Woodmont Country Club. He approved of their choice of varietal (he uses Tahoma 31 himself). But would Severidt actually be excited to pull out his putter on the new Capitol lawn? Sure, he says, but only “if they let me.”

This article appears in the September 2021 issue of Washingtonian.

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Daniella Byck
Assistant Editor

Daniella Byck joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she studied journalism and digital culture.