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With a membership list that has included five presidents and 19 Supreme Court justices, Washington Golf & Country Club is known as the “Club of Presidents.”

Without the help of one prosperous Arlington doctor, however, the elite club founded in 1893 would have closed in 1906.

Rear Admiral Presley Marion Rixey, Surgeon General in the U.S. Navy, served as the full-time personal physician to Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He is considered the first “White House Physician,” though the title wasn’t officially used until 1928.

Beyond his medical exploits, the doctor owned a significant amount of land in Arlington. He lived on a large property then-called Netherfauld, which he purchased in 1888 from Mary Ann Hall, known for the rowdy brothel she ran in D.C. According to Johnathan Thomas, the former president of the Arlington Historical Society, there is no evidence her property in Arlington housed a similar business.

(Her brother, Bazil Hall is the namesake of Halls Hill: He owned enslaved persons and later sold his land to African-American families in Arlington, leading to the founding of the historically Black neighborhood.)

Rixey’s relationship to Teddy Roosevelt was not just one between a doctor and patient. They were friends, and so were their wives. President Roosevelt often came to Netherfauld to ride on horseback with Rixey through his many acres of rural lands and to eat ice cream made on the property. Mrs. Roosevelt, meanwhile, would frequently walk from the White House to Netherfauld to have lunch with Mrs. Rixey.

While Rixey enjoyed his property, he also was generous with it, ensuring the Washington Golf & Country Club — of which he was a member and the Chairman of the Greens Committee — had a permanent home.

“Admiral Rixey carried Washington Golf through its worst financial times, restructuring notes and forgiving interest so the fledgling club could survive,” according to an article written by Thomas, who also acted as the historian for WGCC.

Thomas went so far as to call Rixey the “Godfather” of the golf club. In 1906, WGCC was pushed out of its original Rosslyn location by investors looking to develop a residential area instead. Close to disbanding, members of the club searched for a location that would keep them close to D.C. 

The club unsuccessfully tried to reestablish the club on the Saegmuller Farm — land that is now used by Arlington’s Knights of Columbus. Rixey’s offer in 1908 to sell 75 acres of his Netherfauld Farm for $50,000 saved WGCC from extinction.

“There’s a story handed down at the club that one of the members got the [Saegmuller Farm] under contract because he wanted to make a fee off of it. They said ‘forget it,’ and ended up buying the property from Rixey,” Thomas tells ARLnow.

Rixey helped the club after the sale. With it struggling financially, Rixey redesigned the agreed-upon payment plan and forgave interest. The doctor also donated more acres to WGCC as a prize to club president Joseph Johnson for defeating him in a golf game. Later, he offered to sell even more of his land to the club at a discounted price, but the leaders declined.

While clearing out part of Rixey’s land for the golf course and club, Richard Wallace — Rixey’s valet, Roosevelt’s former White House chauffeur, and one of four men who laid down the first nine holes in 1908 — happened upon a previously uninhabited log cabin on the Netherfauld grounds.

Wallace became enchanted with the log cabin and Rixey gifted it to him to live there. Whenever President Roosevelt visited the Rixey home, Wallace would bring homemade ice cream that Roosevelt enjoyed so much that Wallace let him lick the ice cream from the paddles once he was done churning.

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(Updated at 2:30 p.m.) In the latest episode of PBS’ Finding Your Roots, historian Henry Louis Gates Jr. helped guide six-time Tony-winner Audra McDonald on a tour of her family lineage — a journey that led her to a golf club in Arlington.

McDonald’s trip through her family tree started with her maternal grandfather, whom she credited as a major influencing force on her life. Her grandfather, Thomas Hardy Jones, was described by McDonald as “born into the depths of the Jim Crow era” but managing to build a respected career as an educator in historically Black institutions.

Her awareness of her mother’s paternal lineage ended there, but Gates took McDonald further to meet her great-grandfather: Clarence Jones.

“After stints as a miner and chauffeur, Clarence supported his family and paid for his son’s education by working in a locker room in a segregated golf club in Arlington, Virginia, where it seems he somehow managed to thrive,” Gates said.

Clarence Jones worked at Washington Golf & Country Club, the first golf club in Virginia and a prestigious regional institution that counted presidents Wilson, Taft and Harding as active members.

The club was segregated, however, and Clarence Jones worked at the club but could never play there. Only starting in the mid-1970s were Black and Jewish applicants granted membership, according to a book by former Northern Virginia Sun publisher Herman Obermayer.

Even so, Gates’ team found a newspaper article from the time that profiled Jones, in which he was described as indispensable and well-loved by the golfing community.

“[He is a] shoe shiner, story teller, match-maker, gambler and good friend all rolled into one,” Gates read from the newspaper. “Wherever you go around the nation’s capital, golfers ask about Clarence.”

McDonald said many of those traits described in Clarence Jones were passed down to his son, her grandfather.

Records showed that Clarence Jones’ parents were both born in D.C. shortly after the Civil War, but the paper trail ended there as their parents were likely enslaved.

McDonald said that learning about her great-grandfather was bittersweet knowing that he was held back by the racist institutions of his era.

“There’s a part of me that’s amazed and proud of my great-grandfather,” McDonald said, “but a part that hurts for him too.”

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Morning Notes

Crystal City Water Park to Get Big Upgrade — “JBG Smith Properties is pitching a major makeover for a small park at the heart of its Crystal City holdings, envisioning some new retail and even a bar atop a water feature. The developer filed plans with Arlington County earlier this month requesting an additional 6,100 square feet of density for the 1.6-acre park, located across the street from JBG Smith’s massive ‘Central District’ project at 1770 Crystal Drive.” [Washington Business Journal, Twitter]

Vote By Mail Facts — “The first round of vote-by-mail ballots have been sent to people who requested them, but it’s not too late to request yours. Ballot applications must be received by 5 p.m. on Oct. 23. To help you understand how voting by mail works — and feel confident in submitting your ballot — we’ve broken down the facts you need to know.” [Arlington County]

Deer Rescued from Country Club Fence — “On Tuesday night, a curious fawn tried to get through a metal fence in the Washington Golf and Country Club. Unfortunately her adventurous plan backfired, and the fawn ended up stuck and stranded. The country club called animal control, which is under the Animal Welfare League of Arlington, and that’s when Officer Shannon Rose sprung to action.” [Washingtonian]

Weekday Afternoon Robbery in Ballston — “At approximately 4:21 p.m. on September 23, police were dispatched to the report of a robbery just occurred. Upon arrival, it was determined that the suspect entered a business, approached the front counter, and passed the employee a note demanding money and threatening them if they didn’t comply. The victim complied, and the suspect stole an undisclosed amount of cash, then fled on foot prior to police arrival.” [Arlington County]

National Landing Food Program Extended — “Thanks to generous support from the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), Amazon, JBG SMITH, Equity Residential and individual Arlington residents, the National Landing Business Improvement District (BID) announced today that its Farm-to-Families food assistance program will be extended through the fall.” [Press Release]

Addiction Recovery Org Rebrands — “The name will change but the mission will remain the same – working to help those struggling with addiction turn their lives around. Phoenix House Mid-Atlantic announced Sept. 16 that it would change its name to National Capital Treatment and Recovery, following its split last year from the national Phoenix House organization.” [InsideNova]

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Morning Notes

Country Club Files Layoff Notice — Arlington’s Washington Golf and Country Club has filed a WARN Act notice of potential layoffs. The club said it may lay off up to 188 employees due to the coronavirus pandemic. [InsideNova]

Local Eye Doctor Sees Big Decline in Business — “Dr. Nicole Renaud, an Arlington, Virginia, ophthalmologist, said she had a full schedule of patients and worked long hours before the pandemic. Now, she sees a few patients a week, mostly through telemedicine… As a result, her practice’s income has fallen by a stunning 90%.” [WTOP]

SUVs Stolen from Koons Toyota Dealership — “At approximately 1:44 p.m. on April 21, police were dispatched to the report of several stolen vehicles. Upon arrival, it was determined that during an inventory of vehicles, four 2020 silver Toyota Highlanders were determined to have been stolen between April 7 and April 21.” [Arlington County]

Civ Fed Zooms into Virtual Future — “For 104 years, the Arlington County Civic Federation held its monthly meetings in a group setting. But on April 21, to address the COVID-19 public-health situation, the organization conducted its proceedings in a ‘virtual’ setting. ‘We are experimenting,’ Civic Federation president Allan Gajadhar said at the opening of the meeting, held on the online platform Zoom.” [InsideNova]

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Updated 11:15 a.m. — Last year’s construction at Washington Golf & Country Club meant viewers of the 4th of July fireworks — traditionally seated on the course — had to find new accommodations.

This year, Arlington’s other tradition of eternal construction work means viewers will still need to find another place to watch the fireworks.

Member Services Coordinator Jordan Marks said in an email that the club will still hold its fireworks celebration, but can’t promise seating:

The golf course at Washington Golf & Country Club is currently undergoing a renovation. During the renovation there is no access to the golf course because it is an active work area. As a result of this ongoing work, there will unfortunately be no seating available on the course to view the fireworks display. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope you have a wonderful 4th of July

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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A trash truck dumped a flaming load of garbage in the parking lot of Washington Golf and Country Club this afternoon, leading to lane closures on N. Glebe Road during the evening rush hour.

The incident was first reported shortly before 5 p.m. The contents of a Waste Management truck caught fire, prompting the driver to dump the load in the ritzy private club’s front parking lot.

Firefighters were eventually able to extinguish the slow-burning fire, from which a small plume of smoke was visible on a nearby traffic camera. Now the private trash collection company will have to figure out how to clean up the mountain of soggy, sometimes charred debris from the parking lot, along with the detritus that was washed down nearby N. Glebe Road.

Both northbound lanes of Glebe were temporarily blocked at Old Dominion Drive during the incident. One lane has since reopened.

Similar trash truck fires happened last year just off S. Glebe Road and in the Penrose neighborhood.

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(Updated at 10:45 p.m.) About a year ago at this time, Arlington looked to be in serious trouble down in Richmond.

In mid-March 2018, county officials faced the decidedly unpleasant prospect that they’d come out on the losing end of a bruising legislative battle with two local golf and country clubs.

One of the county’s foremost foes in the General Assembly had engineered the passage of legislation to slash the clubs’ tax bills, potentially pulling more than a million dollars in annual tax revenue out of the county’s coffers.

Arlington had spent years tangling with the clubs, which count among their members local luminaries ranging from retired generals to former presidents, arguing over how to tax those properties. Yet the legislation from Del. Tim Hugo (R-40th District) would’ve bypassed the local dispute entirely, and it was headed to Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.

That meant that Arlington’s only hope of stopping the bill was convincing the governor to strike it down with his veto pen.

In those days, long before evidence of Northam’s racist medical school yearbook photos had surfaced, the Democrat was well-liked in the county. He’d raised plenty of cash from Arlingtonians in his successful campaign just a year before, and had won endorsements in his primary contest from many of the county’s elected officials.

Yet the situation still looked dire enough that the County Board felt compelled to take more drastic steps to win Northam to their side. The county shelled out $22,500 to hire a well-connected lobbying firm for just a few weeks, embarking on a frenetic campaign to pressure the governor and state lawmakers and launch a media blitz to broadcast the county’s position in both local and national outlets.

“It became apparent to all of us that every Arlingtonian had something at stake here,” then-County Board Chair Katie Cristol told ARLnow. “At a time when we were making excruciating decisions about our own budget, the idea that you would take more than million dollars and put it toward something that wasn’t a priority for anyone here was so frustrating.”

That push was ultimately successful — Northam vetoed the bill last April, and the county struck a deal with the clubs to end this fight a few weeks later.

An ARLnow investigation of the events of those crucial weeks in spring 2018 sheds a bit more light on how the county won that veto, and how business is conducted down in the state capitol. This account is based both on interviews with many people close to the debate and a trove of emails and documents released via a public records request (and published now in the spirit of “National Sunshine Week,” a nationwide initiative designed to highlight the value of freedom of information laws).

Crucially, ARLnow’s research shows that the process was anything but smooth sailing for the county, as it pit Arlington directly against the club’s members. Many of them exercise plenty of political influence across the region and the state, and documents show they were able to lean heavily on Northam himself.

“One would expect a Democratic governor to be highly responsive to one of most Democratic jurisdictions in the state,” said Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. “But this was a matter of great concern to a bunch of very important people in Virginia, and that may well be the reason why additional efforts were necessary.”

And, looking forward, the bitter fight over the issue could well have big implications should similar legislation ever resurface in Richmond.

“Structurally, this bill could absolutely come back someday,” Cristol said. “And the idea that a bill that has such deleterious consequences for land use and taxation in jurisdictions across Virginia could come back and garner support because of an effective lobbying interest is very much a real threat.”

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Members of the public who want to watch the Washington Golf and Country Club fireworks display will have to stand this year.

Due to renovations, the golf course is an “active work area” and seating is not available, as it has been in previous years.

“The fireworks are still happening but unfortunately the general public will need to stand outside the clubhouse to view the fireworks,” said Member Services Coordinator Jordan Marks.

Marks said the club is trying to make sure residents are notified in advance of the change. The club also issued a statement about the situation.

The golf course at Washington Golf & Country Club is currently undergoing a renovation. During the renovation there is no access to the golf course because it is an active work area.

As a result of this ongoing work, there will unfortunately be no seating available on the course to view the fireworks display. We apologize for any inconvenience and hope you have a wonderful 4th of July.

Washington Golf and Country Club, along with Army Navy Country Club, recently settled a tax dispute with Arlington County.

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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Morning Notes

Family Wants to See Relative Shot By Police — The family of Steven Best, who was shot by police last week after allegedly trying to ram a police cruiser with a van, says they have not been allowed to see him nor have they been given information on his condition. [WJLA]

Legislative Threat Helped Country Club Tax Deal — “The decision by two Arlington country clubs to take their case to the General Assembly helped get all parties to come together on a deal more expeditiously than otherwise might have been the case, the Arlington government’s top legal official said,” reports the Sun Gazette. Arlington clubs, meanwhile, “came away with most of what they were seeking in assessment reductions.” [InsideNova, Washington Post]

Local Sixth Graders Make Headlines — A fourth-period, sixth-grade class at Gunston Middle School is the May Class of WaPo’s KidsPost. [Washington Post]

Marymount Employee’s Boston Marathon Journey — Katie Sprinkel, a lab coordinator and adjunct professor at Arlington’s Marymount University, overcame knee and leg injuries — and a battle with breast cancer — to finish this year’s Boston Marathon. She was back at work the next day. [Marymount University]

Arlington Among Top Walkable Places — Arlington is No. 9 on a list of the most walkable communities in the country. The list was compiled by the travel site Expedia. [Viewfinder]

Major Metro Work Starting Next Summer — “There will be no service on Metro’s Blue and Yellow lines south of Reagan National Airport for 98 days beginning in May 2019, as the transit agency embarks on a platform rebuilding project spanning six stations, part of an effort to refurbish 20 station platforms over three years.” Arlington’s East Falls Church Metro station is also on the list of platforms to be rebuilt. [Washington Post, WMATA]

Flickr pool photo by John Sonderman

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(Updated at 4:30 p.m.) A dispute between two private country clubs and Arlington County that resulted in some wrangling in Richmond seems to have come to an end.

The Army Navy Country Club (1700 Army Navy Drive) and Washington Golf and Country Club (3017 N. Glebe Road) were both pushing for property tax changes that could have cost the county roughly $1.4 million in tax revenue each year, even backing legislation at the state level this year to force those alterations. That miffed county leaders, who bristled at attempts by the state General Assembly to change Arlington’s tax policy to save money for the golf courses.

Now, the county has agreed to reduce the tax burden on each club by tweaking how it values their land, according to an April 27 email sent out by the Washington Golf and Country Club’s president and obtained by ARLnow. County attorney Steve MacIsaac confirmed that the parties have signed off on a settlement agreement, putting to bed a 2014 lawsuit brought by the clubs over the tax question.

Like any settlement, both sides give a little bit to get to a mutually acceptable outcome,” MacIsaac told ARLnow.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) had vetoed the bill addressing the issue in the hopes that the county and the clubs would come to some sort of compromise, and his spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said his office is “still evaluating the details but support[s] a locally negotiated solution here.”

The country clubs had backed the legislation, sponsored by Del. Tim Hugo, R-40th District, which would have forced the county to change how it assesses the value of the roughly 630 acres held by the two clubs.

Currently, the courses are valued as “large acreage parcels” at $12 per square foot, while residential land near each course is valued as high $100 per square foot. Hugo’s legislation would have slashed the rate to about 50 cents per square foot, in a bid to meet persistent concerns from the courses that they were overtaxed.

Washington Golf and Country Club President Stephen Fedorchak wrote a letter to members explaining that the county now has agreed to reduce the club’s valuation from “approximately $93 million to approximately $47 million” in 2018, which reduces the club’s property tax bill this year to about $460,000. Arlington also plans to credit $815,000 toward the club’s current tax bill to make up for the last three tax bills the club has paid at the previous, higher valuation, MacIsaac added.

“We are gratified by this reasonable, sustainable resolution,” Fedorchak wrote to members. “It will benefit the club’s general fiscal health for years to come.”

Raighne Delaney, the Army Navy Country Club’s secretary, did not respond to a call seeking details on the structure of his course’s deal with Arlington. But MacIsaac estimated that the club will receive about $1.25 million in credits toward its tax bill, and the valuation of the property will shrink by 25 to 35 percent under the terms of the settlement.

The Army Navy Country Club was assessed at just over $149 million for 2018, and was set to owe about $842,000 in taxes this year before any credits.

Starting in 2019, the clubs’ assessments will “increase or decrease based on the average annual change in the county’s residential real estate assessments,” Fedorchak wrote. Should the assessment change “outside those parameters” the clubs reserve the right to challenge that valuation, Fedorchak noted.

Arlington officials have previously argued that land is at a premium in the 26-square-mile county, necessitating the higher taxes.

“Our community is already grappling with reductions to services in order to address budget gaps for the upcoming fiscal year and larger projected budget gaps in future years,” the county board wrote in a March 21 letter to Northam urging him to veto Hugo’s bill.

File photo

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Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has vetoed legislation that would have dramatically reduced Arlington County’s tax revenue from two country clubs.

HB 1204 would have reduced the tax bills for Army Navy Country Club and Washington Golf and Country Club, but would have cost the county’s coffers nearly $1.5 million annually.

The state legislature will now have an opportunity to override the veto.

More from an Arlington County press release:

“We are grateful to Governor Northam for vetoing HB 1204,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said. “The governor, by his action to keep authority over local property assessments in the hands of local government, and not in Richmond, has shown real leadership.  This legislation had major implications for all localities across the Commonwealth.”

Arlington encourages all local governments to unify and ask their legislators to sustain the veto when the General Assembly reconvenes April 18 at the State Capitol, Cristol said.

“We are committed to resolving the assessment issue with the golf courses, and we are confident that we can find an equitable solution,” she said. “I want to thank our Arlington delegation for standing strong with us throughout this process.”

In his veto message, Northam says that he expects Arlington and the clubs to reach a compromise soon. The clubs are suing the county, fighting back against what they say is an unfair way to assess what is essentially open space — treating the many acres of golf courses as developable land.

The governor’s veto message is below.

Pursuant to Article V, Section 6, of the Constitution of Virginia, I veto House Bill 1204, which requires the County of Arlington to assess two private country clubs within its boundaries as land dedicated to open space rather than its current method of highest and best use.

This is a local dispute over a local government’s method of assessing land for property taxation. As such, the solution to this dispute should be reached on the local level without the involvement of the state.

I have been assured that an agreement acceptable to both sides of this dispute is close to being reached. I encourage the parties to continue negotiations to find a solution so that similar legislation will not be necessary in the future.

Accordingly, I veto this bill.

Sincerely,

Ralph S. Northam

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