Time to Join the H Street Country Club
The Lincoln Memorial had me tearing my hair out. It was just sitting there. All I had to do was knock a little ball up the steps of the monument, into a tiny cup on a ledge at the base of the columns. If I hit the ball too softly, it ran out of momentum and rolled back toward me. Too hard, and it ran past the hole and up the next flight of stairs, where it would also u-turn and wind up at my feet.
I'd been waiting for the H Street Country Club to open for more than two years, and after only four holes, I was ready to break my putter over my knee and chuck it into the nearest pond.
The nine-hole course, set in a extremely deep rowhouse a few doors down from the Rock and Roll Hotel, opened last Wednesday with a lot of hype and large crowds -- waits of 30 minutes or more weren't uncommon on the weekend. It's easy to see why: Washington's only indoor miniature golf course is a lot of fun to play and truly a work of art. If you're going out to putt, here's what you need to know.
The building: The former Phish Tea Cafe looks narrow from the street, but it runs a lot further back than many of its neighbors, with around 6,800 square feet of space over two levels. The huge first floor has a pair of Skee-Ball machines, shuffleboard tables, pool and a loaded jukebox, plus dining space. Upstairs, besides the golf course, there's a large golf-themed bar with a number of tables, banquettes and barstools. I loved the birdhouse chandelier hanging over the stairway -- it's your first clue that this isn't going to be the usual Ocean City-tier Pirate Mini Golf. (With so many entertainment options, David's already referring to the places as "Dave and Hipsters" in the office.)
The course: Local artist Lee T. Wheeler has crafted nine holes that are as much fun to look at as they are to play. Marion Barry is recast as "The Awakening" on hole 8, breaking out of the ground. Also rising from the earth are former presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt and Martin Van Buren on hole 5, now zombies who need to be putted around. On the walls, murals depict an alien invasion of Washington and a tidal wave of rats.
Play: The first stop is the mini golf hut, where you pay ($7 per person), pick up a putter and select your ball from an assortment that includes sparkly gold or silver and the oh-so-hip black. One person from the party is required to leave a credit card or driver's license with the attendant "in case you damage the course."
A lot of the holes are fairly straightforward. Hit the ball down a narrow alley between Ben's Chili Bowl and the Lincoln Theater. Curve it up a circular embankment to get to a hole hidden behind the Washington Monument. Time a shot to avoid sliding briefcases held by Lego-style K Street lawyers that block a cup.
Some holes are trickier than they look. On number seven, it's easy to putt between the obese meter maid's legs and approach the hole with one stroke. However, if you hit the ball too hard, it's likely to overrun the hole and carom off the metal parking meter pole immediately behind it, going down alleys that don't offer an easy approach.
And it really doesn't matter which of the three ramps you shoot down on the Beltway Mixing Bowl because there are overturned model cars blocking lanes and serving as obstacles. (The loop-de-loop is obviously the most fun, though.)
One final note that applies to the entire course: The Astroturf is new and somewhat tacky, so you may want to hit a little harder than you would elsewhere.
Service: There are waiters patrolling the course, taking orders and delivering drinks. If only all country clubs worked like this.
Prices: A round of golf is $7. My date and I were surprised that one glass of sangria ($7) and a can of Tecate ($5) cost almost as much -- $13.20, including tax -- as it did for the two of us to play nine holes. She did enjoy the sangria, though her final judgment was just "It was good ... it tasted like sangria."
When to go: Early in the week is better: The County Club opens at 5 p.m. every day, though it can be reserved for private events -- check hstreetcountryclub.com for updates about closings.
On weekends, games get backed up, and you may have to wait half an hour or more to get to the first tee.
Once on the course, play moves fairly quickly, since the holes aren't long or complicated. You may spend more time checking out the art than actually playing, which is a good thing.
In the future: There are plans to expand and put nine more holes on the roof, but that day seems far off. Let's just be happy that there are nine holes right now.
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