When one talks about the history of a golf course, all you have to do is look at what championships have been staged at the venue to know where it ranks among the greats. That certainly is the case with Congressional Country Club's Blue Course.
From the U.S. and Senior Opens and PGA Championship, along with PGA Tour stops, Congressional is as storied a venue as it gets. The list of past winners at Congressional reads like a who's who, with such notable victors as: Gay Brewer, Ken Venturi, Dave Stockton, Craig Stadler, Fred Couples, Greg Norman, Tom Weiskopf and Ernie Els.
Founded in 1924, Congressional was first laid out by Devereaux Emmet, who also crafted some notable venues; St. Georges Golf and Country Club, Garden City Golf Club, Leatherstocking Country Club and Meadow Brook Club. With most of his work done in the state of New York, Emmet's work at Congressional, nine holes each of the Blue and Gold, was his only design in the state of Maryland. Six years later, the one and only Donald Ross was brought in for a revision of the course. Congressional Country Club was the centerpiece for one of the world's most famous regions, Washington D.C.
Congressmen Oscar E. Bland and O.R. Luhring of Indiana helped found the venue with Herbert Hoover as the Club's first president. Their intention was a club designed for members of Congress to socialize with the most influential businessmen of our time. The list included such luminaries as John D. Rockefeller, the DuPonts, William Randolph Hurst, Harvey S. Firestone and Walter Chrysler to name a few.
Congressional is synonymous with the Presidents of the United States. Former Commanders-in-Chief who were lifetime members were Calvin Coolidge, Howard Taft, Hoover, Woodrow Wilson and Warren Harding. President Dwight Eisenhower and his Cabinet frequented the lush fairways on many occasions, as did recent leaders George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Robert Trent Jones, Sr. was brought to Congressional in 1959 to redesign the course in time for the U.S. Women's Amateur and the 1964 U.S. Open, while his son Rees, who took over as the 'Open Doctor' from his father, came aboard in the early 1990s for the last major renovation work for the 1995 U.S. Senior Open and the 1997 U.S. Open. Jones rebuilt every green and bunker, re-graded many fairways and added considerable mounding.
He returned to Congressional in 2006 to design a new par three to replace the original 18th, which played back to the clubhouse. The new hole is now the 10th and plays away from the main building, stretching as much as 218 yards. 'I think what they've done to this golf course is they have made it better,' commented Tiger Woods. 'They have made it more fair, but they have also made it more challenging.'
In just the second year of the tournament, the USGA brought the U.S. Junior Amateur to Congressional, as former Masters champion Brewer defeated Mason Rudolph, 6 & 4 in the championship match. The 1959 U.S. Women's Amateur saw Barbara McIntire capture the first of her two championships, as she defeated Joanne Goodwin, 4 & 3.
The best was yet to come, as the 1964 U.S. Open was awarded to Congressional. With temperatures approaching 100, Tommy Jacobs played the first two days in four-under par and led Arnold Palmer by one with Sunday's final 36 holes remaining. Six shots back was Venturi, who after losing to Palmer at the 1960 Masters, suffered through numerous injuries and by 1964 was hardly noticed.
That would all change on Sunday. Despite the heat and humidity, Venturi opened with a front- nine 30 to take the lead. After adding another birdie on 12, the weather conditions began to take its toll on Venturi, as he missed a pair of short par putts on the final two holes of the third round for a 66. Jacobs fashioned an even-par 70 to lead by two heading into the afternoon's final round. Visibly drained, Venturi was given salt tablets and tea and was advised by a doctor, a Congressional member, to withdraw from the event. The former CBS commentator played steady golf, making 14 pars, two birdies and two bogeys for a final score of 70, a 278 total and a four-stroke win over Jacobs, who collapsed down the stretch with a 76.
Venturi's final 54-hole total of 206 set a record at the time and his last 36 of 136 tied the record. In the press room afterwards, Venturi was asked what he thought of Congressional and without hesitation, 'Best course I ever won the Open on.' Interestingly enough, due to additional television revenues and the enormous physical circumstances Venturi withstood, the USGA opted in 1965 to play the Open over four days, ending the final day marathon that the last day of the Open had become. Palmer, who played in the final group with Jacobs, shot 74 and tied for fifth. Venturi would later add two more wins in 1964 and was voted PGA Tour player of the year.
The PGA of America made its only stop at Congressional in 1976 for the PGA Championship. Tom Weiskopf opened with a tournament-low 65 to take the lead, but could not continue his fine play, closing with 74-73-72 to tie for eighth. Trailing by eight shots at the halfway point, Dave Stockton roared into contention with a 69 to trail Charles Coody by only four.
With the final round being played on Monday for the first time in history due to rain, Stockton shot an even-par round of 70 for a one-shot win over Ray Floyd, who played with Venturi for those final 36 holes during the 1964 Open, and Don January.
Standing on the final tee (17th hole was the final hole for the PGA, 1964 Open and 1995 Senior Open), Stockton needed to make par to avoid a playoff. The 14-time Champions Tour and 10-time PGA Tour winner calmly knocked in his 15-foot putt for par for his second PGA Championship title. Stockton's total of one-over 281 matched the highest winning total at the time. Congressional certainly came out on top, as the four-day average was 74.44 and the halfway cut came in at nine-over par.
The PGA Tour's regular stop in the area, the Kemper Open, made Congressional its home, as the course hosted the event from 1980-86. Playing as a par 72, Craig Stadler became the first back-to-back winner of the event, as he titled in 1981-82 after finishing second to John Mahaffey in 1980.
Fred Couples won a five-way playoff in 1983 for his first career PGA Tour title. Norman won his first Tour title in 1984, as he cruised to a five-shot win over Mark O'Meara at Congressional. Norman added his second Kemper Open title in 1986, when he knocked off Larry Mize in a playoff. Mize, of course, would return the favor the next year at The Masters.
The USGA returned to Congressional in 1995 for the Senior Open. Perennial runner-up Tom Weiskopf, who never won a USGA event before, became only the second Senior Open winner to post all four rounds in the 60s, as he defeated longtime rival Jack Nicklaus by four shots. Weiskopf, who finished second at the 1976 U.S. Open and was runner-up at four Masters, missed only 16 greens all week and his final round of 68 ranks as one of the best final rounds by a champion in the history of the Senior Open.
It took 33 years, but the U.S. Open returned to Congressional for the 1997 edition. Colin Montgomerie opened with 65 and held a one-shot lead over Hal Sutton, as he hit 13 of 14 fairways and 16 greens in regulation. Monty would struggle in day two, shooting 76 while Tom Lehman carded 70 to take the lead, just one clear of 1994 champion Ernie Els, who fashioned a 67.
Day three was a mixed bag, as 21 players were forced to complete their third round on Sunday, including Els, who at the time was struggling at two-over par through 13. Els came out of the box smoking, as he rolled in a 12-foot par save on 14 and then birdied holes 15 through 17 for a 69. Lehman, who was playing in the final group for the third consecutive year, led Els and Jeff Maggert by two.
Despite a shaky start, Lehman was tied for the lead with Maggert after six holes, with Els and Montgomerie just one back. Playing holes 7-12 in three-under, Els took a one-shot lead over the trio, but fell back into a tie with a bogey at 13. Maggert fell out of contention with bogeys on 13 and 16 and a double on 17.
Montgomerie was the next player to fall back. After making bogey on 17 the three previous days, Montgomerie was faced with a five-foot putt for par. He waited several minutes for the group of Jay Haas and Tommy Tolles to putt out on the nearby 18th green, and Montgomerie missed his putt and then two-putted from 40-feet on the last for a 69 and a second-place finish. After a solid tee shot on 17, Els, playing with Montgomerie, hit his five-iron approach on the green and two-putted for par and then made par on the last for a 69.
Sitting in the fairway at the 17th hole, Lehman decided to hit seven-iron from 190 yards out, as he trailed by one. After striking his shot, Lehman knew his chances were sunk as he splashed his approach into the water. Despite getting up and down for bogey, Lehman could only par the last for a 73 and a third-place finish.
The win by Els made him the first non-American to capture two U.S. Open titles since 1910 and the youngest two-time champion at the age of 27 since Jack Nicklaus in 1967. The key to victory was the South African's play over the final five holes, as he played them the last two days at three-under par. Lehman played them at even- par, Montgomerie at one-over and Maggert five-over.
Nicklaus, who tied for 52nd, played in his 41st consecutive Open, 142nd straight major and his 150th major championship. The 10th hole during the third round also marked his 10,000th hole played in his major championship career. At 7,213 yards, Congressional was the longest course in U.S. Open history at the time and was 160 yards longer than the 1964 Open.
The field also included Tiger Woods, who was competing at the U.S. Open for the first time as a professional. Woods broke 72 only once (second round 67) and finished tied for 19th. Congressional once again was the winner, as the average score for the week was 73.65 with 403 rounds over par.
After hosting the Booz Allen Classic in 2005, won by Spaniard Sergio Garcia, Congressional became the site of the PGA Tour's newest event, the AT&T National, hosted by Tiger Woods.
The first staging of the event was in 2007, as K.J. Choi held off the tournament host and the Tour's best, as he recorded a three-shot win over Steve Stricker. Choi opened with 66 and was tied for the lead with four other players. A second-round 67 moved Choi atop the leaderboard with Stuart Appleby. The talented Australian moved in front with his third straight round in the 60s to lead Choi by two shots. Appleby struggled right from the start on the final day, with a double-bogey on two and four straight bogeys from the fourth to fall out of contention.
Tied with Choi after 14 holes, Stricker bogeyed the 15th, while Choi, playing in the final group, birdied from 12 feet to take a two-shot lead. Stricker had birdie chances on the final two holes, but missed and after a Choi hole out from the bunker on 17 for birdie, the tournament was his. After an opening round of 73, Woods rebounded with 66-69-70 to tie for sixth.
Aces, pars or bogeys, email your thoughts to Phil Sokol.