Congressional Country Club: A Storied Course Adding to its Major Legacy
Congressional Country Club has a long and storied history in the game of golf but a new chapter is being written with the 2022 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. Thursday, the Championship will become the first of the Women’s Majors to be staged at the Club and, along with it, will usher in a new era as the best female golfers in the world will become the first to take on Congressional’s completely transformed Blue Course.
“Members are excited and they’re excited about the new Blue, to see how major championship golf takes to it,” said Jason Epstein, PGA Director of Golf and Athletics at Congressional. “The club has definitely been a buzz and it keeps building and everybody is excited about bringing major championship golf back to Congressional.”
The 2011 U.S. Open, won in record fashion by Rory McIlory, was the last major championship to be staged at Congressional, which also hosted the 1964 U.S. Open, won by Ken Venturi in blistering heat in which he famously consumed salt tablets, and the 1997 U.S. Open won by Ernie Els. The 1976 PGA Championship, won by Dave Stockton, was also held at Congressional. The 2022 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is the first of nine championships hosted by the PGA of America that will be hosted at the club in the coming years.
But the course players will face beginning Thursday is much different than the one any of the prior major champions faced. Epstein describes the 20-month redesign by golf course architect Andrew Green as a total “transformation,” as the course is largely unrecognizable.
Congressional opened in May 1924 to provide members of the U.S. Congress with a place where they could meet socially. Located in Bethesda, Maryland the club is located just 12 miles northwest of the U.S. Capitol Building. The course was originally designed by Devereux Emmet, but since its opening, the course has more than once undergone extensive changes.
Through Green’s redesign, an extensive number of trees were removed, fairways were widened, greens were rebuilt, and nearly 50 acres of natural areas added throughout. In opening up the layout, wind has become more a factor and made the clubhouse visible from nearly every point of the golf course.
“It's classic golf architecture and what the old architects did was they got players a little off balance, they got them to think about it a little bit,” said Epstein, adding that more of the ground comes into play around Congressional since the transformation. “You've got wide approaches to greens, so there are a handful of greens that slope away from you. Throwing it up in the air and having it come down may not be your first course of action to access some of the hole locations.”
McIlroy says the best shot he ever hit in his career was on the tee at the par 3 10th hole during the final round of the U.S. Open at Congressional. The green where McIlroy stuck a 6-iron to two feet will look quite different when the women tee it up there come Thursday. The green has been moved, bringing more of the water into play in front of the putting surface as Epstein says the famed hole now takes on more of a peninsula style that could create some real thrills as players make the turn.
“It's a hole that could pretty easily have a two to three-shot swing on it depending on the tee ball,” Epstein said about the 10th hole, where he says he wouldn’t be surprised to see more than one ace over the course of the championship.
McIlroy said after making it through the 10th hole that he knew it was clear sailing from there as there weren’t any real challenges over the closing stretch at Congressional. That’s no longer the case. Epstein expects the final five closing holes of the new Blue Course to provide one of the most challenging finishes in the game of golf. He describes the putting complex at the 14th hole as “so neat,” as it sits 55-feet deep with as many as five tiers with tons of movement. Additionally, the final four holes provide a test befitting a major.
“It might be the best final five holes in golf,” said Epstein. “It really is amazing.”
Congressional boasts a robust junior program, which Epstein says features around 300 members and many of those are young girls. They’re part of the large family-friendly club at Congressional that is excited at not just the opportunity to showcase their new Blue Course to the world but to also welcome the best female golfers in the world for the very first time.
“We want them to all feel like champions,” Epstein said about hosting the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “The membership and the team here is really looking forward to giving the championship, the spectators, the volunteers and most importantly the players, a warm Congressional embrace and a welcome to championship golf at the club.”