A Guide to the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club
The Blue Course at Congressional Country Club. It’s been a staple venue on the PGA Tour for many years, and it has been the site of some amazing performances. It’s a fair test, but it can be brutally difficult if you aren’t finding the fairways.
Were you a fan of golf back in 1997 when Ernie Els won the U.S. Open in dramatic fashion? Perhaps you remember watching Rory McIlroy tear the golf course apart and set records in the 2011 edition of the National Championship?
Well, both of those moments took place at Congressional. We are going to get to those two occurrences, as well as the two other instances when a major championship was held at Congressional Country Club.
But before we address the prestigious golf tournaments that have taken place at the Blue Course, we need to give it the appropriate introduction that it deserves.
From the early days in Bethesda, Maryland, when the club first opened, all the way to what it’s like now, we are going to feed you loads of information. A place that has been renovated by some of the biggest names in golf course architecture needs to be described properly and thoroughly, so we are going to make sure we hit the course illustration out of the park.
Regardless of how much or how little you currently know about the exclusive country club located just outside the nation’s capital, you are going to enjoy this guide and find it enlightening.
When it comes to the nicest golf courses in America, many of them are so private that the average fan doesn’t get to “peek inside” and understand what it’s like.
The good news for you is that if you are curious about what goes on at Congressional or what the Blue Course is like, you landed on the perfect page. Here are some general facts about the property that will help get the ball rolling.
Congressional Country Club: The Blue Course – Key Facts
- Bethesda, Maryland
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated by
- Course Designer
- Devereux Emmet. Renovations by Robert Trent Jones and Rees Jones
- 72 (70 or 71 during majors)
- Host to
- U.S. Open (1954, 1997, 2011), 1976 PGA Championship
- Official Website
Getting Started – How and Why?
It’s not just a coincidence that Congressional Country Club is located about 15 miles from the White House and about 17 miles from the United States Capitol Building. This is by design. Allow us to further explain.
The story of how and why Congressional Country Club was established isn’t like most. The property has hosted multiple major championships, but this club wasn’t created with the professional golfers in mind. When Congressional Country Club opened in 1924, it opened for a specific reason.
A pair of U.S. congressmen named Oscar Bland and O.R. Luhring first had the idea in 1921. The vision was to create a club where members of Congress could convene with successful businessmen and socialize and perhaps conduct business.
At the time, there were two courses in the Bethesda area, but neither served the exact needs the congressmen were looking for. Columbia Country Club and Chevy Chase Club were nice, but they weren’t quite adequate enough, as they did not concentrate on accommodating members of Congress.
The gentlemen got their break when the secretary of commerce, Herbert Hoover, heard of their idea to start a new country club in the Bethesda area. Hoover not only agreed with the plan, but he also jumped on board to help carry the vision out.
The next step was to form a founder’s club that would be in charge of the operations and oversee the entire project. They immediately sent out letters to all members of Congress and business owners across the country, inviting them to join the club.
(We can promise you that this bargain does not still exist today!)
It took just a couple months for the letters to circulate and enough positive responses to be returned. With that, they got to work on building the country club.
The man commissioned to design the layout was Devereux Emmet, a native of New York who was prominent in the course architecture industry. Having already completed tracks such as Garden City Golf Club and Pelham Country Club, Emmet was more than qualified to handle the job.
While Devereux was busy executing an 18-hole layout, a blueprint was drawn up to construct a grand clubhouse that would impress even the highest-class citizens. It took about two and a half years from start to finish, but on May 23rd of 1924, the doors were officially opened.
We are going to get into how the club shifted their focus towards hosting professional golf tournaments, but we need to first start depicting the layout.
Once you learn the history and evolution of the golf course’s design, the picture of how the club was transformed into a major championship venue will begin to paint itself.
Laying out the Blue Course at Congressional CC
To pick up where we left off, let’s look at what the land was like that Devereux Emmet had to work with. The undulating topography was perfect to blend a combination of dogleg right and dogleg left holes, woven amongst the massive trees that line each of the fairways.
Think of an open, links-style golf course that is bordered by a massive body of water. Now think of the exact opposite, because that’s what Congressional CC represents. Each hole is cleverly shaped and laid out, with the clubhouse being the epicenter of the entire property.
Water hazards will come into play, but they don’t dominate the landscape. In fact, only 4 holes feature some water but don’t confuse yourself into thinking the holes are easy. The brilliance of the bunkering and different green contours makes this place all you can handle, especially from the back tees.
All the way from the tips, the Blue Course measures 7,574 yards, and the par is 72. However, as you will learn below, the course has played as a par 70 and 71 during the major championships that were played here.
The rating and slope of 75.4 and 142 are by no means easy, but they aren’t as brutally difficult as most U.S. Open setups.
This is because (as we alluded to before) this track wasn’t built with the intentions of trying to challenge the best players in the world.
Congressional Country Club was created and planned for members of Congress and other high-ranking officials and executives. Most of these folks aren’t scratch golfers, so there had to be some leeway in the design.
Which transitions us perfectly into how the Blue Course at Congressional ended up hosting all these fancy tournaments. Take a look.
The Renovations at Congressional’s Blue Course
If you know anything about golf course architecture, then the following names are going to ring plenty of bells. Robert Trent Jones was the first man to come in and toughen up the Blue Course, and he did so in 1957.
It’s not by accident that the USGA hosted the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional. That was a direct result of Robert Trent Jones coming in and beefing the track up.
His son Rees, a legendary course designer in his own right, would be asked to come to Bethesda in 1989 and perform some restorations, but that wouldn’t be the last time Rees made his presence felt. He was brought back in 2006 and again in 2009. These weren’t just a few minor changes, either. Each time Rees was hired, it was for much more than just a few “touch-ups.”
In 1989, Rees rebuilt all the greens and all the fairways, as well as created some new tees that were further back. His refurbishment allowed players to get a full glimpse of the entire hole and its surrounding features, rather than have so many uphill and blind shots, as they did before.
The restoration in 2006 was much different and was essentially a direct result of the 1997 U.S. Open finishing on a par 3 for the first time in the championship’s history.
The United States Golf Association (USGA) was a bit annoyed that the climax and all the drama seemed to take place at the 17th hole, arguably the best hole on the entire property.
In turn, Rees flipped the script and made the 17th hole “the new 18th hole” while switching the “old 18th hole” to the 10th. The par 3 18th hole that is now the 19th hole at the Blue Course was actually completely redone, including changing the direction of the hole.
Rather than just quickly gloss over the two signature holes of the property, let’s dive into a much more in-depth description that enables you to grasp the entire picture.
The 10th Hole
The 10th hole at the Blue Course is such a cool hole that we decided to give you more. Let’s start with the yardage on the scorecard, which reads 218 yards from the championship tees. For most tour players, that’s just a smooth 5 iron, and if struck well, pars and birdies are attainable.
However, anything short of the green winds up in the water, and anything over the green is in one of the two treacherous greenside bunkers. Once you are on the green, there are no “gimmes” because of how severely sloped the putting surface is.
The hole appears sunken down in a picturesque setting, as the tee box is located just below the ground level of the clubhouse and visible to many of the spectators who are lurking behind.
Rather than trying to envision what it’s like, why don’t you watch how Rory McIlroy played the hole during the final round of the 2011 U.S. Open?
Not only will you get a peek at all the people crowded around behind and above the teeing ground, but you’ll get a first-hand look at the slope in the green and what happens if you execute the shot to perfection.
The 18th Hole
Most great golf courses are known for having a signature finishing hole, and the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club is no different. At 523 yards, it’s one of the longest par 4s you’ll ever see on the PGA Tour, but because of the fairway barreling downhill, it doesn’t play nearly that long.
When the conditions are firm and fast like they have been in past, we have even seen some of the bombers flip some sort of wedge in as their second shot. For example, during the final round of the 2016 Quicken Loans at Congressional, Robert Garrigus let one explode 378 yards down the fairway.
Due to the tee being one up, Garrigus had only a measly 101 yards left to the hole. We can promise you that this isn’t what Emmet or either of the Jones’ had in mind when drawing up the hole, but sometimes technology and raw power just take over.
While players can go ahead and let loose with their drivers in hopes of knocking it as far down the fairway as possible, they have to be much more careful and much more precise on their second shots. That large lake that guards the front of the par-3 10th green is the same body of water that looms behind and on each side of the 18th green.
As we referenced earlier, this wasn’t always the finishing hole at Congressional. Re-routing the course and having this as the 18th hole made tons of sense.
It’s a terrific final hole, and it provides plenty of drama – exactly what you would hope for from the 18th hole at a major championship.
Speaking of major championships, let’s segue the conversation into just that!
The USGA Comes to Bethesda
So, by now, you know the golf course is championship-ready and more than qualified to host a major. The course wasn’t amended by top-notch architects just for the pleasure of the members and their guests, although those are the benefits those individuals get to reap as the reward.
The vision was to one day have the best players in the world come to Congressional and compete for a big-time trophy. That opportunity finally came knocking in the summer of 1964 when the USGA first came to the Blue Course to host their National Championship.
It was the first time that the U.S. Open was scheduled to be played at the Devereux Emmet original creation, but it sure wouldn’t be the last. Here are the three occasions.
The first time the U.S. Open was contested at Congressional Country Club was an incredibly special week for one individual in particular. Ken Venturi played golf his entire life with the dream of winning golf tournaments, maybe even a major championship one day.
Well, then Venturi got his wish. The former San Jose State Spartan would go on to win a total of 14 times on the PGA Tour, including one major. That major was the 1964 U.S. Open at Congressional.
It just so happened to be the most remarkable 4 days of golf in Venturi’s entire career, and what a time to pull it off.
The course was playing firm and fast, as there hadn’t been any rainfall to speak of in the Washington D.C. area in the weeks leading up to the event. It’s a good thing, too, because the course was marked at 7,053 yards, the longest United States Open in history at the time. However, thanks to the ultra-fast conditions, the balls were rolling out.
It had been nearly 4 full years since Venturi had tasted victory, so it was unsure as to how he would handle the final round once he found himself in contention.
After opening with very respectable rounds of 72-70, the California native went on a tear on Saturday morning, shooting 66 and vaulting himself all the way into second place. Things were working for Venturi; it was just a matter of how he would hold up when it was crunch time.
Trailing Tommy Jacobs by just two shots heading into Saturday’s afternoon round, it was Venturi who remained steady. While Jacobs faltered, Kenny seemed to rise to the occasion.
When you take into account that doctors on site had advised Venturi to withdraw from the tournament before the final round, you realize how incredible of an outcome this was.
See, back then, the final two rounds of the U.S. Open were held on Saturday, meaning the competitors had to walk and play 36 holes in one day. The amplified temperatures combined with the humidity that Saturday led to severe dehydration for Venturi after the morning round.
Rather than obey the doctor’s orders, Kenny chugged a few salt tablets and went back outside to face the heat and the pressure of trying to capture a major championship.
A few swings and a few putts later (70 to be exact), Venturi was a U.S. Open champion. His four-shot victory earned him a check for $17,000 but more importantly, a place in history.
When the U.S. Open returned to Congressional Country Club in 1997, things were a bit different. Keep in mind that this was the first major championship that was played after Tiger rocked the world at the 1997 Masters.
We don’t need to tell you where all the attention was pointing at the start of the week, but let’s just say that Tiger had his fair share of pre-tournament press conferences and media obligations.
The course was again set up as a par 70, but this time it was lengthened to more than 7,200 yards. With just two par 5s on the card, it appeared that birdies would be hard to come by and that this would be a battle to the end.
However, similar to back in 1964, the weather was good, and the balls were flying. Players jumped out of the gate and took advantage of the “gettable” golf course. In all, 9 men were able to record a round in the 60s, led by the 5-under-par 65 of Colin Montgomerie.
Things tightened up, and the course got tougher as the week progressed, as just 4 men were under par by the time Sunday morning had arrived. Tom Lehman held a two-shot cushion over Ernie Els and Jeff Maggert, while “Monty” was another shot behind.
Ernie Els, the 1994 U.S. Open champ, was the man to emerge from this pack by the end of the day. His efficient round of 69 meant that Els had posted 276 (-4). This was barely enough to clip Montgomerie and the rest of the field.
The Scotsman had been searching for his first major title for quite some time and would once again be denied. For “The Big Easy,” it was his second triumph at the U.S. Open.
Ernie would tack on a pair of British Opens later in his career, elevating himself into the top 20 golfers of all time.
Who is ready for some U.S. Open records to be broken? Actually, allow us to rephrase that question so that it is more accurate. Who is ready for some U.S. Open records to be absolutely shattered?
We briefly referenced Rory McIlroy winning the 2011 United States Open at Congressional Country Club in our intro, but we haven’t given it the justice it deserves.
Rory is in the midst of an incredible career on the PGA Tour, and it was his performance at the 2011 U.S. Open that has been his exclamation point thus far.
The Blue Course had played as a par 70 in the previous two U.S. Opens. However, it was altered to a par 71 for this week. To make up for the change, the track had been beefed up to nearly 7,600 yards for this event. Their hopes were to deter the players from shooting low scores.
Apparently, the USGA forgot to leave the memo inside the locker of Rory McIlroy, because the 22-year-old kid they called “Rors” absolutely obliterated the golf course, picking it apart one hole at a time. It wasn’t like it took him a while to get going, either.
His 65 on Thursday was 3 shots better than anyone else, and it was off to the races. Rory doubled his 3-shot lead to 6 after he posted a 66 on Friday.
So which records do you want to start with? His score of 131 at the halfway point crushed the previous mark, and Rory became the first man to ever reach 13-under-par at a U.S. Open when he did so after a birdie on his 35th hole of the tournament.
By the time the third round was completed, more records had fallen. McIlroy shot 68, and his lead had ballooned to 8 shots. The final day would be anticlimactic for those hoping for a closely-contested finish, but it would be a day to remember for the friends and family of McIlroy.
By the time the fat lady had sung, McIlroy had posted his fourth consecutive round in the 60s. He was the proud new owner of the lowest 72-hole score ever shot at a U.S. Open, as well as the most shots under par at any U.S. Open.
For a quick look at how he got it done, check out this ridiculous pro-tracer from one of the towering high draws Rory roasted off the tee that week.
If only we could all swing the golf club like this!
The 1976 PGA Championship
Despite the terribly hot and humid conditions at the 1964 U.S. Open, it was more than evident that the Blue Course at Congressional was more than fit to host the most significant professional golf tournaments. The PGA of America caught wind of this, and it didn’t take them long to set a date to host the PGA Championship.
The year was 1976 that the PGA Tour would play the year’s final major in Bethesda, and what a fantastic finish it was. Before we get to the putt that won Dave Stockton the 1976 PGA, we have to bring you up to speed on how he put himself in that position.
Tom Weiskopf got the party started on Thursday with a gorgeous round of 65, while Americans Tom Kite and Gil Morgan were one shot back. After Gil Morgan’s 68 on Friday, he had opened up a commanding 4-shot lead.
Dave Stockton was at 2 over par at the halfway point, a distant 8 shots off the pace.
As the weekend wore on, the test became harsher, and birdies were few and far between. In fact, the weather became so poor that Sunday’s final round had to be postponed until Monday.
This meant eliminating the partial scores from players who had begun on Sunday morning, and in turn, it caused plenty of commotion and uproar amongst the golf community.
The fourth round was played on Monday, and much of the field struggled, including Jack Nicklaus. The Golden Bear started the day in 2nd place but dropped into a tie for 4th after a disappointing 74. In the end, Dave Stockton had a 15-footer on the last hole to post +1 for the tournament, a putt that he drained right in the middle of the cup.
The best anyone else could do was 2-over-par, posted by both Raymond Floyd and Don January. This meant that Dave Stockton, the 1970 PGA Champ, was going home with the Wanamaker Trophy once again.
What Bethesda Has to Offer
This entire time that we have been bragging and boasting about the Blue Course at Congressional, we have failed to tell you about the “other 18” on the premises.
Congressional Country Club also has the Gold Course, which was also originally designed by Devereux Emmet. The Gold Course is a real treat, as Tom Fazio and his uncle George came in and restored the course into a delightful and fair test of golf.
We’d tell you that the two courses at Congressional are the only nice ones in the vicinity of Bethesda, but then we’d be doing you a disservice. Burning Tree Club is a couple minutes east of the club, but don’t expect to get a tee time lightly.
In fact, if you are a woman, don’t expect to get one at all. Only men can secure reservations at Burning Tree, as it is one of the few “men’s only” clubs that still exists. You read that correctly. Females are not welcome at Burning Tree Golf Club.
If you want to visit a course that treats all individuals equally and also happens to host a PGA Tour event, just look to the west of Congressional. Just steps away from the Country Club is TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, which took over as the home of the Quicken Loans National Tournament in 2017.
In terms of non-golf activities, we shouldn’t have to tell you much. Sightseeing in Washington D.C. is a bucket list item for lots of men and women, as the opportunities of what to do and see are endless.
Whether you want to see the Washington Monument or take pictures of the White House and the Pentagon, it’s all within shouting distance of Congressional.
Getting to the area won’t be a problem, as there are two major airports within a half-hour commute of the country club. You’ve got Washington Dulles International 21 miles west of the property, and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is even closer.
If you want to really experience the D.C. area, opt for the latter, as landing at the Ronald Reagan airport means you’ll be right in the heart of all the landmarks. Bethesda is the town just north where all of these amazing golf courses are located, and it’ll be super easy to get to.
When you are ready to go check out Congressional, you’ll cruise north on the George Washington Memorial Parkway that runs alongside Potomac River until you cross over on the American Legion Memorial Bridge.
It’s pretty ironic that a golf club that was originally destined to host members of Congress has evolved into a decorated championship venue. The history and traditions that have been built up over the years have elevated Congressional CC into one of the most premier clubs in the nation.
It’s only fair that a golf enthusiast like yourself gets treated to the ins and outs of the spectacular club. That’s why we explained the beginnings and walked you through how pristine the Blue Course is.
It’s why we told you about the U.S. Opens that were contested at Congressional, as well as the 1976 PGA Championship that was played there.
Opening your eyes to other courses in the area lets you know that a PGA Tournament on the FedEx Cup schedule is still played in the town of Bethesda. You can get tickets to the Quicken Loans National, and better yet, you can make it a full-blown vacation.
The D.C. area has so much to offer, and it’s an awesome place to visit. If you can pull enough strings to snag a tee time at the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club, then your trip just got a whole lot better!