Nelly Korda tamed the Atlanta Athletic Club en route to her first major win at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, the third event in last year’s Rolex Annika Major awards series. But the defending champion will face a formidable test in her title defense, as the Blue Course at Congressional Country Club will host this major championship for the first time.
But it will not be the Blue that nobody remembers. The best golfers in the world will play the first major championship at the New Blue. And it’s bound to make an impression.
The Congressional Country Club was established in May 1924 to provide members of the US Congress with a place where they could meet socially. The club is located 12 miles northwest of the US Capitol building, across the state line in Bethesda, Maryland. And while the course has hosted multiple major championships on the men’s side of the game, including regular stops on the PGA Tour and, in June, it will host its first women’s major.
Originally designed by Deveneau Emmet, the course hosted the 1949 US Junior Amateur and 1959 US Women Amateur before welcoming its first major with the 1964 US Open. The story of Ken Venturi’s victory that year has been become part of golf lore as he won in excessive heat and was advised to take salt tablets.
In 1976, the Congressional Country Club saw the return of major championship golf when it hosted the PGA Championship for the first time. Dave Stockton spectacularly saved par on the 72nd hole to win 1 over par.
Throughout the 1980s, the club became an annual stop on the PGA Tour as host of the Kemper Open. In 1995, the US Senior Open was held at the club and was won by Tom Weiskopf in a four stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus.
Then in 1997, with Congress playing as hard as ever since the Venturi era, Nicklaus played his last US Open there while Ernie Els won in an epic battle against Colin Montgomery. It was Els’ second US Open title.
In 2005, the venue hosted the Booz Allen Classic on the PGA Tour and from 2007-2009 and 2012-203 it hosted the AT&T National.
The last major championship held at the Congressional Country Club was the 2011 US Open, which was won by Rory McIlroy. The Irishman captured his first major title in record fashion with an eight-shot win at 16-under.
In 2014 and 2016, the PGA Tour returned to Bethesda for the Quicken Loans National.
Of course, the game the best women will play bears little resemblance to the one played by Rory, Ernie, Kenny, and Jack. This is because, although since its opening in 1924, the course has undergone major changes by famed architects Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Rees Jones, as of 2018, the venue underwent its most extensive redesign yet. hands of Andrew Green.
The 18-month project, which took place largely during the 2020 pandemic, underwent dramatic changes. A large number of trees have been removed, the fairways have been widened, all the greens have been rebuilt, and nearly three dozen natural areas of fine fescue have been added throughout. While Congressional used to be a tree-lined parkland course, it now resembles the links of Long Island and some of America’s earliest courses at the turn of the last century.
Anyone who has seen those old commanders in Congress will hardly recognize the place. Aside from the runners and the par for each hole, Green changed everything.
“We have this club that is deeply rooted in its traditions of the 1920s and you have the weight of this clubhouse and the weight of this championship tradition,” said Jason Epstein, the club’s director of athletics. “But when you went out on the golf course, it was very one-dimensional in the way you played it.”
Green agreed with that evaluation of the Blue course before his changes. “One of my long impressions of the old Blue was that it always felt like you were playing uphill all day,” the architect said. “It seemed like every shot was an uphill long iron and you were doing everything you could to get it up and onto the surface of the green.”
Not anymore. The new course has some of the most dynamic and interesting green complexes in major championship golf with tees and openings in the front that invite different types of approach shots. The fairways are wider but more strategic and 40 additional bunkers frame each shot like a square.
With these changes, the clubhouse, which is one of the largest in the country, is almost visible from all points of the golf course. In addition, a new drainage and irrigation system was installed.
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is one of the next events scheduled to be played at the Congressional Country Club in the coming years, returning to the venue in 2027. The 2031 PGA Championship and 2036 Ryder Cup will also be held on the course. .
The Congressional Country Club has been reinvented, bringing the venue back to its original roots while providing a test worthy of today’s modern golfer. It’s a design that will put a premium on second shot and accuracy on and around the greens.
Korda has shown he has the game to successfully navigate some of the toughest courses in the country, but he will face a formidable title defense when he takes on the new Blue in Congress with an eye to the third stage of the Rolex Annika Major Award.