GOLF

New Congress presents a formidable test | LPGA

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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 Award Series. But the defending champion will face a formidable test in her title defense as the Congressional Country Club’s blue course hosts this major championship for the first time.

But it won’t be the Blue everyone remembers. The best female golfers in the world will compete for the first major championship on the New Blue. And it’s bound to make an impression.

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The Congressional Country Club was established in May 1924 to provide members of the United States Congress with a place where they could meet socially. The club is located 12 miles northwest of the United States Capitol Building, just across the state line in Bethesda, Maryland. And while the course has hosted several major championships on the men’s side of the game, including regular stops on the PGA Tour and, in June, will host its first women’s major.

Originally designed by Deveneau Emmet, the course hosted the 1949 US Junior Amateur and the 1959 US Women’s Amateur before hosting its first major with the 1964 US Open. Ken Venturi that year became a golfing legend as he won in excessive heat while being 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 made a spectacular save on the 72nd hole to win at 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 win over Jack Nicklaus.

Then in 1997, with Congress playing as tough as it has at any time since the Venturi era, Nicklaus played his last US Open there while Ernie Els won in an epic battle with Colin Montgomery. It was Els’ second US Open title.

In 2005 the site hosted the Booz Allen Classic on the PGA Tour and between 2007-2009 and 2012-203 hosted the AT&T National.

The last major championship held at the Congressional Country Club was the 2011 US Open, won by Rory McIlroy. The Irishman claimed his first major title in record fashion with an eight-stroke victory at a record 16 under par.

In 2014 and 2016, the PGA Tour returned to Bethesda for the Quicken Loans National.

By the way, the best women in the game will play little resemblance to those played by Rory and Ernie and Kenny and Jack. Indeed, although since its opening in 1924 the course has undergone significant changes by renowned architects Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Rees Jones, as of 2018 the site has undergone its most significant overhaul at the hands of Andrew Green.

The 18-month project, which took place largely during the 2020 pandemic, has seen dramatic changes. A large number of trees were felled, fairways were widened, all greens were rebuilt and almost three dozen natural areas of fine fescue were added throughout. Where the Congressional was once a tree-lined parkland course, it now resembles the links of Long Island and some of the earliest courses in America at the turn of the last century.

Anyone who has looked at these old majors in Congress will hardly recognize the place. Apart from the lanes and the par of each hole, Green has changed everything.

“We have this club which 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 sporting director. “But when you went to the golf course, it was very one-dimensional in how you played there.”

Green agreed with this assessment of the blue course before its 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 hitting surface.”

Not anymore. The new course has some of the most dynamic and interesting green complexes in major championship golf with a trickle and front openings that invite different types of approach shots. The fairways are wider but more strategic and 40 additional bunkers frame each shot like a painting.

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 many upcoming events to be played at Congressional Country Club in the coming years, which will return to the site in 2027. The 2031 PGA Championship as well as the 2036 Ryder Cup will also be held during .

The Congressional Country Club has been redesigned, bringing the venue back to its original roots while providing a test worthy of today’s modern golfer. This is a layout that will emphasize the second shot and accuracy on and around the greens.

Korda has proven she has the game to successfully navigate some of the toughest courses in the country, but will face a formidable title defense when she faces the new Blue in Congress with an eye on the third leg of the Rolex Annika Major Award.

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