PGA Makes Return to Congressional This Week

Posted June 7, 2005 at 6:07pm

Professional golf returns to the prestigious Congressional Country Club this week for the first time since 1997 when the Booz Allen Classic kicks off Thursday, featuring a number of the world’s top golfers.

Once known as the Kemper Open and then as the FBR Capital Open, the Booz Allen Classic usually takes place at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel, located in nearby Potomac, Md. The event was relocated this year to allow for renovations of the regular course.

“The PGA tour owns TPC at Avenel,” explained Michael Myers, spokesman for KemperSports, a group that helps market the event. “They are in the process of developing plans for renovations to the Avenel site. There was a need to look for a different host site, and since Congressional is such a terrific venue and so close, it made sense to come here.”

Congressional, located in Bethesda, Md., has both a great golf course and an intriguing history linked to its namesake. The club was born of an idea by two Hoosier State House Members named Oscar; Oscar Bland (R-Ind.) and O.R. Luhring (R-Ind.) came up with their plan in the early half of the Roaring ’20s, according to an official history of the course.

Why a country club? As one publicist said of Congressional’s founding, “The need existed in the absence of common ground where, unhampered, officials and professionals and business men could get together and, without restricting influences, express the views they entertained.” In other words, the city’s (and by proxy, the nation’s) powerful needed somewhere they could shoot the breeze unbothered by partisan bickering.

From the beginning, Congressional’s membership has represented the nation’s elite. Five former presidents (Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, Woodrow Wilson, William Taft and Warren Harding) were among the founding members. Titans of business also figured prominently into the mix: Rockefellers mingled with tire magnate Harvey Firestone and publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst.

Throughout the years, the crown jewel of the club has certainly been its two 18s: the Blue and the Gold courses. In addition to the 1997 U.S. Open, Congressional played host to the 1964 Open, the 1976 PGA Championship and the 1995 U.S. Senior Open. In 2011, the U.S. Open returns to Congressional’s hallowed greens. The Booz Allen Classic will be played on the Blue Course, with its signature par-3 closing hole.

The club and courses have changed over the years. “I’m sure there are fewer Congressmen now,” said VIP tennis instructor and founder of the Institute for Education “Coach” Kathy Kemper. “It’s a family club now; it used to be a Congressional men’s club.”

That is not to say business does not get accomplished between shots, however. “I think business gets done on the golf course all the time,” she said, “but not transactional business. More personal business. … You spend four hours on the course with people, so it’s a great way to build relationships and spend time with people.” You build on that, she explained, saying that “the next evolution is that you might want to do business together. Nothing ever gets transacted, but the seeds get planted.”

The price of doing business at the course is steep. Initial membership fees exceed $100,000, and that does not include monthly dues or spending requirements at the club. The large cost is not a deterrent, however. “There’s a 10-year wait list,” Kemper said. “You have to wait until people die to get in.”

Being a member has its privileges. “The course is in magnificent condition,” Kemper said in an interview conducted mere hours after a round on the tournament course. “It’s playing very long, the greens are playing fast. It’s a pristine, world-class course, and very impressive. Everyone in our group was ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing.’”

Seasoned tournament professionals are looking forward to playing on the historic course as well. Seventeen of the top 20 players on the tour are participating, including Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els, who won the last major played at Congressional.

Tickets are still available for the four-day event. For more information, call (301) 469-3764, or log on to www.ticketmaster.com.