In a rare moment in this divisive Congress, a bipartisan group of members spent a peaceful morning just putting around.
They whispered conversations while waiting for a teammate on the green, told each other “nice shot” or laughed at a bad one, and otherwise enjoyed a quiet morning bonding over their love of golf.
Republicans beat the Democrats, 11-6 1/2, on Monday in the 17th annual First Tee Congressional Challenge golf tournament, a Ryder Cup-style tournament held at Columbia Country Club in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
Seventeen members teamed up by party in the morning to play 18 holes, split into nine holes each of “better ball” and alternate shot scoring.
After the first half, Republicans were ahead 6-2, winning 3-1 in the better ball and 3-1 in the alternate shot matches.
Following a quick lunch, members hit the links again for nine-hole individual matches. Republicans won five of those matches. Democrats won four, and one match finished in a tie.
The party-line teams, made up of two members, were divided into four groups, and some unlikely partnerships emerged.
Tom Rooney of Florida captained the Republican team. He was paired with Duncan Hunter of California, who wore an untucked short-sleeved button-down shirt with shorts, and they played against James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Cedric L. Richmond of Louisiana, the Democratic caucus’ star athlete.
Tenney joined forces Monday with Rep. Ryan A. Costello of Pennsylvania, facing off against Democrats Joe Courtney of Connecticut, Stephen F. Lynch of Massachusetts and their alternate, Jim Cooper of Tennessee.
While the men hit from the white tees, anyone over 70 years old could move up to the shorter gold tees, a rule requested by 77-year-old Clyburn. Tenney hit from the women’s tees.
There were food and beverages on the course, including cans of beer on ice, but HOH didn’t observe any lawmakers hitting the cooler before lunchtime.
The shotgun start was at 8:15 a.m., and the tournament wrapped up around 3 p.m. The event offered a uniquely intimate setting for members to talk to someone ideologically different — both from across the aisle and within their own caucuses.
“We make friends out here, across the party lines, and that’s something that I’ve loved about this event since the first year I played it in,” Yarmuth said. “Trey Gowdy and Mick Mulvaney are both really good friends of mine because of this event initially. That would have never happened otherwise.”
He added, “I’ve invited Trey and Mick to come to Louisville to play at Valhalla [golf club] a lot.”
Yarmuth is on the board of the First Tee program in his district. The youth sports organization’s mission is to grow golf by transforming the experiences that kids have with it.
“What makes [this tournament] unique is that you have some 20 members of Congress, from both sides of the House, coming together for a common cause,” said First Tee CEO Keith Dawkins, who was at Columbia Country Club for the event.
The tournament was first founded in 2001, and some members have played in it since they first got to Congress.
Yarmouth has played every year but one in his 12-year congressional career. He didn’t play in 2008 because a huge storm went through Louisville.
GOP Rep. Jeff Duncan of South Carolina was supposed to play in the tournament but has been battling tendinitis in his elbow for the past few years and recently agitated it again while practicing for the Congressional Baseball Game. He bowed out on Sunday.
Five children in the First Tee program’s D.C. chapter came for the start of the tournament and were eager to meet the members participating.
“These kids who are here today are awesome. They’re from fifth grade up through senior year of high school,” Dawkins said. “They’re getting exposure to congressional leaders, they’re getting exposure to this great club that we’re in today, Columbia Country Club, and there’s also fundraising efforts that go directly to that chapter, so it’s a win-win for everyone.”