As the sun rose on a crisp but beautiful morning near the nation’s capital, I watched a documentary on Texas football in my hotel room. It was not about the “Friday Night Lights” tradition that most are familiar with nor the Texas football legends that we have all heard about. This documentary was about kids that lived in small Texas towns and attended schools with fewer total students than most schools have on their football teams. This documentary was about six-man football and the kids that loved the game of football so much that they didn’t let the size of their school prevent them from pursuing their dreams of playing a sport that they loved.
As I began the second half of my quest to play the top 100 golf courses in the United States as ranked by Golf Digest, I too was not allowing the challenges to prevent me from pursuing my dream of playing a sport that I love. It is simply for the love of the game that I have spent the last five months crisscrossing the country to play fifty of the 100 courses on my quest. There have been long days and short nights. There have been hurricanes and forest fires. There have been trains, planes and automobiles. I’ve traveled to 26 states, flown over 30,000 miles, driven more than 10,000 miles and walked more than 300 miles on golf courses.
On this beautiful Fall day in Maryland, I was set to begin the second half of my quest. Congressional Country Club is situated in the beautiful countryside just north of the Potomac River and just west of the capital beltway. It is about 15 miles from the center of Washington, DC, but on this day, it seemed a world away. A place of calmness and quietness away from the chaos.
I arrived early to meet my host, Nancy for breakfast. Nancy is a friend and former work colleague. We’d played together at Congressional Country Club once before a couple of years earlier. I entered the historic clubhouse and was directed to the dining room where I was to meet Nancy. There were only a couple of members dining on this quiet morning. One that saw me waiting offered to allow me to use his member number to start my breakfast off with coffee or orange juice while I waited. I mentioned this just as another example of the kindness and generosity that I’ve experienced during this amazing journey.
I’ve often remarked that I believe the only reason to ever have power is so that you can use it as a force for good. This journey that I’m on would not be possible without those who have the power to help, so generously using that power to do so. I thanked the member who offered the use of his number and told him that I had arrived early and was certain that my host would be arriving soon. Nancy did arrive just moments later.
Nancy had graciously allowed me to invite Malcolmn, my host from my round at Merion to join us for our round on the Blue Course at Congressional. Over breakfast, Nancy mentioned that her brother, who had planned to join us, was not going to be able to play. I mentioned to her that Malcolmn had told me that his cousin, Powell who was driving him to Congressional from Fredericksburg, Virginia was golfer. Before I could even ask, in a display of thoughtfulness and kindness, Nancy asked if I thought Powell would like to join us.
After breakfast Nancy took me to the Pro Shop where I had the opportunity to meet and talk about my quest with Greg Stark the PGA Director of Golf at Congressional and Chris Concannon who was an Assistant Professional there at the time. Following the discussion, Nancy and I headed out to the range. Malcolmn and Powell joined us in route. We were also joined by our caddie, Maurice.
Maurice is somewhat of a legend around Congressional. He has caddied at Congressional since the days of his youth. He told me that he has caddied for Presidents going back to Dwight Eisenhower.
Following our warm up on the range, we made our way to the first tee. Maurice recommended that we play from a combination of the gold and the white tees. The combination of the two measured just over 6400 yards with a rating of 71.6 and a slope of 131. This was one of the lowest ratings of the courses I’d played during my quest to play the top 100 courses in the United States as ranked by Golf Digest for 2017-18. From the Championship Tees measure almost 7600 yards so we were playing well short of the maximum distance. The Blue Course at Congressional has hosted numerous championships including three US Opens with the last one being in 2011.
The course opens with a 380 yard par four from the gold tees. The entire course has narrow fairways and deep rough, so I won’t redundantly point that out in my description on every hole. Fortunately, the rough was cut down for the Fall season. The first hole plays straight with bunkers off the right side of the fairway and two off the left. There are various clusters of trees on both the left and right, but they are fair enough off to fairway to only be in play on very bad drives. The green has large bunkers guarding the front and one off the back right. I hit my drive to the left rough, about 25 yards short of the first bunker on the left.
With about 160 yards remaining to a back left pin point, I hit a six iron to five feet right of the pin.
My birdie putt missed the hole, but I made the comeback putt to open my round with a par.
The second hole was playing 165 yards from the white tees to a well bunkered green. There is a long kidney shaped bunker off the front right, followed by three other bunkers along the right side of the green. There are two bunkers along the left side of the green. I made solid contact on my tee shot but didn’t have nearly enough club. My ball landed in the bunker.
I hit my sand shot to 20 feet right of and below the flag.
My par putt was on line all the way but stopped one foot short of the cup. I tapped in for a bogey.
The third hole measures just over 380 yards from the white tees. There are three bunkers along the right side of the fairway. The trees on both sides of the fairway are close enough to be in play on drives that miss the fairway. I hit my drive to the right side of the fairway leaving 155 yards to a green with a very narrow front and bunkers along both sides.
The pin was positioned in the middle of the green. I wanted to start the ball along the inside of the bunkers on the left side of the green and fade it back to the middle, but I started it too far left and it stayed left, landing just to the left of the greenside bunker.
My pitch shot landed in the bunker. I hit out of the bunker to the fringe, chipped to three feet and made the putt for my first double of the round.
The fourth hole measures 385 yards from the white tees and is rated as the toughest hole on the course. The fairway bends slightly left to right with trees just off the fairway’s edge in the very narrow landing zone. There are no bunkers on this hole, just trees and rough. I hit my drive over the trees on the right and almost into the adjacent ninth hole fairway.
I hit my approach shot over the trees to just short of the bunker off the front left side of the green. My third shot rolled off the back of the green. I chipped back on. The ball rolled 25 feet past the hole. I two-putted for my second double bogey in a row.
The fifth hole has a fairway that sweeps right to left. It measures just under 385 yards from the gold tees with bunkers on the inside of the sweeping fairway and a series of small hills or bumps on the right side. I hit my drive to the right. It landed on the side of one of the hills.
The green is guarded by a large bunker on the right front and a long bunker along the left side. This leaves a very small opening on the front of the green. There is also a bunker off the back of the green. I hit a fade along the inside of the left bunker. The ball faded a little too much and landed pin high in the bunker off the front right portion of the green.
I hit my sand shot to 8 feet but missed the par putt and recorded a bogey for the hole.
The sixth hole is the first par five on the course. It has a straight and narrow fairway with trees tight along the left side and bunkers and moguls along the right side. The hole plays 490 yards from the gold tees. I hit one of my best drives of the day, 270 yards down the middle of the fairway.
I laid up with my second shot to 85 yards to a front middle pin on a green with water that starts on the front of the green and extends along the right side. There are two small round bunkers on the left side of the green.
My approach shot landed just short of the front of the green on the narrow strip of land between the water and the bunkers. I chipped to six feet left of the flag and made the putt for par.
The seventh hole is a 160 par three from the gold tees. The green has bunkers off the left and right front. I hit my tee shot fat, the ball landed just short of the first bunker on the left and well short of the green.
With the pin at the back of the green, I had 50 yards left to the hole. I pitched over the bunker to eight feet right of the hole.
I made the putt to save par.
I have determined that I need to rethink how I play short holes. Thinking back over several past rounds, I realized that I made more bogeys and double bogeys on short holes than I do on long holes. It was no different on the 345 yard 8th hole on the Blue Course at Congressional. The hole has what is probably the widest fairway on the course. It bends slightly to the right as it goes around a couple of bunkers, a small one and a rather large one. The hole started out just fine with a drive that landed in the left fairway, but rolled into the first cut of rough, leaving a mere 130 yards to the green.
The green on the eighth hole is at a slight angle to the fairway with a very narrow strip of land connecting the two. There are five bunkers protecting the long and narrow green. There is one in front, and two along each side. I pulled my approach shot. The ball landed just left of the first greenside bunker on the left.
My pitch over the bunker carried too far and rolled into the bunker on the opposite side of the green. I hit my sand shot to 12 feet but missed the putt and made my second third double bogey of the round.
The front nine ends with the longest hole on the course. The par five ninth hole measures 545 yards. It has a narrow fairway that ripples it way past bunkers and hills on the left and right sides and stops at a ravine that separates it from the green which is about 100 yards away. There are bunkers on the upslope of the ravine as it approaches the green. There are also bunkers around the green. My drive hit a tree on the left and kicked back toward the tee box leaving 355 yards to the green. I hit my second shot to the hills on the right side of the fairway.
I popped my third shot up. The ball stopped short of the ravine.
My fourth shot flew the green. I chipped on and two putted for yet another double bogey resulting in a front nine score of 46.
The back nine opens with a 150 yard par three that plays over water to a wide but shallow green. There is a bunker off the right front portion of the green and two in the back of the green. Any ball short of the green requires scuba gear. The hole was playing into a strong wind, so with water in the front and bunkers behind the green, club selection was critical. I hit a seven iron directly over the flag to 15 feet past.
A great opportunity to start the back nine with a birdie was wasted when we misread the putt. I made par and moved on to the next hole.
The 11th hole is a “come and get me” par five. It plays just 490 yards but was playing into the same strong wind that we had encountered on the 10th hole. The left side of the fairway has a swath of rough between it and the trees that line it. The right side of the fairway comes right up to the edge of the cart path. There is also a creek that runs just inside the cart part all the way to the right side of the green where it turns it a small pond. There are three bunkers on the left as the fairway approached the green. I striped my drive down the middle of the fairway.
My second shot wasn’t as precise as my drive. The ball landed in the first of the three bunkers on the left as the fairway approaches the green, leaving a 95 yard sand shot to the back slightly right of middle pin.
My sand shot landed short of the green. I chipped on and two-putted for a bogey.
The twelfth hole is a 370 yard par four with a fairway that doglegs to the left immediately after a large bunker off the right side. I hit my drive down the right side of the fairway. The ball came to rest on the downslope just 115 yards from a middle right pin position on a green with bunkers on the left and the right. The one on the right wraps around the front of the green.
I hit my approach shot to pin high, 12 feet to the left of the flag.
My birdie putt slide just below the cup. I tapped in for my second par on the back nine.
The 165 yard par three 13th hole plays to a bicycle seat shaped green. The green is very narrow on the front but widens significantly as it moves from front to back. The are two bunkers on the left and one long bunker along the right side of the green. The pin was positioned on the back right side of the green requiring a carry over the right bunker with very little green between the bunker and the hole. I tried to shape my tee shot from left to right to provide more green to land the ball. The ball stayed straight and landed on the left side of the green, fifty feet from the flag.
I left my first putt well short of the hole and then missed my par putt below the hole. I made the third putt for a three-putt bogey.
The fourteenth hole plays 410 yards with a fairway that starts out relatively wide but narrows in the landing zone before widening again past the landing zone. It narrows again just as it approaches the green. The fairway also rises and falls in elevation as it moves from the tee box to the green. I hit a nice drive down the left side of the fairway leaving 160 yards to the pin on an uphill green with a cluster of bunkers on the left and one on the right.
I didn’t hit enough club on my approach shot to account for the uphill slope. My ball landed in the right rough short of the bunker off the right front part of the green.
My pitch shot to a pin that was position on the front middle of the green, landed just short of the green. I two putted from there for a bogey.
As we approached the 400 yard par four fifteenth hole, Maurice mentioned that it was ranked as one of the top 100 holes in the US. The fairway slopes from left to right as it rises significantly toward the green. There is a series of four bunkers along the right side of the fairway. The green angles from left to right with bunkers between it and the right side of the fairway. My play on the hole was a comedy of errors. It started with a drive that landed and settled in the deep rough on the left side of the fairway.
I hit my approach shot way right of the green leaving the right greenside bunkers between it and the green. My pitch shot hit the top of the bunker just short of the green and kicked into the bunker. My bunker shot carried over the green. I pitched on and made the putt to avoid a triple bogey.
The sixteenth hole is the final par five on the course. It measures 550 yards from the gold tees. The fairway is slightly below the tee box but rises as it approaches the green. There are two bunkers on the left and three on the right near the landing zone. There are also four bunkers off the right side of the narrow neck portion of the fairway that starts about 70 yards from the front of the green. The bunkers are so close together that they reminded me of the church pews at Oakmont. I should mention that there is an actual church behind the green! I hit my drive to the left rough just short of the first fairway bunker on the left.
I laid up with my second shot to 140 yards out. My ball landed in the first cut of rough off the right side of the fairway. This left me well short of the church pew look-a-like bunkers.
My approach shot landed on the green 25 feet below the flag.
I two-putt from there to a par.
The first half of the fairway for the 400 yard par four 17th hole flows through hills on the left and right sides before ending at steep drop off. The fairway picks up again at a much lower elevation. To avoid the risk of hitting my drive through the fairway and ending up on the downhill slope between the first and second halves of the fairway, Maurice advised that I hit a three wood off the tee rather a driver. I hit the ground significantly behind the ball and pushed my tee shot onto a hill on the right side of the fairway.
Since I hit behind the ball, it didn’t travel very far. I attempted to still reach the green on my second shot but hit that shot fat too. The ball landed in the fairway about 170 yards from the pin. The 17th green is surrounded by bunkers. There is on of the left front, three along the left side and on long one along the right side.
I struck the ball well on my third shot, but the ball was slightly off line. It landed in the right greenside bunker.
I got up and down from the bunker to save bogey.
The Blue Course at Congressional Country Club finishes with a 385 yard par four. The fairway on the hole starts off close to the same elevation as the tee box, but quickly slopes left to right and down toward the green. The green has water that starts on the left and wraps around behind the green to the back half of the right side of the green. There are four bunkers along the right side of the green between it and the water. I hit by drive to the deep rough on the slope to the right of the fairway, leaving 130 yards downhill to a front pin position on the green.
Maurice insisted that I hit more club than I thought I needed for the 130 yard downhill shot. I caught a flier out of the rough. The ball landed 10 feet past the flag and rolled to the back of the green, leaving a 50 foot putt for birdie.
I left my birdie putt four feet short of the cup, then left my par putt on the lip of the cup to end the round with a three-putt bogey and a 43 on the back nine for a total score of 89.
I’d like to thank Nancy for taking the time to host me at Congressional Country Club during the week of Thanksgiving and Malcolmn and Powell for joining us for the round. It was a nice start of the second half of my quest.