Congressional Country Club’s exceptional design and fascinating history underscore its importance to one of the top events in golf, the U.S. Open Golf Championships.
By Vicky Moon
The stately and exclusive Congressional Country Club opened with a formal gala on Friday May 23, 1924. The Washington Post, which cost 2 cents at the time, had a front-page story reporting that President Calvin Coolidge, an honorary life member, and his wife Grace, made a grand entrance as hundreds of flares burst into the air. The newspaper declared that the beauty of the grounds of $1 million institution in the Maryland hills was a “striking feature of country rendezvous.”
An interesting sidebar followed noting that “Two narrow, Maryland roads lead from the District line to the Congressional Club’s new home, and these last night became the scene of the worst traffic jam since the celebrated one that attended the burial of the Unknown Soldier.” Well … the road leading to the entrance is still two lanes and as far as breaking a new record for traffic jams, we can only wait until spectators start making their way up River Road for this year’s U.S. Open, June 16-19.
The majestic club was founded in 1921 by two Indiana congressmen, Oscar E. Bland and O.R. Lubring. Herbert Hoover (then secretary of commerce) served as its first president. Members included Charlie Chaplin, Vincent Astor, Pierre S. du Pont, J. Ogden Armour, William Randolph Hearst, and Walter P. Chrysler. Since then, presidents, lobbyists, and diplomats have debated the merits of legislation while playing a friendly game of golf during the day, and then dancing at weddings and galas in the palatial Mediterranean-style clubhouse.
Seven thousand guests attended the gala opening where the receiving line took four hours and the buffet dinner cost $1.60 (This week a chicken Caesar wrap costs $7, a Pepsi-Cola $4 and peanut butter and jelly sandwich $3.)
The cream of Washington society attended the opening: Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes, Chief Justice William Howard Taft and Secretary of the Treasury Andrew Mellon. The evening concluded with dancing to the Navy Band and the toe tapping society orchestra of Meyer Davis. (This week the perpetually tan golf obsessed Ohio Congressman John Boehner, the minority leader of the House of Representatives, joined Tiger Woods and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo in the Wednesday pro-am. Romo’s girlfriend, entertainer Jessica Simpson was scheduled to sing the National Anthem at the Opening Ceremonies.)
Back in 1924 the morning after the gala Gene Sarazen, Max Marson played an exhibition match along with club pro Jimmy Crabbe and Freddie McLeod of the Columbia Country Club. With two par six holes set at 600 yards on the course designed by Donald Ross, The Washington Herald noted: “There is much speculation among club members as to how far Sarazen and Marson will carry.”
The Mediterranean inspired clubhouse with Palladian windows and Spanish terra cotta barrel tiled roof was originally designed by Philip Julien in 1923. Julien, of Washington, D.C., also did a number of large apartment buildings in the city along with several large Spanish inspired movie theatres. His original drawings on linen are part of the club’s archive collection.
In the history of Congressional Country Club the 1964 US Open tournament stands out above all others. The temperature for the final 36 holes that Saturday soared above sizzling 100 degrees. Ken Venturi shot 66 for his morning round of 18 holes and one writer has since aptly described the conditions as a “sweltering midday stew.”
Next to broke and in need of a win, all eyes were on Venturi. Many thought he’d sink from the scorching heat before the last putt. His score of 70 gave him a four shot victory over Tommy Jacobs, and remains as one of the most memorable moments in golf.
And what about this year’s Open at Congressional? Well…the headlines remain to be written but it’s a sure bet yet another traffic jam will be reported along River Road.