Nelly Korda tamed The Atlanta Athletic Club en route to her maiden 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 Blue Course at Congressional Country Club plays host to this major championship for the first time.
But it won’t be the Blue anyone remembers. The best women golfers in the world will contest the first major championship on the New Blue. And it is bound to make an impression.
Congressional Country Club was established in May 1924 to provide members of the U.S. Congress with a place where they could meet socially. The club is located 12 miles northwest of the U.S. Capitol Building, just across the state line in Bethesda, Maryland. And while the course has hosted multiple 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 U.S. Junior Amateur and 1959 U.S. Women’s Amateur before welcoming its first major with the 1964 U.S. Open. The story of Ken Venturi’s victory that year has become the stuff of golf lore as he famously won in excessive heat while being advised to take salt tablets.
In 1976, Congressional Country Club saw the return of major championship golf when it hosted the PGA Championship for the first time. Dave Stockton made a dramatic par save on the 72nd hole to win at 1-over par.
Throughout the 1980s, the club became an annual stop for the PGA Tour as host of the Kemper Open. In 1995, the U.S. Senior Open was held at the club and was won by Tom Weiskopf in a four-stroke victory over Jack Nicklaus.
Then in 1997, with Congressional playing as tough as at any time since the Venturi era, Nicklaus played in his final U.S. Open there while Ernie Els won in an epic down-the-wire battle with Colin Montgomery. It was Els’ second U.S. Open title.
In 2005, the venue hosted the Booz Allen Classic on the PGA Tour and between 2007-2009 and 2012-203 was home to the AT&T National.
The last major championship to be staged at Congressional Country Club was the 2011 U.S. Open, which was won by Rory McIlroy. The Irishman captured 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 course game’s best women will play bears little resemblance to the one Rory and Ernie and Kenny and Jack played. That is because, even though since opening in 1924 the course has undergone extensive changes by famed architects Robert Trent Jones Sr. and Rees Jones, beginning in 2018, the venue underwent its most extensive redesign at the hands of Andrew Green.
The 18 months project, which largely took place during the pandemic of 2020, saw dramatic changes. An extensive number of trees were removed, fairways were widened, all greens were rebuilt, and nearly three dozen fine fescue natural areas were added throughout. Where Congressional used to be a tree-lined parkland course, it now resembles the links of Long Island and some of the first courses in America at the turn of the last century.
Anyone who watched those old majors at Congressional will hardly recognize the place. Other than the corridors and the par on each hole, Green changed everything.
“We have this club that is deep-rooted in its traditions from the 1920s and you have the weight of this clubhouse and the weight of this championship tradition,” said Jason Epstein, the club’s director of athletics. “But when you went out to the golf course it was very single-dimensional in the way you played it.”
Green agreed with that assessment of the Blue course before his changes. “One of my long impressions of the old Blue was I always felt like you were playing uphill all day long,” the architect said. “It seemed like every shot was a long iron uphill and do whatever you could to get it up and on the putting surface.”
Not anymore. The new course has some of the most dynamic and interesting greens complexes in major championship golf with runoff and openings in the front that invite different types of approach shots. The fairways are wider but more strategic and an additional 40 bunkers frame each shot like a painting.
With these changes, the clubhouse, which is one of the largest in the nation, is nearly visible from every point of the golf course. Additionally, a new drainage and irrigation system was installed.
The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is one of several upcoming events slated to be played at Congressional Country Club in the coming years, which will return to the venue in 2027. The 2031 PGA Championship as well as the 2036 Ryder Cup will also be held at the course.
Congressional Country Club has been reimagined, by returning the venue to its original roots while still providing a test worthy of today’s modern golfer. It’s a layout that will put a premium on the second shot and accuracy on and around the greens.
Korda has proven she has the game to successfully navigate some of the country’s toughest courses but will face a formidable title defense when she takes on the new Blue at Congressional with an eye toward the third leg of the Rolex Annika Major Award.