It’s not every week that the PGA Tour visits a course worthy of a major.
But that’s the case this week when it stops in Bethesda, Md., for the AT&T National at Congressional Country Club. It was the site of the 1964, ’97 and 2011 U.S. Opens, and 1976 PGA Championship. It’s also the event hosted by Tiger Woods, the defending champ who will not play this year due to an elbow injury.
Whereas the past two events – Travelers Championship and U.S. Open – were contested on relatively short courses, Congressional is one of the longest courses these guys will see all season. It runs 7,569 yards long and is a par 71. Big hitters can thrive here.
The longest of the long is No. 9, which according to Golf.com, is tied for the third-longest hole on the PGA Tour this year: 636 yards. Obviously a par 5, a bunker protects each side of the fairway where a majority of tee shots will land. From there, bold players can try to reach the green in two, but smart players layup and avoid the deep ravine in front of the green.
Despite its distance, however, No. 9 ranked as the third-easiest hole at last year’s AT&T National (average score 4.98, -0.02 below par). The only average scores in relation to par that came in lower were at the other two par 5s – Nos. 16 (-0.17) and 6 (-0.19).
No. 11 gets the nod for Congressional’s toughest hole, as the par 4 measures 489 yards and saw 160 bogey or worse scores last year. Players averaged 4.41. It features an elevated tee, but the tight fairway slopes left to right, toward a creek. A second shot to the green is long but doable, and risky considering the pond on the right and bunkers on the left.
Players start the round with a straight 402-yard par 4, a nice hole to get things rolling. But the going gets tricky at the 233-yard par 3 at No. 2. Six bunkers swarm the green, which is anything but flat. It slopes from back-left to front-right and includes a ridge across the middle. The second hole was the third-toughest last year (0.33 over par).
The par-4 No. 3 slightly moves to the left along its 466 yards, but it’s an easy hole to par. There were 266 last year; only No. 13 with 269 had more. From there it’s on to hole No. 4, the second-toughest at Congressional – tight fairways edged with trees and a dogleg right. Average score was 4.35 last year.
At No. 10, players will encounter one of the four par 3s, and what used to be Congressional’s 18th hole. The USGA isn’t fond of par-3 finishing holes, so for the ’64 Open and ’76 PGA, the USGA used two holes from the club’s other course to allow players to finish at the par-4 17th. In other tournaments, the 18th was played out of order as the 10th.
But prior to Congressional joining the PGA Tour as an annual stop in 2007, the club voted to reverse the direction of the 18th hole and permanently make it No. 10. The rest of the course then re-routed to make the original 17 play permanently as No. 18. The walk from the 10th green to the 11th tee is quite lengthy, but the new design was sufficient enough to be granted PGA Tour inclusion.
If players can get off to solid starts, the finishing holes at Congressional can lower some scores. That said, the new No. 18 is challenging. Trees once again line the fairway, and the green is surrounded on three sides by water, the fourth by bunkers. At 523 yards, it’s the longest par 4.
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