Thursday, January 29, 2009

Congressional Country Club

The U.S. Capitol Building

The Congressional Country Club (Blue Course) is ranked #86 in the world. The course is appropriately named, as it has a blue chip pedigree. Among its founding members were John D. Rockefeller, Vincent Astor, Pierre S. Dupont, Harvey Firestone, William Randolph Hearst and Charlie Chaplin. Devereaux Emmett was the original course architect in 1924, but revisions have been made by multiple architects over time including Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones, Tom Fazio and Rees Jones.

Like many of our leading financial service firms today, the club went bankrupt in 1940. Between 1943 and 1946 the O.S.S., the pre-cursor organization to the C.I.A., rented Congressional for $4,000 per month and turned the club into a training center. The club was returned to private members after the war.

The course is located in Bethesda, Maryland, about thirty minutes from the U.S. Capitol Building. I took the train from New York to play Congressional. Arriving in Washington, D.C. by train never loses its luster. Union Station is one of the most elegant train stations in the United States and a pleasure to travel through. I love walking out the front entrance and glimpsing the beauty of the perfectly proportioned Capitol building. I know it sounds sappy but it is always an uplifting sight. I often picture myself as Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The distinctive tee markers at Congressional

The Golf Course

While the course is not exactly as hilly as Westchester Country Club or The Country Club at Brookline, the terrain and routing at Congressional reminded me of both these courses. The course has many irregular shaped fairways and doglegs, and greens that are very small. One of the keys to playing Congressional is to make sure that you approach the greens from the fairway. Attempting to hit and hold the green from any angle except the fairway is quite difficult here.

The fourth fairway at Congressional is typical of many on the course: narrow, with an irregular shape. This hole, like most at Congressional, plays from an elevated tee. On the front nine the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th all play from elevated tees.

4th fairway

4th fairway at Congressional

The fourth hole, the #1 handicap, is 427 yards long and doglegs to the right.

5th fairway

5th fairway at Congressional

The fifth hole was one of my favorites. Notice the nice rolling terrain, with the fairway following the contours of the land. This hole doglegs to the left and rewards the golfer who hits a tee shot far enough left to avoid the trap and opens up a better angle to the green.

5th green
Congressional's 5th green

Like almost all the greens at Congressional, the green on the fifth is small and well bunkered.

The sixth hole is a short par five at 488 yards that tempts the golfer to hit the green in two. The perils of being short are illustrated by the water hazard short of the green.

6th green back
6th green at Congressional

7th green
Par three 7th hole green at Congressional

The par three seventh hole plays 157 yards uphill, and the green, like many at Congressional, slopes front to back.

9th green
9th green at Congressional

The ninth, a 544 yard par five, is a very good hole with a big swale that you must carry to get from the fairway to the elevated green. The front of the green slopes back toward the fairway and repels balls down into the ravine. Club selection is made trickier here because from more than 130 yards out you are playing a blind shot, as the fairway rises gently from the middle of the hole toward the green.

10th green
The par three 10th green

The back nine begins with the 170 yard par three 10th, over water, to one of the largest greens on the course. You will notice the mechanical fan behind this green. Almost every green has them due to Congressional's hot and humid summers. Unfortunately, they do come into play if you miss the green, as I found out about on the first hole, and I didn't see any local rule allowing relief if you are behind one.

12th fairway at Congressional

It is difficult to tell how much of the course is the original Emmett design, but I could still see some features that reminded me of Emmett's masterpiece in Long Island, Garden City, such as the 12th hole, seen above. This type of slightly elevated rise from fairway to green is typical of Garden City. Many of the greens at Congressional are slightly elevated like this one with a narrow opening between the bunkers.

14th looking back
14th fairway looking backward

Another good example of the irregular shape of the fairways at Congressional, and a nice use of the hilly terrain, can be seen on the 408 yard fourteenth hole, above, looking back from the green.

You hit down into a landing area from an elevated tee and then the remainder of the hole rises to an elevated green.

The 17th green

The seventeenth is ranked as one of the top 500 holes in the world, and it is quite a tricky hole at 420 yards. The fairway drops down to another level about three-quarters of the way toward the green. The elevated green is small and well bunkered.

The 18th green

Both the 10th and 18th greens, modified by Rees Jones, seem a bit out of character with the rest of the course as their greens are surrounded by water and feels incongruent with the design.

I played Congressional on a brilliant but blustery day. As my readers know from my experience at Royal St. George's, a wind game is not the strongest part of my repertoire. I played Congressional in October of 2008, a month of bank runs and stock market crashes that I hoped I would never see in my lifetime. The Dow Jones average was as volatile as it has ever been. It had moves of more than 100 points on 20 of 23 days. Out of sympathy for the market I also had a move of more than 100 points for the day on my scorecard. My golf game experienced as much volatility as I can handle. I hope both the markets and my game calm themselves soon.

Congressional is nice course, although I personally wouldn't rank it in the top 100 in the world.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Top 10 Things I Love about Japan

I promise this will be my last post about Japan. I just can't help my enthusiasm after such a great trip there last year. My next two posts will be Congressional and Cypress Point!

The top ten things I love about Japan:

1. The taxi drivers wear a coat and tie and white gloves.

2. Japanese people are genuinely service oriented. Upon arrival at your hotel, the staff comes out and bows to you. If a staff member is nearby as you are getting into or out of an elevator, they will bow to you. Even employees and security agents at Narita airport, one of the busiest in the world, manage to more things along quickly an with respect and a service orientation.

3. The toilets have a button to push which creates a simulated 'courtesy flush' without wasting any water. Not only is it a 'green' thing to do, it's also brilliant. The Japanese fascination with technology and gadgets and something that distinguishes them in the world and only here could you have musical toilet seats.

4. There is no tipping anywhere in the country. Not in taxis, hotels or restaurants. The baristas at your local Starbucks don't have a tip cup out asking for money. It makes life much simpler.

5. The picture of the 1,000 yen note (roughly a $10 bill) features Noguchi Hideyo, was a prominent Japanese bacteriologist who discovered the agent of syphilis disease in 1911.

6. People don't abuse cellphones, assuming that the person on the other end of the phone is deaf. In the week I spent in Japan, I only overheard one person speaking in a loud voice on a cell phone.

7. The average Japanese has 70 cents in credit card debt. The average American has $2,607. We can learn a lot from the Japanese about living within your means.

8. The Imperial Palace sits in the middle of Tokyo and is surrounded by high stone walls and a moat.

9. Narita Airport. Although one of the busiest airports in the world, they treat you like a human being instead of a cow. Going through security is ten minutes, max. Four levels of shops and entertainment including good food, an observation deck on top of the terminal building so you can watch takeoffs and landings. You can get a haircut at Narita 365 days a year. You can rent a baby carriage. It has a medical clinic, pet hotel, playrooms, showers, a post office and a location where you can get a massage.

10. Geisha Girls

The Punjab and the Geisha

Thursday, January 01, 2009

2008 The Year in Review

We begin with the greatest golf picture of 2008, which is Monty's wedding picture from his second marriage in April. This is such a strong picture that no other pictures were entered for consideration of best picture of 2008. The fan favorite will always hold a special place in my heart.

It has become a tradition of mine to review interesting comments I received throughout the year in my year-end post. One of the most interesting comments I received in 2008 was about my previous write of Medinah. One of my adoring fans wrote, "You, my friend, are nuts". I had criticized the condition of the course in my post, particularly the abundance of poop on the course, to which my gifted visitor wrote: "As for the geese, millions migrate through the area every spring and every fall and have always been a problem for all Chicago area courses. Too bad one didn't drop a turd on your head."

Voila! Although, you spelled 'spectacular' wrong in your comment. Might want to run the spell checker next time.

Another anonymous comment on my Medinah write-up: "You sound like a real tool from NY. Funny as I read your comment about your playing partner. Sounds like he might have been your long lost brother from Queens. Pound sand and stay in NYC."

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, please keep them coming. Alas, you got the wrong borough, I'm afraid. It's Brooklyn.

The biting comments were not limited to domestic readers. Regarding my Muirfield post, one enamoured fan from across the pond asked, I assume rhetorically, "Are you visually impaired, or perhaps lacking knowledge of what constitutes a great golf hole?" Very cheeky.


The following anonymous comment is crisp and succinct, "you're a pompous ass......let me guess you are a Scientologist as-well......", although we don't discuss religion or politics on our site.

Another reader had the quintessential visitor experience to The Links Club when he wrote:

"When I entered the bar, instead of being asked what I would like to drink, I was accosted by a waitperson who admonished me that "business papers aren’t allowed here”. Thinking fast, I said, “what, this plain envelope…these aren’t business papers – it is a gift.” I received no drink, but slunk into the library, which was exactly as you described it. I picked up a magazine and hid the offending envelope in its folds and tried to look like I belonged." We feel your pain.


Cabo del Sol's 17th hole

My super 2008 golfing season started south of the border in Mexico. Cabo del Sol was an ideal starting location to kick off 2008, the Corona factory visible as the plane was landing set the tone for a great year. Spyglass was also a great treat and has the best five starting holes in the game. As a public course, I encourage you to play it if you can.

Things really began to fall into place in April. My visit to the Masters started off a six week stretch where I got to play Pine Valley again, followed in rapid succession by Seminole and my favorite The National Golf Links. I was able to play Oakland Hills prior to the PGA Championship and I enjoyed my visit to The Honors Course in Tennessee.


The highlight of the year was my golfing adventure to Japan. Readers of recent posts will understand the uniqueness of playing in this part of the world. I have spoken to several others who have completed playing the top 100 in the world and several of them said that aside form Augusta, getting on the private courses of Japan are the next most difficult feat in the quest. Kawana, Naruo and Hirono are all worthy courses in the top 100.

H14 fwy

Hirono's 14th hole

All-in-all, I once again had a great year in 2008 with nine new top 100 courses played and a cumulative total of eighty courses completed.

I'm also glad that I have completed eighty courses prior to the market crash. I'm a lot poorer now that when I began the quest. Hopefully my money will hold out long enough for me the play the last twenty courses. I've had to adjust my habits to my sudden lifestyle reversal. I'm clipping those coupons, comparing the unit prices of everything in the supermarket and loading up on the free tees many clubs offer. The Age of Leverage was a lot more fun than the Age of Deprivation.

I'm looking forward to a productive 2009. Happy New Year to all!

P.S. Loch Lomond is one of the courses I had hoped to play in 2009. Hopefully, its being in receivership and pending sale won't impact my ability to get on the course.