AT&T National: A spectator’s guide to getting the most out of a visit to Congressional
UPDATE, June 24: Justin Rose withdrew from the AT&T National on Monday, citing fatigue.
This year’s AT&T National (June 24-30) should be a bigger draw than usual for local golf fans: Though defending champion Tiger Woods, the world’s top-ranked player, won’t be playing because of an elbow injury, the field includes the winners of the past two majors, Adam Scott (the Masters) and Justin Rose (last weekend’s U.S. Open).
Of course, spending a day watching golf is more complicated than taking your seat at Nationals Park or FedEx Field. To help you make the most of a visit to Congressional Country Club, we talked to the club’s director of golf and some seasoned AT&T National attendees about the best ways to enjoy the week, whether you’re planning to walk the course or just want the best view of the trophy presentation.
On the fence about attending? Here’s why you should go.
Freedom of choice: The big names are going to get plenty of face time on television. But golf enthusiasts who may prefer to watch other players — yes, exciting and capable golfers other than Tiger Woods exist — won’t get that opportunity sitting in front of their flat screens. Casual golf fans may discover some new favorites whose style of play and personality are more inviting than their better-known counterparts on tour.
Experiencing history: Congressional is among the most historically significant golf courses in the world, having hosted multiple major championships as well as the AT&T National. Only six courses have hosted more U.S. Opens, and although fans get to see some of Congressional on television, the best way to get the full feel of the grounds is by being there to walk the fairways and huddle around the greens.
Cheap lessons: Players ranging in skill level from the weekend duffer to the 1-handicapper can learn from watching the best golfers in the world up close and personal. Television may show replays of a golfer’s swing every now and then, but nothing beats the repetition of getting to see PGA Tour professionals carry themselves through 18 holes, where they’ll have to play shots from the rough and the sand.
Getting close to the action: Few, if any, professional sporting events allow spectators to get as close to the athletes as golf does. Fans often stand or kneel within several feet of the players, and there’s nothing like watching from just a few yards away a put on the 18th green that could decide the tournament. And it’s pretty thrilling to be part of the gallery when it erupts after a dramatic shot.
Mixing fitness and fun: Most of us could use a bit more exercise in our lives, and what better way to burn calories than walking the course while following the action? Congressional is challenging not just because of its high rough and fast greens, but also because of its length (more than 7,500 yards) and inclines. Your calf muscles may feel a bit sore after a long round, but you won’t regret as much having eaten that extra hot dog from the concession stand.
On Tuesday, we’re talking about practice... and that’s okay
Yes, the tournament is exciting. But Tuesday’s practice session, which is open to the public and costs $10 a person (12 and younger get in free), is something else entirely, whether you’re a serious student of the game or just looking for a chance to meet your favorite golfer.
Mike Cherner, a member at Woodmont Country Club in Rockville, watches the tournament every year, in person and on television. But first, he makes a point of studying the pros as they practice Tuesday morning.
“I want to see the things that make the course exciting or really difficult,” explains Cherner, who is a partner in a liquor distribution company. “You’ll be able to see [the players] hit different tee shots or take different drops on the same hole. You can see how the different greens play.”
Cherner, 31, treats it like a scouting report for the tournament itself: Are the fairways favoring long drives? Will certain holes be especially difficult for chip shots? “Tuesday sets you up for watching the rest of the week,” Cherner says. “It gives you the most information about how [the tournament] is going to play out.”
Tuesday is also the most family-friendly day of the event, according to John Lyberger, Congressional’s director of golf. “Schools are out around here, so we get a ton of kids,” he says. But it’s also the relaxed nature of the practice round that makes it a great day out. “If you really want to see a lot of the marquee names, Tuesday’s a good day to go,” Lyberger adds. “The players are loose, they’ll chat with you.” You can cheer and applaud a putt without being shushed, and “you may get a wink or a smile.”
Point-and-shoot style cameras, which are banned during the competitive rounds, are permitted on Tuesday. And the clincher: “It’s a great day for autographs,” Lyberger says. “If you have kids and they want to get a cap or a pin flag signed, this is the day.”
The gates open at 6 a.m. Tuesday, and there are no set times for when the players take the course, though it’s generally early in the day.
ADVICE FOR TOURNAMENT FIRST-TIMERS
“Dress properly. It’s been really, really hot both years [I’ve been]. And wear comfortable shoes. I like walking around the course and taking it all in. I’m a woman, and I want to look nice, but I don’t mind wearing sneakers with a skirt. I saw these ladies [last year] walking around with heels on, and I thought, ‘That’s not going to fly.’”
— Brynna McCosker, Washington golf enthusiast
Grab a seat or take a hike? The golf fan’s dilemma
There are two schools of thought about the best way to watch a golf tournament. The first is to park yourself in one spot all day: You’ll have good sightlines and get to see all of the superstars as they play through. But if something happens on a different hole, you’ll miss the excitement. The other is to follow your favorite player around the course: You’ll get to see how he handles different holes and lies, but because you’re moving with a larger group of people, it can be hard to have consistent views of the action.
Mike Cherner, who attends the tournament with his brother every year, prefers to stay put. “My favorite spot is between the greens at the 10th and 18th holes,” he says of Congressional. “They’re really challenging holes for the players” because of water hazards, especially coming into the green on 10. And because there are views of multiple holes, including the tee at 11, “you always have some action going on,” he says.
The best part, says Cherner, is that your views are guaranteed. “You can be within 5 to 8 feet of the green,” he explains. “You can literally just sit there and be within four feet of Tiger. People who are following [certain players] crowd the hole, but if you’ve got a space, you’re already there [and in front of them].”
His usual itinerary is to arrive at Congressional about 10 a.m. to find his seat, “watch golf for an hour or two, get lunch and come back. I’ll watch players at 10 and 11, then I’ll get lunch, and then I’ll see the players from the morning over on 18.”
If you’re planning to stay put, John Lyberger, Congressional’s director of golf, recommends the area behind the green on the seventh hole. “It’s a close par 3 with an undulating green,” Lyberger says. Because the pin placement varies, “it’s fun to watch [the players] hit shots into the green and putt, too.” This area also has vantages of other holes, including the sixth and ninth.
Of course, this strategy isn’t for everyone. “I’m a Tiger Woods fan,” 28-year-old Joshua Culling said before Woods’s withdrawal from the AT&T National on Wednesday. “I think he’s awesome. Unless I’m traveling, this is my one chance to see him all year.” That’s why the District resident typically sets out to see as much Tiger as possible. “In a normal day, I’ll see him play seven or eight holes.” The key to following a popular golfer, Culling says, is to “zig-zag around the course and try to stay ahead of everyone. By the time a guy finishes on a green, the crowd around the next tee box is huge, so you just skip ahead a hole or two.”
Culling, who works for Americans for Tax Reform, prefers to go to Congressional on Sunday — “the most exciting day of the tournament.” He arrives early, even if the most famous golfers have later tee times.
“Generally, I’ll show up at 10 or 11 o’clock,” he says, and make a beeline for the area behind the first tee. “You can watch guys who are higher on the leader board on the driving range or practicing on the putting green,” he says.
Trevor Reaske of Arlington has a hybrid strategy. The 27-year-old, who writes for golf blog Tap in Golf (tapingolfblog.com), is a veteran of multiple AT&T Nationals and attended the 2011 U.S. Open, which was held at Congressional. In the morning, he likes to follow different golfers. “It’s nice to be able to get up close to the players, and it’s amazing to watch them play.” Even if they’re not household names, Reaske says, “these guys are seriously athletes.”
By the time the afternoon rolls around, Reaske makes for the area between the 10th and 18th holes. He wants a good view of the excitement on the 18th green — especially the trophy presentation Sunday — but he appreciates being able to see the action on 10. “The players walk right by you as they come in; Tiger is two or three feet from you,” he says. “That’s pretty cool, especially if you’ve never been to a golf tournament before.”
ADVICE FOR TOURNAMENT FIRST-TIMERS
“Whether it’s food or shopping, do it early. Then get out there and get a space on the course. The last hour of the day, when there are only a few golfers left on the course, everyone goes, ‘Okay, let’s get our souvenirs’ or ‘Let’s get a bite to eat before we head home.’ The lines get really long.” — Mike Cherner, member, Woodmont Country Club
Be quiet: When in doubt, stay quiet and be still. That’s the best policy for spectators at any golf tournament, especially when a player is getting set to swing or putt. Always heed tournament marshals, who will raise their arms to signal for quiet when golfers are playing their shots. They also will alert spectators as to when it’s appropriate to cross fairways during stoppages.
Refusal to follow these rules is grounds for removal, as is distracting players or making rude or offensive comments to them at any time.
If a ball flies out of bounds and lands near you, it’s best to stand several feet away so the player and a tournament official can inspect it and determine where the drop will be. It’s okay to watch it all unfold, but patrons need to give those guys room to operate. Usually a marshal will be there telling spectators to move back.
Monitor mobile devices: Cellphones, PDAs and tablets are permitted at the AT&T National, but remember to put them on silent mode before entering the grounds. You don’t want to be that person whose ringer goes off in the middle of a golfer’s backswing.
Cellphone usage, whether calling or texting, is permitted only in designated areas, such as the main entrance, the clubhouse and select concession stands. No video recording is permitted. Violations of these policies may result in confiscation of your device or removal from the grounds.
Travel lightly: No coolers, outside beverages, firearms, folding arm or lawn chairs or backpacks and packages larger than a small purse are permitted. Folding stools without arms are allowed, as are strollers. Point-and-shoot cameras are permitted only Tuesday and Wednesday. Professional cameras are not allowed.
Radios, portable televisions, signs and banners also are prohibited.
If you bring a stool, don’t leave it unattended. Imagine how you’d feel if a player drives his ball in that direction and it hits the chair and lands in the high rough or, even worse, caroms into the woods or out of bounds.
Autograph policy: Thursday through Sunday, golfers will not sign autographs until after they’ve completed their rounds. Designated autograph zones are adjacent to the scoring areas at holes 9 and 18. Players will have the option to use these zones. The practice rounds on Tuesday provide the best opportunity for autograph seekers because the atmosphere is slightly more relaxed, but the cardinal rule of being polite applies at all times. In other words, don’t stick a pen in front of a player and demand him to sign.
What to wear: Roll your eyes, if you want, at spectators sporting golf shoes as if they were part of the tournament. In some instances such footwear comes in handy. Patrons who choose to walk the course should be advised that Congressional often requires climbing and descending steep hills, meaning traction is of great importance. Those who prefer camping out by the greens or at the tee boxes are fine wearing sneakers or other comfortable shoes.
Also remember to wear a hat and loose fitting clothing and apply sunscreen liberally. It’s late June, and it’s the D.C. area, so it’s going to be hot and humid.
ADVICE FOR TOURNAMENT FIRST-TIMERS
“There are plenty of people on River Road that will charge you upwards of $25 to park on their front lawn. I recommend doing it. Even if you have a parking pass, you have to take a shuttle to the course. It takes forever. It’s totally worth $25-$30 to park close to the course.” — Trevor Reaske, writer for tapingolfblog.com
For more information, call 301-365-6946 or visit www.attnational.org.
Where: Congressional Country Club, 8500 River Rd., Bethesda. The only public, walk-up entrance is at Persimmon Tree Lane and Country Club Drive.
Tickets: A daily gallery pass is $10 for the practice rounds on Tuesday; $25 for the pro-am on Wednesday or the first round on Thursday; and $30 for Friday, Saturday or Sunday. A gallery pass provides entry for one person to the tournament grounds; there is no re-entry. Children age 12 and younger are admitted free if accompanied by a paid adult.
Parking: There is no general admission parking in the immediate vicinity of the golf course; all surrounding parking is by permit only. Daily general admission parking is available at Rock Springs in Bethesda for $10 (Tuesday) or $20 (Wednesday-Sunday) and at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg for $10 (Thursday-Friday only).
Shuttle buses will transport patrons to and from the parking lots; shuttles depart approximately every 15 minutes, depending on traffic conditions. Lot hours are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Tuesday, June 25, professional practice rounds, gates open at 6 a.m.
Wednesday, June 26, AT&T National Pro-Am, 6:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Thursday, June 27, first round, 7:10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Friday, June 28, second round, 7:10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday, June 29, third round, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sunday, June 30, final round, 8 a.m.-6:30 p.m.
Players: The full field will be announced June 23. As of June 19, the following golfers had committed: Adam Scott, the 2013 Masters champion;Nick Watney, the 2011 AT&T National champion; Rickie Fowler; Hunter Mahan; and Jason Day. Tiger Woods, the world’s top-ranked player and the tournament’s defending champion, withdrew June 19 with an elbow injury. Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, withdrew June 24 citing exhaustion.