Congressional Country Club, a haven of rest and recreation for Washington's wealthy and well-connected, is both an arena of the sublime and a theater of the absurd.
Its golf course is said to be among the finest in the nation -- Golf Digest ranks it among the top 40 -- and the club is no stranger to the major tournaments that routinely display the highest levels timing, precision and grace the games has to offer.
Yet it also is known as the place where a physician, said by witnesses to have been enraged when a goose's honk disturbed his concentration, turned on the bird and clubbed it to death with a putter near the 17th green.
President Calvin Coolidge, an honorary life member, attended the club's formal opening in 1924.
Over the next half century, Congressional would count among its members the powerful and elite of the executive branch, Congress and the corps of lawyers and lobbyists.
Yet for the last three years it has squirmed in the embarrassment of a highly publicized lawsuit in which one of its members, contending the club had systematically defrauded its employes by skimming 20 percent off the top of their paychecks, sued to see the club's books.
Situated off River Road just beyond the Beltway in Montgomery County, Congressional occupies 385 acres of the choicest, most expensive real estate in the Washington area.
At a Congressional dining room in 1974, the barons of Montgomery County's real estate industry met at the invitation of a club member for an evening of food, drink and quiet conversation. That conversation later cost six real estate firms $160,000 in fines after their convictions on conspiracy to fix commission rates.
This week's Kemper Open should reap more favorable publicity for Congressional. With a $400,000 purse, it is among the top three money tournaments on the PGA Tour. Congressional's greens and fairways, meticulously manicured for the event, will get national television exposure.
The Goodyear blimp will be there, as will former president Gerald Ford, honorary chairman of the event. CBS plans network telecasts of one hour on Saturday and two hours on Sunday.
"Our thinking was that this is not an economic necessity for our club or for our prestige," says club president Bob Hart. "It is a great opportunity for club members to work together on a project which was beneficial to the community and to the club. It is something the Washington area can use. We have good football and basketball, but we don't have a golf tournament."
It may not be economically necessary, but the tournament clearly will be an asset to Congressional, whose 2,200 members pay annual dues of $1,140 plus an initiation fee of $6,500.
Kemper has guaranteed the club a profit of $250,000, although officials of the sponsoring company say the tournament has never turned a profit. "We'll be delighted if we break even," a Kemper spokesman said.
Additionally, Kemper has guaranteed $50,000 in contributions to selected charities of Congressional's choice. The club has chosen to give $10,000 each to Children's Hospital, the Boy Scouts of the Washington area and Heroes Inc., and $5,000 each to the Salvation Army, the U.S. Olympic Committee, the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad and the Cabin John Rescue Squad. Kemper will match the $50,000 with another $50,000 for the Boys Clubs of America.
In addition to ticket sales -- at $5 a head for Monday and Tuesday practice rounds, $12 each for the rest of the week -- the tournament will generate revenue from sales of advertisement-laden programs at $2 apiece, parking for up to 15,000 cars a day at $4 a car and 14 concession stands that will sell hot dogs coffee, soda, milk and beer.
Tournament officials would like to draw a total crowd of 120,000 to 130,000 for the week-long event.
To help manage the Kemper, Ben Brundred, a former Congressional president and the general chairman of the tournament, has recruited 900 volunteers, about half of them from Congressional and half from other area country clubs.
They are divided into 30 committees most headed by men and women who chaired similar committees when Congressional hosted the PGA tournament in 1976. They will pull a variety of assignments, such as serving as crowd marshals, driving any one of 54 courtesy cars donated by area auto dealers or helping keep score.
To keep abreast of developments as they occur, approximately 120 telephones have been installed at strategic points along the courses from which scorekeepers can telephone minute-by-minute results to a central scoring office.
As the leading contenders complete each hole, central will receive the results by phone and relay them immediately for posting at seven manually operated scoreboards around the course.
As a club that takes its golf seriously, many members also are looking to the Kemper Open to provide concrete evidence that few shatter par at Congressional.
"We have a long, tough course here," Brundred said. "Week after week, you see the pros on the circuit coming in way under par. When we had the PGA here, the winner finished one over par."
The club also takes its competition with neighboring country clubs seriously. In a weekend match with Columbia Country Club earlier this spring, Congressional fielded a team that included two college players, Terry Burke of the University of Kentucky and Paul Ryan of Furman University.
Those two were disqualified when Columbia quoted a NCAA rule against college players playing for another team and Columbia went on to win the match.
"Both of those boys are members of the club," Brundred said. "But we withdrew them when they invoked this obscure NCAA rule. There would have been nothing illegal about their playing for us, but we didn't want them to get in trouble with the NCAA."
A marketing consultant who has been working full time on the Kemper the last month, Brundred sees the tournament as a chance "to open our facilities for something everyone in the area can enjoy.
"The community has treated us well. We felt the time was right for this," Brundred said.
Such sentiments run counter to the prevailing atmosphere at Congressional, where privacy is of the utmost importance.
Asked about the lawsuit alleging skimming of employe paychecks, Club President Hart observed:
"To our way of thinking it's an internal matter. We regard it as nobody's business but our own. We've informed our members of all the facts and we feel we're on solid ground."