Congressional Country Club, site of this week's Kemper Open, has a way of changing golf history when it plays host to an important tournament.
In 1964 Ken Venturi staggered to the U.S. Open championship at Congressional in 100-degree-plus heat. Until then, the United States Golf Association provided only three days for the U.S. Open, two rounds of 18 holes and a final, grueling 36-hole climax.
After the Venturi drama, the USGA changed the rules to permit four 18-hole rounds and a Sunday finish.
In 1976, during the 58th PGA Championship at Congressional, another rule change was made. Until then, any tie for the PGA title after the regulation 72 holes required an 18-hole playoff the next day.
During a rainstorm that wiped out one day's play and forced the tournament to continue on Monday, Frank Murphy of Congressional, the general chairman, confronted the PGA officials.
"We have some 2,500 volunteers acting as marshals and in other jobs," Murphy said. "The majority of them are people in the Congress, cabinet members and prominent judges, military men and businessmen. I can't ask them to give up another day of their time in case of a playoff when they have already been here a week."
PGA officials saw his logic. From then on, the championship has been decided by sudden death -- the same as the Masters and all other tournaments of the PGA Tour.
Pro golf in the Washington area is hardly new. Before World War II, Kenwood pro Al Houghton annually had the big names in golf playing at his home course in a tournament he grandly labeled "The National Open." Those were the days when golf pros lived out of the trunks of their cars and wandered from city to city looking for a score. Purses weren't large. Paul Runyan was the leading money winner in 1934 with just over $6,700.
There also was the National Capital Open at Prince Georges Country Club with a top prize of $3,000. Skip Alexander won it in 1954 just before he suffered third degree burns in a fire that curtailed his competitive career.
For nine years after World War II, Luther (Bus) Ham, then sports editor of The Washington Post, was responsible for a most unusual tournament, part of which became the accepted format for most events where the pros and top amateurs play with celebrities.
Ham conducted The Washington Post Celebrities Golf Tournament. Among his celebrities were Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney.
Babe Zaharias was a regular along with Sam Snead, and the pros seemed to enjoy the tournament, even though the total purse was $15,000.
The U.S. Open was held at Columbia Country Club in 1921 and won by Long Jim Barnes of Pelham, N.Y., with a 289. Tied for second place, nine strokes behind, were Freddie McLeod, the wee resident pro at Columbia, and the great Walter Hagen.
That tournament was distinguished by the appearance of President Warren G. Harding, who gave Barnes the winning trophy. McLeod never forgot Harding's entrance.
McLeod needed a seven-foot putt to beat Hagen for second place when the president arrived.McLeod was stroking his putt when the Marine band pulled out all the brass stops to play "Hail to the Chief." McLeod missed. p
The 1964 U.S. Open was notable for two things: the extreme heat which exhausted Venturi during the final 36 holes and the fistfight on the 18th hole between two marshals who both claimed jurisdiction of that area.
The fight between two fiftyish and well-oiled marshals was nothing compared with the physical and mental battle Venturi put up on that last day of 36 sun-baked holes. Venturi, now TV broadcaster, was dehydrated and collapsed between rounds of that 36-hole ordeal and an ambulance stood by ready to cart him away.
Venturi shot a record 30 on the first nine and finished the last 18 with a 70 for a 278 total, four strokes better than Tommy Jacobs. Venturi was accompanied by a doctor as he staggered through his last 18.
The 1976 PGA Championship at Congressional held no such drama.
Still, it was sweet enough for Dave Stockton, who hadn't won a tournament in two years. Stockton rolled in a 13-foot putt on the 18th for a final round of 70 and a four-round score of 281 to beat Ray Floyd and Don January by a stroke.