With the approval of 95 percent of the 1,200 members who cast ballots over the past few weeks, Congressional Country Club has officially agreed to host the 2011 U.S. Open championship, the third time America's men's national championship of golf will be played at the Bethesda golf course.
Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, an avid golfer who is said to carry a five-handicap, was on hand at Congressional yesterday along with representatives of Montgomery County and the U.S. Golf Association to help make the formal announcement after the final ballots were counted on Monday night. Congressional also will be the venue for the 2009 men's U.S. Amateur tournament, a warm-up to the main event two years later.
"It's really a happy day," said Ehrlich, who also was on hand last September to do a little recruiting when USGA officials made their final site inspection at Congressional. "The prestige a U.S. Open brings to Congressional and to the state is almost un-quantifiable. It's a wonderful thing. . . . I don't know the exact number, but it means a lot of dollars for Montgomery County and the state of Maryland."
Montgomery County did run the numbers following the 1997 Open at Congressional, and determined the county earned about $400,000 in tax revenues, with the state adding another $3 million in sales taxes. David Edgerley, the county's director of economic development, also estimated the event six years ago had an economic impact of about $100 million in added revenues for local businesses during the tournament week.
Congressional has been trying to get the Open back almost since the '97 event ended with a victory by South African Ernie Els. Former club president Dennis Spurgeon appointed board member Ben Brundred Jr. to head up the club's initial effort to induce the USGA to come back to the Washington area. The club made its first formal presentation to the USGA in 2000, and the USGA's executive board voted to extend an invitation to the club to host the 2011 event this past January. A contract was negotiated over the next several months, subject to approval by the membership.
For the Open, the club essentially will rent the golf course to the USGA, and also will receive a designated portion of the proceeds. The club made about $3.8 million from the '97 Open, and while Congressional and USGA officials preferred not to offer specific figures for the 2011 event, the profit margin is expected to be slightly lower.
Congressional President Mike Conroy indicated the club likely will only break even on the U.S. Amateur in 2009. That contract is set up differently from the Open agreement. Essentially, the USGA will handle virtually every aspect of the Open, including ticket sales, concessions, merchandise sales and corporate entertainment, while Congressional will set up the basic infrastructure for the Amateur.
The Open will be played on Congressional's storied Blue course, which will have a slightly different routing than it did for the '97 event. Seven years ago, the Open ended on a par 3 hole. This time, that par 3 will be played as the 10th hole, and the 18th will be Congressional's signature hole, a long par 4 with a green guarded by water, all visible from the clubhouse overlooking the course. That hole played as the 17th in '97 and played a pivotal role in Els's victory.
Congressional also will play host in June to the Booz Allen Classic, Washington's PGA Tour event, while its regular venue, the TPC at Avenel, undergoes a significant overhaul. The course changes will not be made in time for that event, though Congressional's members also voted to approve a major renovation of its practice area in time for the tournament this June.
Work to tweak the Blue course -- adding new tee boxes, constructing a new green and tee at the new par-3 10th and other minor changes -- is not expected to begin until August 2006.
"Our members have told us they really enjoy having an event like this, as long as we're not always taking over the golf course," Conroy said. "Golf is definitely a big part of this club, and there's still a tremendous glow from the '97 Open. They really enjoyed that experience, and they want to do it again."