Much of Jordan's presidency has been dedicated to the machinations of the Presidents Cup, the biennial Ryder Cup knock-off that RTJ has hosted for both of its incarnations. Hard by lovely Lake Manassas, with a clubhouse that makes the Taj Mahal look understated and an engaging layout designed by the club's namesake, RTJ proved a good home field for the Americans, who have won the two competitions. The club is unlikely to see the match for a while as the event rotates to different courses.
The U.S. Open, then, couldn't be coming to town at a better time, especially since the last National Open in the D.C. area was in 1964, when Ken Venturi did his death march in the heat at Congressional. (The area's first Open was in 1899, when Willie Smith won at Baltimore Country Club.) Congressional will play the perfect host to the army of glad-handing politicians who are sure to storm its grounds, for no course in Washington was more the product of the coupling of golf and politics.
Congressional was founded in 1924 by two U.S. representatives from Indiana, Oscar Bland and O.R. Luhring, and boasted as inaugural club president Herbert Hoover, who was doubling at the time as Secretary of Commerce. In an early mission statement the club practically declared itself the fourth branch of the federal government: "The official or the Member of Congress, brain cleared by the bracing air and exhilarated by the play in which he is engaged, finds a new and more adequate conception of his problems of government; and from his contact with minds which know the nation's needs, develops more surely the solutions essential for America's well-being."
The membership has changed considerably since those days, with the old Washingtonian business community having elbowed aside the pols. "If there is any criterion we use in choosing our membership, it would be the desire to keep this a family club," says Meric Legnini, a member of Congressional's board of governors. "This is not just a golf course, like so many other clubs in the area." Indeed, Congressional has a bowling alley, indoor and outdoor tennis courts, and two swimming pools. The grainy black-and-white photos that line the clubhouse hallways bear witness to fox hunts on the club's grounds, big-band formals in the ballroom, stag night boxing tournaments and cutthroat bowling leagues.
Says Legnini, in what sounds suspiciously like a boast, "We don't have too many limelighters out here."
This DeLay confirms. "They don't want us politicians playing out there," he says. "It's a pretty pompous place."
Cold shoulder or no, the politicians still line up to take their hacks at Congressional because it's the most celebrated track in Washington. In addition to the '64 Open, the Blue Course (as opposed to the easier Gold) has hosted the 1959 Women's Amateur, the '76 PGA Championship and the '95 Senior Open. "It's a wonderful test of golf," says Bowles.
Ah, yes, let us not forget the chief of staff. He's still back in his office, ruminating on his long-lost love. "I miss playing golf a lot because it's always been a big part of my life," he says. "A beautiful day like today...." His voice trails off dreamily.
If it's any consolation, Bowles's inability to play today is directly attributable to his proficiency at the game in the past. During his halcyon days as deputy chief of staff, in 1995-96, Bowles was one of President Clinton's favorite playing partners, and during their many rounds together they forged not only a fast friendship but also a simpatico political philosophy. When Clinton, in a bit of a surprise, named him to succeed Leon Panetta last November, Bowles was dismissed in some quarters as a golfing buddy who lucked into a job. "I was very proud to be referred to as a golfing buddy of President Clinton," he says with a twinkle.
Clinton, according to Bowles, keeps three dozen putters in his back office, and when the President and his chief of staff talk shop, both will often do so while fiddling with a flat stick. Similarly, it's not uncommon for Bowles and his boss to repair late at night to the South Lawn of the White House, where Clinton had Robert Trent Jones II install a putting green. There, under the lights, they chart the course of the nation, all the while trying to perfect their flop shots.