The historic Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, is preparing for its first major tournament since reopening in 2021 following a major renovation. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship is scheduled for June 23-26 and director of golf courses and grounds Pete Wendt and his team have been preparing around the clock.
“We’re super excited to have the ladies here,” Wendt says. “We’re really excited to see how they play the golf course; it’s going to be a really fun setup. It’s a great time of year to host the championship and I think every member of the club is very proud to host this championship.”
The tournament is one of eight Congressional will be hosting in the next 15 years following a partnership with the PGA of America announced in 2018. The club will also host the 2027 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, 2031 PGA Championship, 2036 Ryder Cup, and 2025 and 2033 KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Congressional has previously hosted five major championships, most recently the 2011 U.S. Open.
Congressional features 36 holes and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be played on the Blue Course, which was recently renovated by Andrew Green. Changes included expanding fairways from 24 acres to 50 acres, enlarging greens from three acres to four acres and installing a state-of-the-art irrigation system. The nearly 400 quick couplers added allows for hand watering every square inch of the property to provide a healthy and firm course for members. “I mean, who doesn’t want to hit the bar a little farther, right?” Wendt says.
Blue Course superintendent Andrew Crawford and Gold Course superintendent Ryan Higgins “have been instrumental in preparing and planning for the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship,” Wendt says. In addition, Matt Sumpter, now the director of agronomy at nearby Columbia Country Club, served as Blue Course superintendent during construction. “Matt played a huge role in getting us prepared through this massive renovation project,” Wendt says. Clubhouse grounds superintendent David Burdette, who has spent more than 40 years at Congressional, gives Wendt a major championship veteran on the team.
Preparing for the tournament is one thing, but executing a high-profile event requires outside help. With around 35 additional volunteers locally and nationally, Wendt is feeling confident. “It’ll be a big team,” he says. “It’s our team, plus a great group of volunteers from around the country, so there will be about 100 of us preparing for the championship.”
Other key member of the Congressional staff include senior assistants Jarrett Kramer, Duggan Cannon and Robert Welsh, assistant superintendents, Ryan Geils, Wyatt Yashura, Brady Scales, Kevin Johnson and Cody Jennings, equipment manager Dan Haxton, and office manager Nebiyat Natnael. That team also includes a group of interns from around the world.
“They’re all people who are in the industry and understand what’s happening for the week,” Wendt says. “They’re a great help and we’ve got a great team.”
A combination of a great team and ideal weather are recipes for tournament success. With some rainstorms and nights in the 50s, it was a cool spring at Congressional.
“I haven’t seen a spring like this in probably 20 years,” says Wendt, who has spent most of his career in the Mid-Atlantic. “Of course, who doesn’t like high 50s at night, especially the grass? So, it hasn’t been too bad, and it looks like (tournament) week temperatures should be pretty good as well.”
Temperatures are expected to be in the mid-80s for the event. The crew will begin tournament days at 3:30 a.m. and coordinate closely with PGA of America chief championships officer Kerry Haigh on setup. “Our goal is to really mow every surface on the property every day,” Wendt says. “Other than the rough, we’ll have 16 fairway mowers out there, approach mowers and T mowers.”
Returning the course to playing condition for members after the tournament, shouldn’t be a problem for the crew.
“I think the course is in super healthy condition right now,” Wendt says. “From the perspective of buildup and tear down, it’s not massive. We’ve got one of the biggest clubhouses in the world, so we’ve been able to utilize the clubhouse for a lot of entertainment during KPMG and I’m sure they’ll be tearing down as quickly as they can and we’ll get the golf course back open and ready for our members two days after the championship.”
If there’s one thing Wendt recommends for superintendents preparing to host a major tournament, it’s just that – preparation.
“I think, as a whole, superintendents are great at preparing,” he says. “I mean, we’re all problem solvers, but just really thinking though every aspect of what can happen and what will happen, because it will.”
“I think the greatest thing about this business is that we all share information,” Wendt adds. “I’m lucky to have a lot of great peers that I can get advice from, but now I’ve still got my eyes and ears open trying to learn everything I can so we can do the best job for this championship coming up.”
Cassidy Gladieux is a senior at Kent State University participating in Golf Course Industry’s summer internship program.