After a thrilling finish last week capped off by Jordan Spieth holing a bunker shot to beat Daniel Berger in a sudden-death playoff, the PGA Tour remains in the mid-Atlantic this week for the Quicken Loans National. Hosted at Congressional Country Club in even-numbered years, this year’s event will showcase the renovated and renamed TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm. For those long-time residents of the D.C.-metro area or PGA Tour historians, the course was previously named TPC Avenel. But, with a renovation came a slightly new, longer name.
Originally opened in 1986, the course was mostly notorious for questionable (read: ‘poor’) design and constant drainage (read: ‘flooding’) problems. These issues combined for turfgrass issues which affected the greens and often produced less poor tournament conditions. So, the Kemper Open/Booz Allen Classic ran from 1986 until 2006 when AT&T (now Quicken Loans) and Tiger became the new title sponsor and host. They moved the event to Congressional with a couple other pit stops in between.
The course began a $20-plus million renovation in 2007 led by Stephen Wenzloff and Jim Hardy. They were tasked with transforming the course into a tournament-worthy venue once again. The course reopened in 2009 and here are just some of the changes:
- The controversial sixth hole was changed to a straightaway long par-four with the green now short and left of the creek.
- The par-3 ninth (famously mocked by Greg Norman, who suggested the original be "blown up with dynamite") was rebuilt with a new green up on a hill near the old practice green.
- The old 10th and 11th holes have been combined into the new 10th, a long par 5 playing around the restored and expanded creek.
- The old 12th is now the 11th, and the old 13th, a dreadful driving hole with no identifiable landing area, that Nick Price once labeled the “worst par 5 on the planet” replaced by a new, uphill par-3 12th and a short, par-4 13th.
A few years later in particular anticipation of the Quicken Loans event coming back to the course they:
- Renovated the seventh and 16th greens to flatten contours and provide additional hole locations.
- Created chipping and collection areas around the third, fourth and 18th greens
- Widened the fifth and sixth fairways.
- Flattened the front portion of the 13th green to create additional hole locations.
So, if you’re thinking to yourself that they basically redid more than half the course, you’d be correct. In addition to a multi-million dollar clubhouse renovation and expanded practice area, the club is ready for its PGA Tour reunion after getting tune-ups from the Web.com and Senior’s tour over the past few years. Hopefully the players are impressed and shows well on TV, thus deserving another look at a regular PGA Tour stop.
Some of the new holes to watch:
Hole 2 - Par 5, 619 yards
This long par 5, a true three-shot hole for most, requires a decision to be made on the second shot to lay up or try and carry the dry gulch for a shorter third shot. Not a gimme birdie hole, its imperative to avoid the left front greenside bunker. The best lay-up spot is the right side of the fairway as close as possible to the hazard. Putts going towards Rock Run Creek are sneaky quick.
Hole 12 - Par 3, 168 yards
A completely redone hole, this is now one of the most beautiful holes on the course. It’s a deceptive par 3, playing uphill to a nearly blind green. Look for players to take one extra club to carry the false front at all costs. However, the green is bigger than it looks from the tee, so look for a lot of players putting from the middle-back of the green. And again watch as they negotiate the quickness of putts back toward the creek.
Hole 13 - Par 4, 299 yards
This other “blown up” hole is now a devilishly fun short and deceptively simple par 4 that is all about the second shot. Those not attempting to hit the green need to focus on where they place their tee shot. It is recommended to take the bunkers on the right out of play and leave yourself a short iron approach to the very small and elevated green. Controlling spin into the green is paramount as another false front can wreak havoc. Playing to the middle of the green will leave the best chance for birdies.