Last week's 2006version of the PGA Tour stop outside Washington, D.C., the Booz Allen Classic,will be remembered more for its great irony than for the great iron play of BenCurtis, who held a huge lead going into the last hole of the final round, whichbecause of rain was scheduled to be concluded on Tuesday. The tournamentformerly known as the Kemper Open had been held in Charlotte from 1969 until1980, when Tour commissioner Deane Beman moved the event to his home turf (theD.C. area) and, seven years later, to his pet project, the Tour-ownedTournament Players Club at Avenel in Potomac, Md. ¬∂ Twenty-six years later thecircle is complete. Now the Tour is at best downgrading and at worst abandoningthe nation's capital, offering only a post--FedEx Cup October spot on the 2007schedule, a date deemed unacceptable by sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton. And whilethe players continue to vote on Avenel by taking the week off, Charlotte'sfour-year-old Wachovia Championship, played in prime time in May on a classiccourse (Quail Hollow) loved by the players, has become the gold standard forTour events.
This is an article from the July 3, 2006 issue
The thought ofsuch a Mongolian Reversal, as Fred Couples might say, befuddles the players."We own this place, and we're not coming back? I mean, it's ourcourse," says 1991 Kemper champ Billy Andrade. "The reality reallystinks."
Hall of Famer TomKite, who won the first Kemper at Avenel, in 1987, but missed the cut lastweek, says, "It's a travesty. It doesn't make sense."
Says Fred Funk,who coached the Maryland team before joining the Tour, "I'm really upset.D.C. is a market we should be playing in at nearly any cost."
The WashingtonPost set the tone for the '06 Booz Allen in its tournament preview, whichfeatured a tombstone bearing the words r.i.p. golf in d.c. Then on Friday,after Tour commissioner Tim Finchem failed to show for a Wednesday pressconference due to bad weather in Columbus, Ohio, and instead fielded questionsby phone, Post columnist Thomas Boswell wrote, "What's the matter, Tim?Didn't they have flights from Columbus to Washington [on Thursday] morning?Finchem doesn't want to face the music here. He just wants to take ourmoney--more than a quarter of a century of it--and run to Memphis," theheadquarters of Federal Express, the sponsor of the FedEx Cup series.
There was nothingfond about Avenel's potential farewell. For starters, the tournament was stuckwith an extremely weak field after Sergio García and Adam Scott, the last twoBooz Allen champions, withdrew. Nothing bespoke the players' lack of enthusiasmfor Avenel more than this stat: Seven of the last nine winners failed to show.That's almost unimaginable because Tour players religiously return to the siteswhere they've had success. Even worse, the field boasted only one player amongthe top 30 on the money list--if you guessed No. 13 Brett Wetterich, you're thewinner--and no one from the top 20 in the World Ranking. (No. 23 PadraigHarrington was the highest-ranked player in attendance.)
What went wrong inD.C.? Sponsorship wasn't the problem. Booz Allen Hamilton simply wanted to havea world-class tournament, and according to Ralph Shrader, the chairman and CEOof the management consulting company, "The two things I always said we hadto have were a venue and a date." The Tour's promise to provide both wasthe reason Booz Allen took over from FBR Capital in 2004, but as things turnedout, the Tour provided neither.
While being wooedby the Tour, Shrader was shown what he calls "exciting" plans for animminent $25 million renovation of Avenel. The tournament would have to bemoved for a year during construction, and favors were called in so that in 2005the Booz Allen could be played at nearby Congressional Country Club, which hashosted two U.S. Opens. Last year's Classic, played the week before the Open andwon by García, was a huge success, but in the meantime not a teaspoon of dirtwas turned at Avenel. Finchem blamed delays in getting the needed permits dueto Avenel's environmentally sensitive wetland areas, an inexcusable planninglapse if true.
"We knew thereputation of Avenel, and our rationale was that even though we knew it wouldbe a bad date the week after the Open in 2006, we'd have a new course,"says Shrader. "We thought that could be the beginning of a new era andwould have a certain panache that would perhaps attract a few additionalplayers."
When no renovationwork took place, Shrader was left in an awkward position. The one-year switchto Congressional had served no purpose. "I was approached by media whoasked, 'Isn't that a broken promise?'" Shrader says. "What could I say?We moved because we expected something would be done."
Shrader wasequally frustrated in his quest for a preferred date. Shrader wanted the weekbefore the U.S. Open every year, if possible. "One thing we learned in 2004was that the week after the Open doesn't work here," he says."Washington is one of those towns where, once the kids are out of school,everybody goes somewhere else and this place shuts down. The Tour said, 'Hey,get in line. A lot of people want to play that [pre-Open] week.'"
But six monthsbefore the '05 Classic, Shrader says he got a letter from Finchem. According toShrader, "[Finchem] said, 'We haven't finalized the schedule, but I'mconfident in assuring you that you can have your tournament before the Openthree out of four years. Two of those years would be the week before the Open,the third year would probably be another date sometime before the Open, but thefourth year would have to be the week after. We are well aware of yourconcerns, and we are going forward with our plans for the course.'"
Shrader says hehad several conversations with the Tour in succeeding weeks and met with Tourexecs during the Presidents Cup in September. Another session was scheduled fortwo weeks later but was canceled by the Tour. Shrader says he received asubsequent letter from the Tour saying, "Give us another 30 days." SaysShrader, "The next conversation I had was on a Friday morning in Januarywhen [Finchem] called two hours before the FedEx Cup and the 2007 schedule wasannounced. He said, 'We've decided to move your tournament to the fall.' I wassurprised, obviously. It was totally different than anything I'd beenpresented."
The date thatShrader had wanted was lost when FedEx poured $40 million into the FedEx Cup--aseasonlong points race culminating in a four-tournament championship series inSeptember--and dropped sponsorship of the FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis. Aspart of that deal the new Stanford St. Jude Championship was given the pre-Opendate.
Shrader turneddown the fall spot on the schedule. "I don't like it when anybody tries toimply that we were hard-nosed about our position and left no room forflexibility," he says. "I had an assurance about something that, if ithad been the final offer, we'd have looked at it pretty hard to make itwork."
Booz AllenHamilton will kick in $1 million to support a post--FedEx Cup tournament inOctober '07, if one is held, but is out as title sponsor. The Tour says it islooking for a replacement, but finding people willing to put up $8 million to$10 million a year to sponsor an event that's likely to have a weak field andwill be shown exclusively on the Golf Channel is no easy task. As for Avenel,Finchem said last week that an $18 million to $20 million renovation will occurat an undetermined future date.
As a finalindignity, the '06 Booz Allen went out with a whimper. Heavy rain delayed andeventually forced the suspension of the final round, and after more bad weatherdisrupted play on Monday, the Tour decided to try again on Tuesday. When playwas halted on Monday evening Curtis, whose group had made it all the way to the71st green, was an impressive 21 under par and seven shots ahead of fourplayers tied for second. During one of the many delays, a reporter standingnear the quiet clubhouse said, "This feels like a wake."
That's exactlywhat it was. R.I.P, golf in D.C.
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