- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The PGA Tour will not renovate TPC at Avenel before next year’s Booz Allen Classic golf tournament, violating its good-faith agreement with Booz Allen Hamilton and the Congressional Country Club and jeopardizing its long-term relationship with the event’s title sponsor.

“When we entered into an agreement to be the title sponsor, we anticipated that certain things would happen according to a certain schedule,” Booz Allen Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Ralph Shrader said yesterday. “As time has gone by, that schedule has slipped, and that’s disappointed us. I want to emphasize the fact that no contractual obligations have been violated, only our understanding of how things would evolve.

“We still have the opportunity, I think, to sit down and work through a reasonable game plan here to overcome this.”

Mr. Shrader and other tournament officials will meet with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and his staff today to discuss the Avenel renovation.

Booz Allen agreed to a three-year contract last year as the title sponsor of the local PGA Tour stop. Mr. Shrader said then that his corporation, which had never put its name on any mass-marketing venture before, would settle for nothing less than a gold-standard event.

The tour agreed to make sweeping changes at the Tournament Players Club at Avenel, the Potomac layout that has played host to the tournament every year since 1987. The 7,005-yard, par-71 design has provoked heavy criticism over the years from the world’s best players, who routinely rank it among the worst regular stops on tour and avoid playing the tournament there.

As creator, owner and operator of Avenel, one of 25 operating TPCs scattered across the country, the tour has been reticent to acknowledge its widespread reputation and deficiencies.

However, that seemed to change when Booz Allen signed on as sponsor with assurances that improvements soon would be made to the unpopular course.

To aid that process, Booz Allen and longtime tournament chairman and Congressional board member Ben Brundred persuaded the membership at that country club to play host to this year’s event, which will take place June 9 to 12 on Congressional’s storied Old Blue layout.

With the Booz Allen Classic shifted across Persimmon Tree Road to Congressional, the PGA Tour had the required window of time in which to renovate Avenel. That move also required the members at Congressional to sacrifice nearly a month of peak playing time at their course.

“They stepped up this year magnificently,” Mr. Shrader said of Congressional’s members. “Unfortunately, I feel a little bad because the conditions under which they stepped up were that we were going to be doing work” at Avenel.

The reasons for the tour’s failure to honor its agreement by beginning renovations at Avenel are less clear, although Mr. Shrader said his understanding was the delay was partially because of issues with environmental permits. The tour’s only comment yesterday was an acknowledgment of today’s scheduled meeting with Booz Allen.

“We will present the full scope of renovation plans for the TPC at Avenel to Booz Allen at the meeting,” said Chris Smith, the tour’s director of public relations and communications. “We’ll also be discussing other tournament-related issues, including future dates and sponsor extension.”

Booz Allen’s stance on a potential extension no doubt hinges on the persuasiveness of the tour’s renovation pitch. The company will not renew its contract as title sponsor after next year’s event if the tour is unwilling to put its plans and time frame in writing.

“I have no intention of committing Booz Allen to a continuing relationship without having all of the details worked out,” Mr. Shrader said. “Avenel as is, on a going-forward basis long-term, does not meet my expectations for the kind of quality venue necessary to attract a quality field. … Because if we can’t make this a top-notch, really first-class event, then I’ve got serious questions about my desire to have the company’s name on the event.

“It’s a partnership. The tour’s got responsibilities, and we’ve got responsibilities. We all have to live up to those responsibilities.”

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