- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The PGA Tour’s presence in the D.C. area has not been a sure thing in recent years, but the AT&T; National is on its way to becoming one of the more established events in golf.

The Tiger Woods-hosted tournament will not be held at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club in 2010 and 2011, but officials from the event, the club and the PGA Tour guaranteed it will return for 2012 through 2014, with a chance of extending at least three years beyond that.

“I think that’s the direction the Tiger Woods Foundation and AT&T; and the PGA Tour are going,” said PGA Tour Executive Vice President Ty Votaw. “They have indicated — and Tiger has indicated — that Congressional is where they want to be on a long-term basis, and if that can happen we’re very supportive of that.”

The AT&T; National will be played next year and in 2011 at Aronimink Country Club in suburban Philadelphia, a necessary move because Congressional will host the 2011 U.S. Open.

But Congressional members approved a plan to bring the tournament back to the club from 2012 through 2014. The club, tour and the Tiger Woods Foundation — the tournament’s main charitable beneficiary — hold mutual option years for 2015 through 2017. Title sponsor AT&T; is also locked in through 2014.

The long-term stability stands in contrast to the situation in late 2006, when a loss of sponsorship made it appear the D.C. area would go without a tour event after two decades of tournaments at the Potomac club then known as TPC at Avenel. But Woods, AT&T; and PGA Tour officials quickly announced an agreement to bring a new tournament in 2007 to Congressional during one of the prime weeks on golf’s schedule.

“In my mind, I don’t view this as just a PGA Tour event,” club president Tim Sullivan said. “You have arguably the world’s greatest golfer who wants to have his tournament on your home course. To open our doors for a week to allow the metropolitan area come see Tiger Woods and the world’s best golfers is just awesome.”

Indeed, Congressional members initially welcomed the tournament enthusiastically. But the long-term future of the tournament still was in question as recently as last fall. Many Congressional members opposed bringing the tournament back in 2012 after hosting the U.S. Open. Moreover, plans for a $30 million renovation of TPC Potomac at Avenel Farms — formerly TPC at Avenel — led to speculation the tour would urge the Tiger Woods Foundation to move the tournament there. Congressional members approved the three-year extension in October — narrowly.

The PGA Tour and Congressional are not expected to discuss the mutual option years until at least 2012. Some club members quietly indicated they may ask the tournament to be held elsewhere in 2015 to give them a break after hosting the event three consecutive years.

But the economy also could play a role. While the club’s most recent vote was close, Sullivan said there would have been more support for the tournament had the vote taken place in the middle of the recession.

“The economic climate is such that country clubs have to look for revenue, and the tournament is a source of revenue for us,” he said. “If the membership had to vote right now in favor of the AT&T; National, it would be overwhelmingly in favor — there’s no doubt in my mind.”

Unlike many clubs, Congressional has not lowered its costs for membership. But the club has used payments of more than $1 million from the tournament to perform upgrades to its tennis facilities and change the grass on the greens. Congressional recently completed a 30,000-square-foot expansion of its clubhouse, but that did not require funds from the tournament.

Sullivan did say there have been talks with the tour about moving the event to another date. While positioning of the event near the holiday has been well-received, many tradition-minded members at Congressional have objected because it conflicts with the club’s Fourth of July celebration.

Though perpetual support from Congressional members will never be a sure thing, Woods has never wavered in his desire for the tournament to remain there because of the Blue Course’s reputation as one of the best in the nation. And tournament officials said support from the tour has been strong.

“They’ve been our partner in keeping it at Congressional as long as possible, so they’ve been incredibly supportive,” said Greg McLaughlin, the tournament director and president of the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Votaw said there is no push on the part of the tour to move the tournament to TPC Potomac, despite its considerable investment.

“We’re very pleased with what we’ve been able to accomplish at TPC Potomac, but at the same time we also know all of the benefits that are associated with having an event of the AT&T; National’s stature at a place like Congressional,” Votaw said. “So we want to be supportive of the Tiger Woods Foundation and AT&T; as to what their wishes are.”

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