- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2009

The girl next door has a sexy new look.

With all eyes focused on Congressional Country Club and this week’s third edition of the AT&T; National, most Beltway golf fans have all but forgotten about the former venue of the area’s annual PGA Tour stop.

For 19 years, TPC at Avenel was the Kemper Open/Booz Allen Classic’s parentally arranged prom date: unattractive, unpopular and eminently forgettable.

A look across Persimmon Tree Road these days will change that opinion.

The course PGA Tour players for years either ripped or skipped has morphed into a beauty thanks to three years and $25 million worth of regrading, rebuilding and renovation.

“It was a PGA Tour golf course that was getting C ratings. We just couldn’t have that - not in our nation’s capital,” said PGA Tour Co-CEO Charlie Zink, a Maryland graduate who helped direct the renovation. “This has been a long process with a lot of people, time and resources involved. But we think we’ve taken a C-plus experience and elevated it to an A.”

Rebranded as TPC Potomac at Avenel Farm, the new layout measures 7,139 yards from the tips with a par of 70. And while roughly half of the original course remains largely unchanged (Nos. 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 15, 16 and 17), the holes perennially targeted by the pros (Nos. 6, 9 and 10-13) have been radically altered, universally for the better.

“The bulk of the work was done by our in-house [architects] Steve Wenzloff and Jim Hardy,” Zink said. “But we received consultation and assistance from a number of architects [among them Pete Dye and Tom Fazio] and players [including Davis [JUMP]Love III and Fred Funk]. People pinpointed the same things in terms of holes that were troublesome to players, so it wasn’t difficult to determine which parts of the layout needed the most work.”

Though noticeable minor changes were evident on every hole (shifted, smaller greens, sharper bunkering, squared tee boxes, etc.), the following overhauls were noticeable improvements:

c The sixth hole - formerly a wretch-reward par 5 begging a lottery-style, long, fading second shot over a creek to a shallow green - has been converted into a superb par 4. Now the No. 1 handicap hole at 484 yards, the tee shot is much the same, but the green complex has been shifted toward the fairway and elongated to fit the shape of the second shot, while the creek now wraps around behind the hole.

c The ninth hole, formerly a severe, downhill par 3 that Greg Norman once suggested should be dynamited, is now played to a green at nearly the same height as the old putting green. The new green is virtually at the same elevation as the teebox and is surrounded by four bunkers and highlighted by a devilish false front.

c The 10th hole, formerly a forgettable par 4 marred by the aesthetic eyesore otherwise known as Rock Run, has been converted into a 560-yard par 5 that plays to roughly the location of the old 11th green. Rock Run has been restored and its lines sharpened throughout the course, adding wetlands and enhancing shot values while reducing the once-constant threat of flooding.

c The former No. 12 is now No. 11, and the former 13th hole has been cut into two holes. The old 13th was a dreadful driving hole with no identifiable landing area that Nick Price once labeled the “worst par 5 on the planet.” The new 12th is a gorgeous, uphill par 3 with its green cut into the supposed landing area of the old 13th. And the new 13th is now a short par 4 (360 yards) to an elevated green; the stream that used to split the 13th hole was relocated to the left to create one, left-shifted central fairway.

From a playability standpoint, most early reviews claim the redesign is harder though fairer - and certainly more attractive.

“My biggest advice was to make it look finished,” said Funk, a Takoma Park native who made 18 starts at Avenel in the old Kemper/Booz Allen. “The back nine looked really rough on the holes where you had Rock Run. I haven’t played it yet, but I went over during Tiger’s tournament last year and took a look at it when they were just grassing it in. I thought it looked great. I’ve heard good things from guys who have played it, but I also hear it’s very difficult.”

Said Brandt Snedeker, one of the first PGA Tour pros to see the new layout after it opened April 18: “It’s definitely got the build for a tour event. I had never played it before, so I never saw the original layout, but whoever did the redesign did a very good job. It’s a strong course, and it will be interesting to see if we go back there someday.”

The new TPC Potomac certainly has the capacity to host another event. Not only is the course greatly improved, both the clubhouse and practice facility have been renovated, expanded and modernized.

Is the tour considering bringing another event to Avenel Farm? The AT&T; National probably isn’t an option. Not only is the event booked through 2014 at Aronimink (2010-11) and Congressional (2009, 2012-14), Tiger Woods prefers the kind of historic major venues with which Avenel just can’t compete. But don’t be surprised if TPC Potomac receives serious consideration when Baltimore Country Club’s contract with the Senior Players Championship runs out after next year.

“We didn’t build it with any specific event in mind, but our intent was for the final product to be a PGA Tour-caliber test and an exemplary facility for the TPC brand,” said Zink, who didn’t tip his hand but went out of his way to say he didn’t feel the course was too challenging for Champions Tour players. “We are exploring possibilities right now, and there’s no question that we would be interested in hosting an event at TPC Potomac if we can match the right opportunity with the right time frame and the right tournament.”