- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 10, 2004

Bring on Old Blue.

Officials at the Booz Allen Classic announced yesterday that the event will be moving across Persimmon Tree Road from TPC at Avenel to Congressional Country Club for one year in 2005.

The move became official late Tuesday night, when it was determined that the membership of the prestigious club had voted nearly 4-1 to adopt the board’s recommendation to hold the event for the first time since 1986.

“We’re thrilled that Congressional Country Club’s members enthusiastically supported our proposal to move the 2005 Booz Allen Classic to their club,” said Ralph Shrader, chairman and CEO of the event’s first-year title sponsor, Booz Allen Hamilton, in a release issued yesterday. “Having Congressional serve as host site of the Booz Allen Classic in 2005, the week prior to the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, will be a great boost for our tournament.”

There is no doubt that the move to Congressional will be a boon to the 2005 event. The 7,213-yard, par-70 Blue Course, which was the site of the 1964 and 1997 U.S. Opens and is the front-runner to land it again in 2011, long has been a revered venue among the game’s elite players.

“If they played this thing across the street, every player on tour would show up,” said Fred Couples two years ago during his last appearance at Avenel. Couples won the event at Congressional in 1983 but has made only six starts in the tournament in the 17 years since it moved to Avenel.

Given the compelling combination of site and schedule slot (June9-12), next year’s field is likely to include every ticket-selling titan short of Tiger Woods, who always takes off the week before majors. But the one-year shift to Congressional is likely to pay its biggest dividends in the future because the PGA Tour plans to overhaul oft-criticized Avenel in the interim.

“That’s really the primary reason for the move,” said Bob Combs, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of public relations yesterday. “We’re in the process of conducting a study on the scope and particulars of the changes needed at Avenel. We’ll be talking to players, looking at permitting, evaluating proposals and those sorts of things. And we’ll know more about the particular changes in the fall, so we can begin moving dirt and implementing the plan in ‘05.”

Though few, if any, holes at Avenel are likely to remain completely unchanged, Nos.5, 6, 9, 13 and 14 have drawn the most ire from players over the years and should beware of bulldozers. Though nobody involved wants to purge the layout of its stadium-style, viewer-friendly feel, the initial renovation concept is to soften the layout so it feels more like a traditional venue.

“I think one of the guiding principles of the overhaul will be attempting to make the course feel more like a classic golf course,” said Steve Lesnik, chairman and CEO of KemperSports Management, the firm that runs the Booz Allen Classic.

That spells certain doom for Nos.6, 9 and 13, two reachable par-5s and a hand-wedge par-3 which are universally regarded as overly severe examples of the stadium golf concept.

Another part of the facility destined for major changes is the driving range and practice facility. Also in the works are an alternate access road to the property and possible changes to the onsite parking, which has proved disastrous in bad weather in recent years.

“We’re talking about substantial changes,” said Lesnik, who is hopeful that this month’s Booz Allen Classic (June24-27) will benefit from yesterday’s announcement as well. “We are aware that this year’s event presents certain challenges because of the date [the week after the U.S. Open]. But what we’re offering is a revitalized event this year, Congressional in ‘05 and a great new venue in ‘06. That’s pretty exciting stuff.”

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