- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Changes are afoot for Washington’s PGA Tour stop. It has a new title sponsor, a new attitude and likely a new venue.

“This has been less than a first-line event for several years, and that’s going to change,” said Dr. Ralph Shrader, chairman and CEO of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., the McLean-based global consulting firm that announced yesterday that it had entered into a three-year agreement as the title sponsor for the golf tournament formerly known as the Kemper Open and FBR Capital Open.

“I am not going to affiliate myself or my company to a mediocre event, so we made this commitment with an understanding that we’re all dedicated to immediate improvement and long-term excellence.”

Immediate improvement will be difficult given this season’s calendar slot — June 24 to 27 — one week after the U.S. Open. Golf’s marquee names usually don’t play the week after the U.S. Open.

But the cornerstone for long-term improvement looks to be in place with a near-certain move from the Tournament Players Club at Avenel to nearby Congressional Country Club for next year’s tournament.

The board at Congressional recommended to the membership that the club play host to the tournament. If a majority of the membership agrees to the move — the members have never voted against a board recommendation — then the tournament will be held at the venerable neighboring venue the week before the U.S. Open in 2005. Final results of the membership voting, which is being conducted through mail, will be tallied and released Monday.

Obviously, the move across Potomac’s Persimmon Tree Road to the beloved layout that played host to the Kemper Open from 1980 to 1986 and staged U.S. Opens in 1964 and 1997 would bolster both local interest in the event and virtually guarantee a field loaded with golf’s glitterati.

More importantly, however, the one-year site change would give the PGA Tour an opportunity to make substantive changes to Avenel, the PGA Tour-owned stadium-style layout that has been strafed with player criticism since it opened as the event’s host course in 1987.

Australian legend Greg Norman once famously stated that the PGA Tour should dynamite Avenel’s par-3, ninth hole. Three-time major champion Nick Price, one of the game’s most reserved and affable personalities, labeled Avenel’s 13th “the worst par 5 on the planet.” And seemingly every year, players grouse about Nos. 5 and 14 — a pair of comically short par 4s — and No. 6 — a reachable par 5 defined by a severe green complex.

“After each event, the PGA Tour surveys the players. So, they know exactly which holes the players consider particularly weak,” said Steve Lesnik, chairman and CEO of KemperSports Management, the firm that runs the event. “That said, I don’t think the tour is looking at changing a couple of holes. Obviously, you have to deal with the existing footprint to some extent, but I think they’re looking at the entire routing plan.

“I know they’ve contacted several designers with plans to begin the redesign later this year or early next year. I think they’re looking at it from scratch, and you could see a whole new golf course by the time the event returns to Avenel in 2006. I’d call it somewhere between a renovation and an overhaul, and that means a substantial financial commitment from the tour.”

The PGA Tour could not be reached for comment, but Dr. Shrader said such a commitment is overdue.

“Washington has paid its dues,” said Dr. Shrader, a no-nonsense operator whose company counts the Department of Defense and a number of countries as clients. “In my conversations with [PGA Tour] commissioner Tim Finchem, all of which have been very congenial, I have reiterated that I think the PGA Tour has taken this area and this tournament for granted. This community has supported the event for many years. We have demonstrated our commitment, and now it’s time for the PGA Tour to follow suit.

“It’s a little bit like the Jerry Maguire thing — ‘Show me the money.’ Show me the venue changes we need. Show me the scheduling changes we need. Our company is prepared to spend money, but it’s very difficult to overcome both scheduling and venue shortcomings in today’s extremely competitive PGA Tour market. Commissioner Finchem assured me that Washington was a very important market to the tour moving forward. So though I don’t have anything in writing guaranteeing the course changes, I think we have an understanding. We need both his help and the help of Congressional and its membership to make this thing happen. But I have every confidence that we’re going to get it done, and that we can reward Washington with the sporting jewel it deserves.”

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