- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 8, 2005

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem emerged from a closed-door meeting with Booz Allen president and CEO Ralph Shrader last night and announced that major renovations to TPC at Avenel would begin shortly after the completion of next year’s Booz Allen Classic.

?The general time frame is we get going [on the renovations] after next year’s event, probably in the fall of 2006, and complete the project in 2007,? Finchem said after the sit-down with Shrader. ?That raises the question of where do we go in 2007 for the event? I can’t answer that. Obviously, any time we can play at Congressional, we’re going to jump at the chance. But right now were focused on this week’s event and finalizing the master plan for Avenel.?

Relations between the PGA Tour and the event’s title sponsor have been strained somewhat in recent months because of a miscommunication between the two parties over the Avenel renovations. A year ago, when it was first announced that this week’s event would be moving across Persimmon Tree Road to Congressional Country Club, both Shrader and the membership at Congressional were operating under the assumption the tour would use the one-year window to overhaul the oft-criticized layout and facilities at Avenel.

But when fall and early spring passed without the start of such work, it became clear the tour was following a different time frame. Some within the industry even speculated the Washington PGA Tour stop was going to be a victim of the scaled-back schedule anticipated when the tour renegotiates its TV contract in October.

“The PGA Tour is committed to the Washington market. It’s a big part of our history,” Finchem said. “We’re in the seventh or eighth largest media market in the country here, and we want to have a first-class event. We want to ratchet the tournament up a few notches, and part of that involves making changes to Avenel.

“We’re not talking about scorched-earth changes. … We’ve had four or five architects take at look at Avenel, done extensive sampling of the players for their feedback, and there is considerable overlap in the assessments. We feel with five or six significant changes and a lot of little changes, it could be a very good golf course.”

Finchem, a master at never completely tipping his hand, hinted that some of those significant changes likely would take place on Nos. 6, 9, 13 and 14, the holes most often targeted by the players as Avenel’s primary weaknesses. Remarkably affable three-time major champion Nick Price once calmly labeled No. 13 “the worst par 5 on the planet,” one-upping Greg Norman’s claim that the ninth green “should be dynamited.”

With the tour officially and inexorably on board, the renovation is almost certain to yield an impressive final product. The event’s two major concerns moving forward are now convincing Booz Allen to commit to a sponsorship extension (the current deal runs through next year) and finding a venue for the 2007 event. Congressional would be the logical choice. But convincing the membership to part with its jewel for yet another June could prove difficult, perhaps hinging on the perceived success or failure of this week’s event.

Success seems a near-certainty with a field featuring eight of the world’s top-10 players and a mystique-laden Old Blue layout that could conjure a compliment out of a corpse.

“It’s just a phenomenal old golf course,” said two-time U.S. Open champion Ernie Els, who marched to the winner’s circle the last time golf visited Old Blue (1997 U.S. Open). “I couldn’t wait to get here to play it again, and I can’t wait for Thursday to play tournament golf on it again. What’s out there on that course — that’s just pure golf.”

If a week’s worth of comments like that holds any sway over the Congressional membership, perhaps the event will return to Old Blue in 2007, Booz Allen will extend its commitment and the entire Avenel renovation saga will have a happy ending for all parties involved.

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