- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 9, 2005

The problem with playing the Booz Allen Classic at Congressional Country Club is that folks might get to like it. Moving the tournament from squirrelly Avenel to a Major Championship Venue is like moving the Clampetts from the Ozarks to Beverly Hills. (About the only difference is that Congressional has more ce-ment ponds.)

Next year when the event returns whence it came, what a downer that’s going to be. Let’s face it, you could give Avenel more makeovers than Michael Jackson and it wouldn’t change the fact that it’s — how shall I put this? — an unremarkable course. Heck, all the TPCs are; they’re little more than cash registers with spectator mounds.

If Ralph Shrader, the Big Boss at Booz Allen, really wants to make the tournament unique — worthy of one of the great golf areas in the country (not to mention the nation’s capital) — he should think outside the tee box. I mean, we all understand the financial necessity of making Avenel the Booz Allen’s home base, but that doesn’t mean the event has to be played there every year. Would anybody be terribly offended if, say, once every three years, the tournament were staged at one of the historic courses in the region?

How cool would it be if the 2008 Booz Allen were played at Columbia Country Club, site of the 1921 U.S. Open?

And if the 2011 Booz Allen were played at, oh, Five Farms in Baltimore, site of the 1899 Open and the ‘28 PGA.

Answer: About as cool as it’s going to be this week. About as cool as it was when Congressional held the Kemper from 1980 to ‘86. Think about it. How many Ordinary Tour Stops are staged on courses as storied as Congressional, the scene of three majors since 1964 (with the 2011 Open still to come)?

Well, there’s the AT&T;, which is played at Pebble Beach, and … there’s the AT&T; and … there’s the AT&T.; (Don’t talk to me about Riviera, stomping grounds of the Nissan Open. A U.S. Open hasn’t been held there in more than half a century.)

Setting up its own “rota” like they do at the British Open would make the Booz Allen — traditionally one of the tour’s more nondescript events — utterly unique. It also would make it a more attractive tournament to play in, regardless of which week it occupied on the calendar — and particularly when it fell just before the U.S. Open, as it does this year.

Don’t believe me? Then listen to what the pros had to say about Congressional:

Phil Mickelson: “Coming [back] here in 2011 is exciting for us. We all love this golf course. … It’s a great tuneup for Pinehurst [and next week’s Open].”

Retief Goosen: “I think the guys would like to play on these type of golf courses more often. This is a real, true test of your golf. You can’t really get away with any part of your game being bad around here. It’s a great way to play the game.”

Chris DiMarco: “If you win on a golf course like this, you’ve played good golf, period. There’s no gimmicks out there. … There’s probably half a dozen to a dozen guys who normally don’t play [the week] before a major that are playing this week because of where the venue is.”

(Among them: Goosen, Justin Leonard and Charles Howell III, all of whom skipped the Buick Open last year to bone up for Shinnecock.)

And it’s not like these guys have any sentimental reason to gush about Congressional. None of them contended in the ‘97 Open — indeed, Mickelson was the only one to even qualify — and they’re too young to have played in the Kemper before it moved across the street to Avenel. Nope, like Lefty said, they just think it’s a grand, classic track.

Which, of course, it is — for the fans as much as the players. The two closing holes alone are worth the price of admission, inasmuch as both can be watched from a single vantage point (that is, if you’re able to stake out a seat in the natural amphitheater surrounding the pond). How many courses allow you to do that, to monitor developments on the 17th and 18th greens simultaneously?

In the movie “Sideways,” one of the characters makes a touching speech about how she likes to contemplate “the life of a wine,” how she considers it a living thing. “I like to think about what was going on the year the grapes were growing — how the sun was shining, if it rained,” she says. “I like to think about all the people who tended and picked the grapes. And if it’s an old wine, how many of them must be dead by now. I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today, it would taste different than if I’d opened it on any other day because a bottle of wine is actually alive. And it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity.”

There are probably a few people, maybe more than a few, who think about Congressional — and Five Farms and Columbia Country Club — like that, who think of them less as golf courses than as ripening wines. (DiMarco almost sounded like that when he talked about the complexity of the poa annua greens, about how “you could hit five putts and [the ball] could go five different ways.”)

Imagine how wonderful it would be if, every so often, we could sip those wines, if the Booz Allen (no pun intended) was played on a course the top pros would flock to instead of run from. Considering the support Washington has given the tournament over the years, the multitudes that have braved Avenel’s quicksand/mud to cheer on the likes of Rory Sabbatini, Bob Estes, Frank Lickliter and Tom Scherrer, it doesn’t seem too much to ask.

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