- The Washington Times - Friday, January 13, 2006

The nation’s capital didn’t make the cut.

The PGA Tour released its 2007 schedule yesterday, and for the first time since 1979, there wasn’t a Beltway stop on the summer slate.

“I don’t think flabbergasted would be too strong of a description of our reaction to the news,” said Steve Lesnik, the chief executive officer of KemperSports, the company that has long directed and managed the local tour stop (currently the Booz Allen Classic). “We had no real forewarning, so it’s going to take a few days to digest all the implications and ramifications of the situation.”

The PGA Tour is offering the Washington area a spot in its fall series, a group of some seven events after September’s Tour Championship, which won’t be firmed up on the schedule for another two months.

“We recognize that we’re talking about the nation’s capital and the eighth-largest market in the country, and that’s why we’re going to do whatever we can to make them a part of our fall series,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said last night. “Our struggle with the summer was finding a structure of dates that would allow us to build in terms of quality. We concluded that our best chance of building a successful event in Washington was in the fall.”

Basically, there were a handful of events vying for a finite number of coveted calendar slots around the U.S. Open. Typically, tournaments scheduled the two weeks before the Open attract excellent fields. Those staged the week or two after the Open routinely attract pedestrian fields; most of the world’s top players try to play themselves into peak form for the season’s second major and often rest for two to three weeks afterward.

Last season, for instance, the Booz Allen fell the week before the Open and attracted eight of the world’s top-nine players to Congressional Country Club. This season, the event is scheduled for the week after the Open, moves back to the Tournament Players Club at Avenel and will be lucky to have one such star in attendance. This is the final year of Booz Allen’s contract, and the massive consulting firm intimated last year that it would not renew its sponsorship with the event unless the PGA Tour could guarantee it more attractive and stable future dates.

“We had several events with the same concerns over dates, and we had to make some tough calls,” Mr. Finchem said. “And we really feel bullish about a fall date giving the event that stability.”

Obvious objections to a fall date would be the decreased interest in golf during football season, the event’s possible clash with a Redskins’ home game and the difficulty attracting stars after the conclusion of golf’s four majors and the Tour Championship.

Mr. Finchem was quick to point out a number of possible positives surrounding the shift. For one, the summer storms that have led to varying degrees of interference, inconvenience and interruption at every event since 1982 no longer would be an issue. Second, Avenel, so often criticized by players, is in peak shape in the fall. And Mr. Finchem said the tour will move forward with its intensive improvement plans for Avenel if Booz Allen or another sponsor agrees to a fall date.

A shift to the fall likely would give the event less of a bipolar personality. Instead of the current boom-bust dynamic determined by its slot relative to the Open, a fall event likely would draw consistently solid, rather than stunning or stagnant, fields.

The future of the event now shifts to the Booz Allen boardroom, where CEO and President Ralph Shrader will have to weigh the pros and cons of the shift and make a decision whether to renew his company’s sponsorship deal.

Mr. Shrader could not be reached for comment last night, and Mr. Lesnik could provide no Booz Allen barometer because he had yet to reach Mr. Shrader. However, Mr. Lesnik was confident another sponsor would step up to secure Washington’s new, if slightly lowered, status on the PGA Tour calendar if Booz Allen balked.

“I’m hopeful that [Booz Allen] will stay involved,” Mr. Lesnik said. “But if not, there are going to be a number of companies that are going to be attracted to sponsoring a nationally televised PGA Tour event in the nation’s capital. I’m confident that we’re just looking at a change in the timing of the event, not the end of it.”

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