- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2006

Washington’s 27-year run as a PGA Tour stop will not continue in 2007.

The PGA announced yesterday it has dropped Washington from its schedule. Instead, it will focus on making extensive renovations to TPC at Avenel in Potomac with the intent of bringing back a top-level event in the future.

“In light of our construction timetable, and after a comprehensive review of all our options, we have determined that a tour event in the fall of 2007 will not be feasible,” PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said. “Our goal with this significant upgrade to TPC Avenel is to ensure that it will serve as a top-flight tournament venue.”

The PGA is in the permit stage of an $18 million to $20 million upgrade to the course at Avenel, which was one of the least popular layouts on the tour. Work is expected to begin late this year or early in 2007 and be completed sometime in 2008.

The news was the latest blow to the beleaguered tournament, most recently known as the Booz Allen Classic. The PGA announced early this year the event would be moved from a favorable date in May or June to an undesirable fall date, where it would not have been part of the main tour, which will be called the FedEx Cup. The PGA will crown a NASCAR-style points champion at the Tour Championship (Sept. 13-16). Washington’s event was slated for Oct. 4-7 and would have largely featured second-tier players while being forced to compete for fans with the Washington Redskins and a busy fall sports schedule. Booz Allen was not interested in being the title sponsor of a downgraded event.

The tournament’s run came to a dubious conclusion last month, when no top-20 players participated. Few fans attended the event, and heavy rains stretched the final round over three days before Ben Curtis won on the PGA Tour’s first Tuesday finish in 26 years.

“We simply concluded given the flooding of the golf course during the last tournament that we have to get Avenel fixed,” said PGA spokesman Bob Combs, who added that major work will be done to the clubhouse and course. “For the next year or so, we are going to be working aggressively towards getting it where it needs to be. After that, we will re-evaluate the future.”

Questions remain whether a tour event will return to Avenel and the Washington area.

The tournament has been a fixture in the area since 1980 when it began as the Kemper Open at Bethesda’s Congressional Country Club. It moved to Avenel in 1987. The tournament was held at Congressional last season when Avenel was originally supposed to be renovated. However, the permit application process bogged things down and the project never began.

“If you look at the glass as half-full, there will eventually be a top-level event in Washington,” said Steve Skinner, president of KemperSports Management, the event’s organizer. “The Tour is committing to the region, investing 18 [million] to 20 million dollars in Avenel. And I don’t think they are doing that just for the members. I think the PGA Tour heard loud and clear from the media, fans and others that a top-level event belongs in Washington.”

Finchem insisted that skipping Washington will only be on a short-term basis.

“The Tour remains committed to the Washington D.C. market,” he said, “and we look forward to returning in the future with top-level PGA Tour competition.”

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