- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Washington’s longtime PGA Tour event is in jeopardy of missing the cut for 2007.

Next month’s Booz Allen Classic at TPC at Avenel could well mark the PGA Tour’s last regular swing around the Beltway. The event’s title sponsor, consulting giant Booz Allen Hamilton, will step into a secondary support role after the June 19-25 tournament, leaving KemperSports scrambling to find a primary sponsor for next year’s potential event.

The PGA Tour is holding a spot for the event on its Fall Series calendar and would most likely slot the tournament the week after next year’s Presidents Cup, which is scheduled Sept. 27-30 at the Royal Montreal Golf Club in Canada. The NFL already has agreed to work around the event by giving the Redskins either a bye week or a late road game on the weekend in question.

But KemperSports is running out of time in its matchmaking efforts. One target date for a marriage between the event and a title sponsor (May 15) already has passed. And the Chicago-based firm is now in extra time in its attempt to find a company willing to commit between $3 million and $3.5 million to play host to the event.

“Hopefully in the next several weeks, we’ll able to pull something off,” KemperSports president Steven Skinner said yesterday. “We’re continuing to talk with several different companies. We’ve sold [the event] twice before, so we’re not in uncharted waters. When you find the right company, it tends to happen quickly.”

After Kemper Insurance ended its longtime affiliation after the 2002 event, KemperSports paired the tournament with Friedman Billings Ramsey, a Web-based investment bank. But after a one-year run marred by the worst weather in the event’s history, FBR fled to the TPC of Scottsdale and reliably arid Arizona, where it still sponsors the FBR Open.

KemperSports looked to have hit a grand slam the following year with Booz Allen, a massive firm with impeccable credentials and a commitment to excellence. But the PGA Tour reneged on its promise to renovate oft-criticized Avenel during the event’s celebrity hiatus at Congressional CC last year and followed that by refusing to guarantee Booz Allen more attractive future schedule dates.

Next month for the second time in its three years as the title sponsor, Booz Allen will play host to the event the week after the U.S. Open, a week many of the game’s top players use to recover from the grind of the season’s most physically and emotionally draining major.

Though a Fall Series slot on the schedule no longer fits its high-profile sponsorship goal, Booz Allen amazingly still pledged $1 million to next year’s event to help KemperSports find a new sponsor by softening the initial financial burden.

Asked yesterday if he felt any bitterness toward PGA Tour brass, namely commissioner Tim Finchem, Booz Allen chairman and CEO Dr. Ralph Shrader responded with grace.

“I think we’re leaving things on very cordial footing with the PGA Tour,” Shrader said at the event’s media day. “We recognize the fact that times change and circumstances change. I’m a business man. And business is not about grudges. It’s about making prudent decisions, and stepping back was the prudent decision for us.”

Late last week, PGA Tour senior vice president of communications Bob Combs said no hard deadline had been set for KemperSports to locate a sponsor. Combs also said the recent negotiations between the Nationwide Tour (a tour subsidiary) and the Country Club of Woodmore (Prince George’s County) had no bearing on Washington’s PGA Tour negotiations.

“We’re still committed to Washington and working hard with KemperSports to find a title sponsor,” said Combs when asked if the Tour had located any fallback cities and sites for the given schedule slot. “We would have liked to have had it done already, but no absolute deadlines have been set. That said, at some point we are going to want to release our fall schedule for next season.”

Washington’s tour stop appears to be 3-down with four to play. But that hasn’t stopped defending champion Sergio Garcia and a respectable cast of players from making early commitments to next month’s event.

“I’ve heard great things about the course, and I’m looking forward to coming back and defending my title in Washington,” Garcia said via satellite from the Memorial yesterday.

The 26-year-old Spaniard won last year’s Booz Allen Classic at esteemed Congressional and has never seen the 7,005-yard, par-71 TPC at Avenel.

“Adam [Scott] won there [in 2004], and he told me it might favor my game,” Garcia said. “There are good and bad things about playing the week after a major. The bad thing is you might be a little bit worn out. The good thing is that after playing in a U.S. Open every course seems easy.”

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