- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Big-time golf is returning to the Washington area with a roar.

The PGA Tour yesterday said it reached an agreement with the Tiger Woods Foundation to hold a new tournament over the July Fourth weekend, marking a reversal of fortune from less than a month ago, when it appeared that Washington would go without a stop on golf’s major circuit.

Sources said Congressional Country Club in Bethesda likely will be the host for the event this year, pending approval from the club’s members. The tournament will take place July 5 to 8.

The tour is planning a press conference for March 7 in Washington — to be attended by Woods and PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, at which they will confirm the location of the tournament and reveal its title sponsor.

“After an extensive search, we are very excited about our partnership with the Tiger Woods Foundation to bring a PGA Tour event back to our nation’s capital over the Fourth of July holiday celebration,” Mr. Finchem said.

The Tiger Woods Foundation will be the tournament’s primary host and main charitable beneficiary. It is expected that Woods, the world’s top-ranked and most high-profile golfer, would be a fixture at the tournament, although he may skip this year’s event to be with his wife, Elin, who is pregnant with their first child. She is expected to give birth sometime in July.

The Washington area, which had hosted a PGA Tour event for 30 years, appeared at risk of going without a stop after sponsor Booz Allen Hamilton backed out of sponsoring the event held at TPC at Avenel, citing the tour’s decision to move the event to a less desirable October date. But hopes were raised earlier this month after the tour announced the cancellation of the International, thus opening a more favorable summer weekend.

The PGA Tour appears to be starting fresh in Washington — neither Booz Allen nor KemperSports, the longtime organizers of tour events here, have been asked to return despite expressing strong interest in recent weeks.

“KemperSports is delighted that an event is coming back to the D.C. area,” said KemperSports spokeswoman Kristen Schaner. “At this time, we do not expect to be a part of it. Our understanding is the tour itself will run the event.”

Woods’ presence would give the new event instant viability. When announcing the cancellation of the International, tournament organizer Jack Vickers placed the blame squarely on Woods for choosing not to play in the event.

It is not clear who will sponsor Washington’s new tour stop, but Mr. Finchem hinted earlier this month that several major, national companies had stepped forward with interest in sponsoring an event to replace the International. Mr. Finchem has also said he has been impressed with the support members of Congress have given to First Tee, one of the tour’s top charities.

A source inside Congressional Country Club confirmed that the club has been asked to host the event in 2007 and 2008. The club’s board of directors will present the membership with the PGA Tour’s plan at an information meeting on March 14 at the club. The members then will receive a mail-in ballot, with final resolution expected by April 1. The club supported a similar action in 2005 when it approved a one-year opportunity to host the Booz Allen Classic, and this is a considerably more attractive event.

Approval is expected, but it’s thought that Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Gainesville, Va., and TPC at Avenel in Potomac could be backup sites.

Mr. Finchem earlier this month ruled out Avenel as a venue for this year because it is about to undergo a massive renovation. But club officials said the venue could host a tournament this summer, if needed, because final permitting for the renovation would not be approved until later this year.

Previous iterations of a PGA Tour event in Washington had been plagued by weak fields because of their placement on the tour schedule, often a week before or after a major. The Independence Day weekend, three weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks before the British Open, is seen as more desirable. Woods rarely has played in the Washington area, appearing only during the 2000 and 2005 Presidents Cups at Robert Trent Jones and the 1997 U.S. Open at Congressional.

The Tiger Woods Foundation is the prime beneficiary of the tour’s Deutsche Bank Championship, won by Woods last year. The charity’s main focus is on educational and enrichment programs for children. The foundation opened the $25 million Tiger Woods Learning Center in Southern California in 2005.

“I’m grateful the PGA Tour selected us as partners and am very excited my foundation will host another amazing event, this time in our nation’s capital,” Woods said. “I’m delighted to think of all the young people this will help us reach.”

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